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The Schmooze

Are Zac Efron’s Dreadlocks Harmless or Racist?

Zac Efron, before the dreads. Image by Getty Images

Normally beloved performer Zac Efron found himself in a hairy spot yesterday — controversy struck when Efron debuted a new dreadlocked hairdo on Instagram with the caption “just for fun.”

Just for fun ?

A post shared by Zac Efron (@zacefron) on

The seemingly innocuous black and white photo of the “Greatest Showman” actor has a serious racial undertone — dreadlocks are a traditional staple of black fashion, thought to date back to ancient times. Sure, it’s just a hair style, but it’s a hairstyle with major political ramifications — black dread wearers have historically fought against discrimination over the style. As recently as 2015 film star Zendaya was essentially called smelly by a reporter on the Oscars red carpet for sporting dreads.

So to see white people, however well intentioned, cheerfully borrowing a style that black people are still punished for, feels to many like cultural appropriation. To others, it feels more like cultural appreciation.

Efron’s post has sparked a comment fire, with many weighing in leaving comments like: “Okay to wear your hair however you want? You know here’s black people getting turned down on job interviews for wearing locks and braids right? Amazing how you whites don’t see discrimination until it happens to y’all.” Others protested that it’s “Just a hairstyle” and that criticism of Efron’s dreads was racism towards whites. A third group of people commented along the lines of: “Don’t think it’s racist or anything, but like he’s so not pulling this look off. What the hell.”

Jenny Singer is the deputy lifestyle editor for the Forward. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny

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