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Cultural appropriation is back in the news in Montreal, this time due to the controversy surrounding comedian Zach Poitras, who has been barred from performing at the Snowflake Comedy Club and the Soirée d’humor engagée at the Université du Québec à Montréal.

For the crime of being a white guy with dreadlocks.

A brief history of dreadlocks

To the organizers it does not appear to matter that dreadlocks have been worn by nearly every culture at some point in time or another across history.

Roman accounts stated that the Celts wore their hair ‘like snakes’. The Germanic tribes and Vikings were also known to wear their hair in dreadlocks.

Dreadlocks have been worn by the monks of the Nazarites of Judaism, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Qalandri’s Sufi’s, the Dervishes of Islam, and the Sadhu’s of Hinduism, to name a few.

There are even suggestions that many early Christians wore dreadlocks.

Most notably Sampson who was said to have seven locks of hair which gave him his inhuman strength.

We do need to remember that humans have had hair for as long as we’ve been around and there’s been plenty of time for different cultures to try out new styles.

A claim of cultural appropriation

The comedy club has been clear on their stance. “We will not tolerate any discrimination or harassment within our spaces,” they wrote.

The group argues that cultural appropriation is when “a person from a dominant culture appropriates the symbols, clothing or even the hairstyles of persons from a historically dominated culture.”

The co-op understands that Poitras’s intention isn’t racist, but adds the hairstyle “conveys racism,” saying “cultural appropriation is not a debate or an opinion,” (it is) but rather “a form of passive oppression, a deconstructive privilege and, above all, a manifestation of ordinary racism.”

It’s happened before

This is obviously not the first incident that has taken place involving a white guy wearing dreadlocks that has caused some commotion. There’s plenty of cases to be found

Just recently, actor Zac Efron came under fire for posting a photo to Instagram with his hair in dreads. The internet enacted quick and swift justice, flooding his comments and letting him know that what he’s doing is, as a matter of fact, racist. No debate around that.

View this post on Instagram

Just for fun 🤘

A post shared by Zac Efron (@zacefron) on

Another case occurred when a white student sporting dreads was told by a black student handing out flyers that they didn’t want “people with your hair coming to the event.

Moderation is what’s best

There are those that say that the hairstyle should never be worn by white people. That comes off as ridiculous, and doesn’t seem to stand up to any scrutiny. But there are those that say a moderate approach is what’s best.

In an interview with CNN, writer Feminista Jones gives her point of view, saying that of course white people can wear them, but there should be some sort of aura of respect given to the culture they carry.

“Sure, white people can wear locs,” she said in an email with CNN. “For some, they have religious or spiritual meaning. For others, it’s just a hairstyle. My research informed me that Indian monks wore them long before they reached the Western Hemisphere, so I’m not sure anyone has any particular claim.”

“I used to wear them and it wasn’t for any spiritual reason and I wasn’t a rasta; I just liked how they looked on me. I wonder if an Indian person could say I was appropriating them?” she said.

“Cultural appropriation is about the power dynamic. When people with power and privilege decide to ‘validate’ customs and traditions that oppressed people have long been marginalized for by saying ‘This is the hot new thing,’ then we have serious problems. Or when they refuse to credit the people who innovated those styles or traditions, but claim them as original ideas, then we get into appropriation,” she said.

“Showing love for something awesome and doing so with respect to the culture is appreciation and I don’t see problems with that, for the most part. I do think white people have to be mindful of their privilege, though, and think twice before hopping on the newest ‘trend,’ especially if it clearly borrows from disenfranchised people.”

Poitras, our comedian in question, has yet to comment on the fiasco, but has said on his Facebook that he will comment sometime soon. The native Quebecer recently posted on his Facebook:

Pour les gens qui me demandent mon opinion. Je vais tout dire ce que je pense de cette histoire dans un post demain.

En espérant que tout le monde va se calmer les f*cking tits.”

Which roughly translates to:

“For people who ask me my opinion. I’ll tell you what I think of this story in a post tomorrow.
Hoping everyone will calm down their f*cking tits.”

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