Let’s talk about Justin Bieber’s hair

Because that shit is more than just ugly. It’s racist — and proves that Bieber’s “allyship” is performative. Gasp!

A photograph of the backside of Justin Bieber showcases his two dreadlocks, tied into two pigtails. He’s wearing a football jersey.
Justin Bieber in his new dreadlocks.

amn, I wish people of color could stop talking about cultural appropriation — I really, really do. But white people won’t let us; they just won’t. Because every day another Caucasian person who claims to be “woke” does some dumbass, racist shit, without fail.

And I’m over it — over it enough, in fact, to finally write a little something about it.

So here I go.

Nobody ever said cultural appropriation was an easy concept to understand. But it is easier to wrap your head around if you do the work and read about it, talk to some people about it. And honestly, if you take the initiative to do the work, learning what cultural appropriation is — and why it’s harmful to Black, brown, and Asian people — won’t take you very long, twenty minutes tops. It’s 2021, after all, and if you’re white and placing yourself in the right spaces, the language of social justice should already be inescapable, borderline exhausting (because, often, that’s how learning simply is).

You cannot call yourself an ally to my community if you — a racially and ethnically white individual — wake up one morning in the year of 2021 and think, damn, I’m gonna get my pasty ass some dreads today. Because simply not doing that (and therefore not engaging in anti-Blackness) is, surprise, pretty fucking easy.

So, by this day and age, every single non-Black person who claims to be an “ally” to racially marginalized groups — in this particular instance, the Black community — should have a tremendously sound idea of what properties of another group’s culture are untouchable for as long as racism prevails. For Black people, hair is one of those properties. And, because cultural appropriation is supposedly the first topic covered in Woke Studies 101, there is no way a single “ally” living in Amerikkka is mystically unaware of the exclusivity of Black hairstyles; of the way only Black people are allowed to wear Black hairstyles. And IDGAF what your excuses are. You cannot call yourself an ally to my community if you — a racially and ethnically white individual — wake up one morning in the year of 2021 and think, damn, I’m gonna get my pasty ass some dreads today. Because simply not doing that (and therefore not engaging in anti-Blackness) is, surprise, pretty fucking easy.

And yet, Justin Bieber still went the extra mile to do It. Translation: Justin Bieber went above and beyond to be racist. Read that again. And again. And again. Read that until you realize that even in a world where it is often quite literally, physically easier to just not be racist, “liberal” white people like Bieber still fucking are.

And, as crazy as I sound, “liberal” white people like Bieber — those who manifestly view allyship and anti-racism as circus performance, rather than the infrastructure of a racially equitable future — piss me off just as much as unconcerned white people who make it very, very clear they don’t care about upheaving white supremacy.

What I’m saying is: Bieber doesn’t care; he just selectively acts as if he does. At the core of his allyship, the 27-year-old pop star is no better than a white person who says they prefer to “stay out of politics.”

you take a look at Justin Bieber’s Instagram feed, what do you really see? (Aside from the week and a half’s worth of photos of his type 1A hair in dreads, I mean.) You see Bieber surrounding himself with Black people during both on- and off-hours; you see the tasteless artwork of his latest album, suspiciously-but-not-suspiciously-enough called Justice; you see him in the studio making Black music; you see him paying tribute to Black people who were murdered by police; you see him saying Black lives matter. But all I see is a load of horseshit, delicately sprinkled with a few corny ass “Jesus loves you” text posts. And what has enabled me to envision, smell, and gag at Bieber’s horseshit allyship are the dreadlocks he decided to embrace. Indeed, those nasty dreadlocks helped me see the light.

…To me, and millions of others who are legitimately trying to dismantle systemic and institutionalized racism and anti-Blackness, the singer’s new dreadlocks are a swift reassurance that as much as Bieber frames himself to be an ally to the Black community, he’s just another white kid infatuated with Black things — but uninterested in Black liberation.

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking — it’s pitiful of me to judge Bieber so harshly on the basis of his hair. But it’s actually not, no, because what’s actually pitiful is the fact that hair discrimination in the United States is such a systemic issue that there has to be laws about it. Even more pitiful is the fact that for as long as Black people have been stuck in America, we’ve been castigated and alienated because of the ways we innately exist. Our skin is too dark. Our language is too improper. Our natural hair is too everything — too nappy, too unmanageable, too attention-seeking, too ghetto, too unprofessional, too trouble-making, too much of a target for harassment or bullying, too Black power, too political. Too much, too much, too much.

But when a white person wears their hair like a Black person, it’s just stupid. Silly. Dumb. It’s ugly, yeah, but it’s no big deal. It’s a mistake, but not the kind that could get you racially profiled or fired from your job or kicked out of school, right?

Right. Or at least right when you’re when white.

And there lies the problem: Sure, Bieber looks dumb as hell. And for many people, that’s probably all he looks. But to me, and millions of others who are legitimately trying to dismantle systemic and institutionalized racism and anti-Blackness, the singer’s new dreadlocks are a swift reassurance that as much as Bieber frames himself to be an ally to the Black community, he’s just another white kid infatuated with Black things — but uninterested in Black liberation. Bieber is a racist in dreadlocks; he’s a complacent white boy who will never have to face the repercussions of his silly little racism. People will soon forget about his hair the way they forgot about the first time he wore dreads in 2016, or the way he repeatedly sang the n-word — yes, with the hard R — in some random video from 2009 (and no, he wasn’t just singing it because it was in a song; he made the song up).

And so it goes for a white man.

oday is May 5. It’s been approximately ten days since Bieber initially posted an Instagram photo of himself in what appeared to be loc’d hair, and his May 2 post — in which he expresses gratitude for the stylist that helped him twist his dreads — confirms that he is actively choosing to appropriate Black culture via wearing a Black hairstyle. I’m not the only one talking about this; his racism has made headlines and plenty of other Black folks are going on about it as much as I am. So, as a conversation about Bieber’s racism very much exists, it’s evident that he simply doesn’t care to engage. There’s a photo of him now in a do-rag, even. For why? To protect what? I don’t fucking know.

I guess I understand why probably no one wants to be the nigga who tells Bieber what’s right from wrong. There’s a sizable chance that truth runs a risk: the jeopardy of losing a client, a collaborator, a gig, a “friend,” and, above all, access to someone with power, money, opportunity. But in this case, the cost of being yes folk is high and humiliating; the Black people that surround Bieber are enablers.

And speaking of engagement: if only it were that easy for Black people, themselves, to disengage from discussion of anti-Blackness. Disappointingly, it seems as if the dozens of Black individuals surrounding Bieber certainly and conveniently have: his hairstylist, a Black woman named Bri who calls herself a “multicultural” cosmetologist; the numerous Black men he seems to work with in the studio; his live band of all Black musicians; his Black friends who likely let him call ’em “my nigga” because, well, what do you say to the all-mighty Justin Bieber?

I guess I understand why probably no one wants to be the “woke nigga” who tells Bieber what’s right from wrong. There’s a sizable chance that truth runs a risk: the jeopardy of losing a client, a collaborator, a gig, a “friend,” and, above all, access to someone with power, money, opportunity. But in this case, the cost of being yes folk is high and humiliating; the Black people that surround Bieber are enablers. It just couldn’t be me — and even if I ever did feel tempted to play such an Uncle Tom role, I’m ecstatic to say my body of work as a critic and journalist will effectively destroy any of those opportunities as soon as they arise, regardless.

I don’t know how to end this essay. Honestly, I haven’t sat down and typed away with furious fingers like this in a long time. But I’m glad I did — because it seems like anger is one of the few reactions that get people thinking critically about what it means to truly appreciate and fight for Black people. So, if you’re Black, proud, and pissed off (like me), just know that I wrote this for us. But, if you’re not Black, but you are anti-racist, then share this story, and keep fighting the good fight.

And, lastly, if you read this and still think Bieber gives a flying fuck about Black people, then, damn. I hope both y’all hair fall out.

Peace and blessings <3

Sydney N. Sweeney is a writer, editor, and critic based in Los Angeles. Her work focuses on culture, music, identity, and pop nostalgia.