Multi-award-winning artist Justin Bieber is once again making the headlines, but this time, the “Peaches” singer is in the news for a repeated offense—wearing dreadlocks.
Earlier in the week, the pop star shared photos of himself on Instagram with a new hairstyle of short dreadlocks. The hairstyle, which is traditionally attributed to the culture and identities of Black people, quickly went viral, sparking public outrage as Justin was accused of cultural appropriation and racial insensitivity.
Explaining the rationale behind the public outrage, Irene Shelley, editor of Black Beauty and Hair magazine, told the Guardian that Justin Bieber is disrespectful of the iconic style. She elaborated that many black people still face discrimination and stigma for wearing their hair the same way. For Justin, a privileged white male, to turn around and wear the historically significant hairstyle while ignoring the people’s struggles behind it is mockery of the Black race.
As with all arguments, two distinct camps emerged. While some black women confronted the “Intentions” singer and accused him of being disrespectful to the Black race by sporting a hairstyle they have been marginalized for wearing while urging him to change it and apologize, others camped in Justin’s defense, saying he can choose to wear his hair the way he wants.
In 2016, the Canadian-born singer faced similar backlash for sporting dreadlocks at the 2016 iHeart Radio Music Awards. He was accused of treating Black identity as a fashion statement and for cultural appropriation. Although the singer did not apologize at the time, he promptly changed his hairstyle. He again faced criticism for wearing cornrows during a vacation to the Caribbeans. Anticipating the backlash, Justin quickly argued that Hailey Baldwin, his wife, made him get the hairstyle.
In a seemingly repentant mood, Justin Bieber publicly acknowledged how much of his success as an artist has benefited from Black culture during the “Black Lives Matter” movement march for George Floyd in June 2020. At the time, he promised to use his platform to promote discussions about racial injustice and oppression and play his part in the much-needed societal reform.
In a bid to keep his promise, the singer inserted speeches from Dr. Martin Luther King into his recent album “Justice.” The action was heavily criticized as many people felt that the album was nothing about “justice or racial oppression” and was more about how much he loves his wife, Hailey Baldwin. The criticism continued despite the support he got from Dr. King’s daughter, Bernice King. As per Billboard, the 27-year-old singer later addressed the controversy in a Clubhouse chat and admitted that he was uneducated and insensitive and did not know better.
Following the new photos of Justin Bieber wearing dreadlocks, many fans and social media users admonished him and questioned how he internalized previous criticism. Many social media users asked how he could preach against racial injustice and still partake in cultural appropriation while demanding that he practice his teachings.