Dear Marc Jacobs,
When a white man attempts to invalidate my challenge to the covert white supremacist sentiment in America, I get tight. And when that same white dude also tries to tell me that I should be worrying about different manifestations of racism—that his is harmless—(I especially get tight). When John McWhorter, a Black man and professor at Columbia University, assists your invalidation by listing America’s other systemic injustices then concludes that list with the brusque quip “Amidst all of that—hair????????” it gets me tight. I’m sure Times Magazine published his piece to represent the “rational Negro.” I am tight, but my “angry Black woman” is justified and, so this stereotype doesn’t distort the logic in my claims, we’ll cite history first.
Wearing hair in these entangled locks is a style that does not have one clear originator. Most anthropologists cite the Vedic scriptures, which indicate that Indian sikhs and yogis may have been wearing their hair in dreads as early 1800 BCE. Ancient Egyptian art and writings also depict and discuss the hairstyle, but it is the Rastafarians of Jamaica who both coined and popularized “dreadlocks” in western culture. Rastafarians who, in abiding by Leviticus 21:5 which says “They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh,” outlawed the cutting or combing of their hair. Dreads have become a symbol of devotion and identity for Rastafarians.
Your response to the appropriation of Black culture was unfounded. You argued that your cause for styling your models with dreadlocks rooted from your artistic prowess and your respect of non-western cultures. But a true implication of that respect would have been to employ Black, dread-bearing models. Where does your respect for my culture correlate with Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid in rainbow cotton candy faux locs? I don’t appreciate Mexican culture by buying a burrito from Taco Bell.
You can not say that you do not see color while simultaneously claiming to see culture because the two are inseparable. That statement acts as fortification for your white male privilege. It is in the privilege of the white man to be countercultural when he so pleases. But the Black body is inherently countercultural. Every time we wear our hair naturally, let our pants sag off our hips, or speak to each other in “ebonics” (because the way we speak isn’t simply a colloquialism, but a whole ass language), we are going against the grain of assimilation. White people choose this for themselves and recognizing that privilege to step in and out of a culture—that is your privilege to dress your models in dreadlocks—is a step to appreciating our culture. Locs are both a political and religious statement against the white aesthetic. To separate the dreadlock from this intrinsic declaration, you insult and denounce its potency.
Your PR rep almost did a good job painting you as a free loving visionary, but your salt spilled out when you referred to the Black twitter population as “narrow minded.” Somehow you fixed yourself to say that when Black women straighten their hair, they should be criticized in the same way we do your appropriation. The wildest part about that statement is that Black women need to straighten their hair (and noses) to evade systemic repercussions. We are discriminated against in schools, the military and the corporate world, which all have unequivocally deemed our natural hair unprofessional. We don’t straighten to achieve a “suburban” or “European” look, as juxtaposed to your desire to appear “edgy” and “urban” (Black). When a Black woman straightens her hair, whether consciously or unconsciously, she is conforming to the supreme standard of beauty in her society—one that is Eurocentric. You’re happy you’ve won when we’ve straightened our hair because it means that your culture of assimilation works.
Dreadlocks are yet another part of Black culture born due to the inability of Blacks to comply to the physical demands of the white man. Thankfully for us Mr. Marc Jacobs, you have looked past the oppression of Black people and found the beauty in Black culture on your own. Hope you had a wonderful Columbus Day!
P.S. These are some quotes from John McWorter, who Marc Jacobs would likely qualify as the “open-minded” Black person.
“Only Black people are supposed to wear dreadlocks—or something, but don’t take it from me—a viral video not long ago featured a Black woman dressing down a white man for wearing dreadlocks.”
“The Silk Road, the Enlightenment, and even 1920s Harlem all encouraged rampant ‘appropriation’ between cultures that no one would want to see reversed today.”
“When basic sense is this elusive, it becomes hard to miss that in the end, this fashion of finding ‘appropriation’ behind every rock and tree is less about seeking justice than in seeking to be offended.”
“Smoking out racism, racism, racism in ever more creative ways is too many people’s way of feeling special.”
“Amidst all of that—hair????????”