Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Wiggaz and Dirty Dreads. On How Race Still Matters
For centuries black people tried to look as white as possible, they often still do. Many use skin clearing creams, relax their hair so to have straight hair, favorite mixed-race looking people in the media, etc. Since the 90’s we can see another phenomenon, white people who want to be black, or at least who adopt symbols and styles that are perceived as black in the Western world.
Some white people adopted e.g. what they think is hip hop culture and with it adopted styles considered African-American. Certain haircuts, clothing and accessories such as jewelry are all part of a style that many consider first as black. Some other white people try to have dreadlocks even if their soft, thin and straight hair makes it hardly impossible to have knots in their hair (other whites with curly hair can have neat dreads though). Some white people love reggae music and styles and are therefore also wearing the symbols of the Rastafarian movement and sport the Pan-African colours.
The sight of such a white man adopting black style looks to many as ridiculous, just as ridiculous as a black man sporting a goth style. My opinion on this was at first that it actually is a positive sign. It means that black and white cultural manifestations are mixing and that you don’t have to act or look this or that way because of your race. Be goth, be rasta, no matter the colour of your skin. However, there is much more … which still makes this phenomenon rather problematic. Let me explain this below.
When black people adopt white styles, it’s because they want to fit in. They don’t want to offend the majority, they don’t want to be perceived as different, they want to be normal and thus want to be conform to the norm. A girl with relaxed hair is actually something positive from a conformist perspective (and I don’t say ‘a white perspective’, because in many African societies black styles are not considered ‘good’ either. African societies often internalized white perspectives on blackness).
On the contrary, when white people adopt black styles they do this to be non-conformists. Their motivation is to be different, to be anti-establishment, to be special, to even be perceived as some kind of outlaws. Some have dreadlocks but have dirty hair. In their rasta style they are actually emphasizing stereotypes, prejudices and myths and are interpreting rasta as a bump style. Others might have big golden chains and diamond earrings but they interpret hip hop culture also in a stereotype way, ignoring the political and social conscious elements of hip hop and openly focus on the bling bling elements. They try to actually overcompensate their whiteness by stressing on a black myth, which makes them look ridiculous.
In this sense being black still means that you are by definition not normal, that you might be some kind of outlaw. Because of your physical appearance you are automatically set outside conformity and you should do some effort to fit in. Speaking the language and adapting to the local culture is not enough, you have to change the black body. Black styles and cultures will not help you to be considered normal you should adopt white styles, i.e. relax you hair, clear your skin and do not wear too flashy clothes. You even have to overcompensate your race by being cleaner and smarter than your white counterparts. The blacker you are, the more you should work on that.
On the other hand, whites who want to be outside society just have to mimic black stereotypes, to mimic a black myth that isn’t even real but fits the prejudices. These white people are not even being like blacks, but they are making a buffoon version of blacks, exaggerate the difference by being dirty or overtly superficial and materialistic. Although most of white people who do imitate that style think of themselves as anti-racists, they are (mostly unconsciously) accentuating racism and keeping race as a social marker alive.