Bad hair day? Seattle business owner pressured into chopping dreadlocks following cries of ‘cultural appropriation’
A small business owner in Seattle has been shamed into a makeover and a long public apology after an internet mob deemed her dreadlocks a form of ‘cultural appropriation’ – a charge some have dismissed as literal fashion policing.
In an Instagram post on Monday, Rachel Marshall, founder of Rachel’s Ginger Beer in Seattle, penned a lengthy mea culpa apologizing for her “harmful” hairstyle, explaining she is now aware that African Americans are “discriminated against and mistreated for having dreadlocks” while vowing to lop off her own.
Selling good-tasting product is only half the win, says Rachel Marshall, founder of @rgbsoda. There's more to her business than that. Her goal is “for everybody that walks out of our shops to leave with warm fuzzies.” Rachel’s Ginger Beer is an #AmexWelcomed business in Seattle. pic.twitter.com/W0bnmegfg3— American Express Business (@AmexBusiness) March 19, 2019
“I’m so sorry that it took me this long to admit and address my mistake,” Marshall wrote, adding “I have an appointment to remove my dreadlocks, and more broadly, am committed to earnestly listening to… the voices and lived experiences different from my own.”
While Marshall can be seen sporting dreads in photos and social media posts going back years, news of her hairdo apparently just made its way to cancel-happy netizens, prompting many to leap into action to cry ‘cultural appropriation’ – a concept fashionable among some on the political left which forbids members of a ‘dominant’ culture from adopting elements of a ‘marginalized’ social group, such as clothing or hairstyles. In Marshall’s case, her dreads were said to have been ‘appropriated’ from African Americans.
“This is great to hear. Personally I stopped frequenting your shops because of the uncomfortable image of a white woman with dreadlocks, I presumed you didn’t understand how hurtful the imagery could be,” one apparently sincere critic wrote in response to Marshall’s Instagram post. “Thank you for finally, decidedly and questionably late, to make a culturally appropriate choice.”
Some commenters urged Marshall to keep her do, however, dismissing the criticism as petty and overwrought, while others pointed out the general absurdity of the situation – namely the spectacle of progressives dictating what a woman does with her body.
“I don’t care what your hairstyle is, as long as you support equality and acceptance. We are getting too hung up on insignificant things,” another Instagram user said. “My daughter is bi-racial with very ethnic hair. should i not allow her to straighten it as it may be offensive? Keep the dreads and worry about doing good.”
Telling women what to do with their bodies is never okay unless she’s a white woman with dreadlocks— Katie Herzog (@kittypurrzog) July 14, 2020
These sorts of spectacles need to stop. This is not healthy.— Berny Belvedere (@bernybelvedere) July 14, 2020
Beyond the trivial nature of the criticism, a few netizens also challenged the factual basis of the ‘cultural appropriation’ charge, observing that dreadlocks and matted hairstyles have been documented in cultures all over the world for hundreds of years – including the Norse and Germanic tribes in Europe, Hindus in India and indigenous Australians, among others.
Complete insanity. It’s not even correct that it’s “cultural appropriation” as the Celts, Vikings, Germanics and nearly every society in history have been found to wear their hair in dreadlocks for a thousand years— Not Bill Self (@colemn76) July 14, 2020
Dreadlocks have been worn by many cultures, white, brown, black for thousands of years. Sorry it is not exclusive to the black culture alone. Apology not necessary or warranted.— Tombstone123 (@Tombstone1232) July 14, 2020
A similar row in 2016 saw a brief flare-up of controversy over a white person wearing dreads, in which a young man was accosted by fellow students in the halls of San Francisco State University for supposedly ‘stealing’ from another culture. Similar to Marshall’s case, that spat also devolved into nebulous disputes about the true origins of the hairstyle, though unlike the Seattle business owner, the man apparently held his ground and refused to chop his locks.
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