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Rachel Dolezal Buys Her Black Weaves From a White Lady

It's not often that one of our customers holds the national news media spotlight for over a week.  

Yes, I said it.  Rachel Dolezal is one of our customers and that means that she buys her “Black” wigs and weaves from a “White” lady.

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If you are unfamiliar with this story, a quick Google search will pull up a wealth of results. The gist is that Rachel Dolezal is a White lady, that identifies culturally as a Black and was head of the Spokane NAACP. Rachel claims to have self-identify as Black since a young age, but has also been known to fabricate parts of her past. Many see Rachel's image (emphasis on her hair) as her biggest lie.

The conversation about Rachel's hair centers around cultural appropriation - the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group.  Time.com published an article this morning titled "Why Rachel Dolezal’s Hair Is Actually a Big Deal" and while I agree with some of the tenets, mainly that it's never okay to lie, other aspects were difficult to grapple with.  According to the author, "cultural appropriation is a very sensitive topic in the Black community. Caucasians riding in, seeing something cool, and stealing it for mainstream White America is something that has happened for years."  She continues,

"People who would never sit next to a Black woman on the bus suddenly sported cornrows on vacation after Bo Derek bounced down the beach in them in the ’80s. The scent of tightly wound perms permeated our malls as white women rushed to get their version of a jheri curl. Alternative college kids get dreadlocks without understanding the fierce history behind the style. The trend of every white woman in Hollywood getting ten new pounds of hair woven into her head started in Black salons in the ghettos of the country. I’m not saying that Black women created everything. What I’m saying is that no credit is given as to the origin of these styles. Are we kind of mad about it? Why, yes. Yes, we are. Because it’s not about credit so much as it’s about respect."

The article seems to equate race with culture. On a basic level, race deals in genetic coding - something that none of us had the power to choose. One day, we were simply here. If race is equal to culture, the implication is that your genes allow you to have certain things that are off limits to others. If you have been following Rachel's story, she has been selecting her words very carefully. She knows she isn't African (racially), but she identifies as black (culturally). The problem with what Rachel has done, is that she has used these stereotypes about what Black is to create her identity. She could have simply said, I identify as "Rachel" and the conversation would have ended - but she didn't.

In the wake of the sensationalized headlines that "White people can now be Black," it has left a lot of us to re-examine our thoughts on what it all means.  First, let me give you my background.  I opened Spokane's first "weave shop" in 2003.  Doctored Locks sells wigs, extensions and other hair artistry products.  I have my cosmetology license from WA state, I'm certified in British Columbia, Canada and I have an international hairdressing certification with IPSN.  I learned extension dreadlocks, and natural dreadlock creation and maintenance from Sonia5, the original founder of HairPolice in 2004.  I learned from master wig-maker Daniele Rachel Sullivan in 2006.  I have created over 200 hair extension tutorials and we manufacture our own lines of specialty fibers.  I also curate the oldest online forum devoted to all forms of hair extensions.  Despite my extensive background, I face regular discrimination for being a White supplier of Black hair.

How did my passion for hair start?  My hair was thin, flat and uninspiring.  I wanted really long vibrant purple braids.  Extensions made this possible.  No commitment to coloring my natural hair and ease of styling made it absolutely addictive.  Did I want to be Black?  Of course not.  Sonia5, was as best I could tell, also a White lady.  I never asked, and it never seemed to matter.  What mattered was her passion for extreme styling.  Big color and lofty texture that defied nature was her signature style.  Daniele Sullivan isn't Black either.  In fact, she's Jewish and lives in a very Orthodox neighborhood in Baltimore.  In Jewish culture, married women cover their hair, reserving their natural hair for their husbands.  She commented that her Jewish friends could not understand why she had so many Black women that were interested in wig making as they wouldn't have had the same need to cover their hair.

The reason these things are important to note, is that they point out the normality of cultural fluidity.  These days, mohawks are less associated with Native Americans, and more associated with the British punk scene.  Dreadlock history will vary depending on who you ask, but it usually points to roots in Egypt. The spiritual roots of dreadlocks seem to originate in India, but nearly every culture has adopted dreads at some point - from the Celts, Vikings and many more.  Today, people tend to identify dreadlocks with Rastafarianism, but few tend to realize that Rastafarianism is relatively new - having only started in 1930.

Recognizing that cultural identity is in constant flux is important.  Unlike the Time article may insinuate, I didn't "ride in" and "steal" something.  I am White - but I'm not responsible for being born into this skin.  I learned a skill to create hair artistry and earned the refinement of the craft through years of practice.  I've been teaching these same skills to people of all races for over a decade.  I currently have bright blue synthetic dreadlocks.  I like the way I look aesthetically.  They allow me to project my artistic side to the world and this is something that I cherish.

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The only thing that should matter is that we all live with honesty and integrity.  We can't help the skin we are born into, and this is precisely why skin color shouldn't matter.  Rachel never needed to lie about her heritage to be an advocate for equality.  The NAACP does not discriminate against membership based on race or cultural identity.  She has perpetuated racial stereotypes about what it means to look “black” to conjure a new identity based on how she wanted others to perceive her.  Take it from the White lady that sold Rachel the hair to begin with:  You never need to be anything other than exactly you.  Your color doesn't define you.  YOU are enough.

Thank you for listening,
Doc

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