The 27-year-old "Peaches" singer debuted locs on Instagram Sunday , sharing several pictures of his controversial new hairstyle that elicited both calls of racial insensitivity and praise amongst peers.
But for people of color, natural hair isn't seen as trendy or cutting edge. It is often discriminated against and policed. In 2020, a Texas teen was suspended for refusing to cut his locs. In 2019, a New Jersey high school wrestler had to cut off his locs to avoid forfeiting the match. In 2015, Zendaya's locs were referred to as smelling of "patchouli oil and weed" on the Oscars red carpet. The list goes on.
Locs – which are commonly referred to as dreadlocks, a term that holds a historically negative connotation – is a style where hair locks into fused coils over time. The hairstyle has traditionally been worn by people of color throughout history.
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Although Bieber has previously said he's "very influenced by Black culture" and has recently used his platform to advocate for racial equality, some social media users said Bieber took "1,000 (steps) backwards" with his "totally offensive and disrespectful" hair.
"Listen @justinbieber I don’t care how long I’ve liked you, this is cultural appropriation and I don’t like it," tweeted @jadorehyungwon. "Justin how are you gonna preach that you’re an advocate for black people and then keep appropriating them? Make it make sense buddy."
An Instagram user commented under Bieber's Instagram post, "It’s really disappointing to see you with dreads, I thought you educated yourself."
Twitter user @maya_MIDA added, "Justin Bieber is wearing locs right now. I don’t like it because Black folks who wear locs are still discriminated in the workplace for wearing hair that comes natural to them. There are laws that exist that actually prohibit."
Listen @justinbieber I don’t care how long I’ve liked you, this is cultural appropriation and I don’t like it. As a black woman, this is totally offensive and disrespectful. Cut your hair or fix it, the fact that it is 2021 and people are still appropriating black people is gross
— Dom | 1/3 of Dèni (@jadorehyungwon) April 26, 2021
Others have defended Bieber's hairstyle, saying he should be free express himself how he pleases.
"Let him do his hair the way he wants to. People can choose a hair style they want," @Habesha99 tweeted.
Other people have said that Bieber's hair shouldn't be a topic of conversation in midst of more pressing current events.
"I think there are a few thousand people who would say there are more important stories at the moment, that are WAY more important than JUSTIN BIEBER'S HAIRCUT. Happy to tell you more," @AlekseyShinder said.
In June, Bieber admitted that he "benefited off of Black culture."
"My style, how I sing, dance, perform, and my fashion have all been influenced and inspired by Black culture," Bieber wrote on Instagram June 6. "I am committed to using my platform this day forward to learn, to speak up about racial injustice and systemic oppression, and to identify ways to be a part of much needed change."
In March, the singer released his 16-track "Justice" album. He was met with criticism over the album's title and some of the tracks featuring clips of Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches, even though King's daughter Bernice King co-signed Bieber's project.
In the first song on the album, "2 Much," Bieber opens with a clip of King saying "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" before singing about the love he has for his wife Hailey Bieber. The almost two-minutelong track "MLK Interlude" is made up entirely of a Martin Luther King Jr. speech.
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Twitter users were confused by the King soundbites and criticized Bieber for using them on an album mostly about marriage and love.
Bieber also faced backlash in 2016 for wearing cornrows. He captioned the Instagram picture of his hair, "Hailey made me get corn rows like an absolute douche bag, these will be off tomorrow trust me Danny."
Contributing: Elise Brisco
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Justin Bieber accused of cultural appropriation over new dreadlocks