What Do You Think About The Advice This Black Woman Gave Jeremy Lin Before He Got Dreads?
On October 3, Brooklyn Nets guard Jeremy Lin stepped on the court wearing dreads. Jeremy Lin is Asian-American. Jeremy Lin tried it. How do I know he tried it? Because he wrote a whole essay about his hair choice which he is keenly aware is a risk.
“So … About My Hair,” that’s the name of the essay Lin wrote on The Players Tribune Tuesday explaining the elephant on the court: his hair. A few years ago, Lin began growing out his hair while playing for the Charlotte Hornets and since then he’s gone from buzz cut to man buns and even braids. But it’s no coincidence the 6’3″ athlete didn’t write an essay about those hair choices. It’s the fact that “So … I have dreads now,” as Lin wrote in the opening sentence of his piece,” that prompted him to have to explain his style which, for some, is a sign that perhaps he shouldn’t have gotten them at all.
“I’ll be honest: At first I didn’t see the connection between my own hair and cultural appropriation,” Lin wrote, explaining how friends asked him, “Bro, what about appropriation?” when he debuted his new look. “Growing up, I’d only ever picked from one or two hairstyles that were popular among my friends and family at the time. But as an Asian-American, I do know something about cultural appropriation. I know what it feels like when people get my culture wrong. I know how much it bothers me when Hollywood relegates Asian people to token sidekicks, or worse, when it takes Asian stories and tells them without Asian people. I know how it feels when people don’t take the time to understand the people and history behind my culture…So of course, I never want to do that to another culture,” he added.
But in some people’s minds that’s exactly what Lin did, with the encouragement of teammate Rondae Hollis-Jefferson who told the 29 year old he’d grow his hair out with him and get it dreaded as well. It wasn’t until a conversation with Savannah Hart, however, a Nets staff member who’s African-American, Lin noted, that he decided to take the plunge.
“I told her about my thought process — how I was really unsure about getting dreads because I was worried I’d be appropriating Black culture. She said that if it wasn’t my intention to be dismissive of another culture, then maybe it could be an opportunity to learn about that culture.”
Once Savannah introduced Lin to the woman who started braiding his hair and she, too, encouraged him to get dreads, he and Rondae “got our hair dreaded — for eight hours straight.”
Lin said the purpose of his article was to hear what people think about his choice, as he acknowledges, “honestly, I may be wrong here.”
“Maybe one day I’ll look back and laugh at myself, or even cringe. I don’t have the answers. But I hope the thing you take away from what I’m writing is not that everyone should feel free to get braids or dreads — or that one gesture can smooth over the real misunderstandings that exist in our society around race and cultural identity. Not at all.
“This process started out about hair, but it’s turned into something more for me. I’m really grateful to my teammates and friends for being willing to help me talk through such a difficult subject, one that I’m still learning about and working my way through. Over the course of the last few years and all these hairstyles, I’ve learned that there’s a difference between “not caring what other people think” and actually trying to walk around for a while in another person’s shoes. The conversations I had weren’t always very comfortable, and at times I know I didn’t say the right things. But I’m glad I had them — because I know as an Asian-American how rare it is for people to ask me about my heritage beyond a surface level.
“It’s easy to take things that we enjoy from other cultures — that’s one of the coolest things about a melting-pot society like ours. But I think we have to be careful that taking doesn’t become all we do. With all the division, political turmoil and senseless violence in our society right now, we need to talk to each other more than ever.”
I asked fellow editors, Veronica and Victoria, who both have locs, what they think about Lin’s choice and subsequent essay and they both had different takes. While one of them appreciated the effort Lin put in to better understanding the style and the implications of wearing it, the other felt that, regardless of the research, if you know wearing a certain style might offend someone of a different culture, why still do it?
Though I agree with that sentiment, I can’t overlook the fact that in Lin’s environment everyone around him — yes, all the Black people — were egging him on in his journey. Rondae actually got dreads with Lin and when he broached the subject with two other teammates, D-Lo and DeMarre, all they talked to him about was the process of getting dreads, “how painful the beginning process is, whether you could still rock a hat, how to maintain them, things like that.” If my inner circle were comprised of a different culture and they told me I could wear a style of any sort that was reflective of their culture, I’d likely do it too. But I’m also not a famous athlete whom millions watch on their TV screens and look to to set trends.
I can honestly say I don’t really feel any type of way about Lin’s hair, though I still find his choice interesting. I’m actually more curious what he got out of those difficult conversations he said he had, other than the push to dread his hair, and how they will affect his activism going forward. In 2014, Lin was the only non-Black athlete to wear an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt so I truly believe his heart is in the right place. I’ll leave it up to other people to discuss whether his head (or hair) is.