It was during a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) rally in Charlottesville, Virginia when DeVante Cunningham captured a perplexing image of a Klansman sporting dreadlocks. That’s right. A white supremacist is caught apparently appropriating black culture.
Cunningham, a graduate of the University of Virginia, told BBC Trending that he was baffled when he saw a KKK member wearing dreads.
“Me and my friend were in total disbelief. We really couldn’t believe we had just seen a klansman with dreads. We’re looking at the KKK here, and dreadlocks are basically a symbol of African culture. It was really weird to see.”
The unidentified white supremacist was dressed in clothing branded with Ku Klux Klan symbols. For most, the image of a white supremacist appropriating a hallmark of African culture while covered in branding symbolizing a movement that historically tortured and killed thousands of African Americans was infuriating.
According to a historical overview of dreadlocks on EBONY.com, Rastafarian global superstar Bob Marley was responsible for introducing the iconic hairstyle into mainstream culture. Whoopi Goldberg, Lenny Kravitz, Lauryn Hill, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison are just a few of the world’s most recognizable celebrities who subsequently popularized dreadlocks.
After Cunningham posted his image to Facebook, it soon went viral as thousands of people across the globe began to express their astonishment at the very rare picture.
A Twitter user, Black Aziz Ansari, shared the image with his followers, resulting in a range of responses, including one from user @justice__4__all who wrote, “Someone needs to tell that guy he’s racisting wrong.”
Traditionally, white people who wear dreadlocks have been accused of cultural appropriation. One of the most famous incidents was when fashion designer Marc Jacobs made his ramp models wear punk-style dreadlocks.
Critics of cultural appropriation often cite concerns about how aspects of African traditional culture seemingly only become acceptable when worn by white people. According to Everyday Feminism, the meaning of cultural appropriation goes deeper than simply being examples of cultural exchange or assimilation.
Everyday Feminism defines cultural appropriation as “a particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.”
In keeping with the above definition, marginalized groups, or people who have historically been discriminated against by Western society, don’t possess the social power to wear their traditional clothing and accessories due to Western regulations.
Saturday’s rally was organized by the Loyal White Knights, a branch of the KKK, to express disapproval of plans to remove the statue of U.S. Civil War veteran, General Robert E. Lee.
Authorities in Virginia allowed the KKK protest to take place on the grounds of freedom of expression. Roughly 50 Klansmen participated in the protest, wearing traditional KKK regalia, including the white hoods, and displaying Confederate flags.
In response to the white supremacist gathering, a crowd of counter-protesters, estimated to have consisted of nearly a thousand people, arrived and began shouting and chanting phrases, such as “Racists go home!”
Ultimately, following tense clashes with police officers, some people were arrested. Officers cited the refusal to disperse at the end of the demonstration as motivation for the arrests.
DeVante Cunningham told BBC Trending that he had never witnessed a KKK demonstration before, and he was compelled to document the occasion.
“I was angry that they were coming to a place that I have called home for the past six years. So I knew that whatever counter protest was going to be happening, I needed to be there.”
Cunningham, who will be leaving Charlottesville to pursue a Ph.D., adds that as long as he’s in Virginia, he’ll continue snapping images of the Klan.
“For a few years now my camera has been attached to me. If the KKK come back, I’ll definitely be there.”
According to Cunningham, he approached the Klansman with the dreadlocks, but the man simply walked away without a word.
[Featured Image by Cyber Onix/Thinkstock]