Social media users are abuzz about the irony of a photo of a Ku Klux Klan supporter at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., wearing dreadlocks — a hairstyle culturally associated with Black people, and a style for which Black people are often discriminated.
On Saturday, a few dozen members and supporters of the North Carolina-based Loyal White Knights of the KKK shouted “white power” at a rally to protest against a city council decision to remove a statue honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
DeVanté Cunningham, a recent graduate from the University of Virginia, took the photo of a KKK supporter wearing dreadlocks and a shirt with several Klan symbols.
“Me and my friend were in total disbelief,” Cunningham told BBC Trending. “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 white supremacists at the protest brandished Confederate flags and signs with anti-Semitic messages, while hundreds of anti-KKK protesters waved signs denouncing racism. The groups were separated from crowds by a ring of fencing and a heavy police presence.
Later police fired tear gas canisters when some protesters refused orders to disperse. Twenty-three people were arrested, but officials could not confirm their affiliations, according to Reuters.
Cunnighman said he attended the rally to show his opposition to KKK supporters.
“I was angry that they were coming to a place that I have called home for the past six years,” he told BBC Trending. “So I knew that whatever counter protest was going to be happening, I needed to be there.”
The photo of the unidentified man went viral on Twitter.
Social media users were confused as to why a supporter of the Klan, identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, would choose a hairstyle with a connection to Black culture.
Many summed it up as cultural appropriation. The term is used to describe when a marginalized culture’s creations are used, borrowed and imitated by a privileged culture, many times for profit, without a true understanding or respect for its history and traditions.
In 2015, at age 16, actress Amandla Stenberg, who was in the film “The Hunger Games,” posted a video on YouTube called “Don’t Cash Crop on My Cornrows,” discussing Black natural hair in mainstream culture and explaining her thoughts on cultural appropriation.
Though a white male KKK supporter seemingly appears comfortable wearing dreadlocks while promoting racist ideals, many Black men and women are still questioned by society when choosing to wear the hairstyle.
In the 2015 book “Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles,” author Bert Ashe chronicles his journey to wearing dreadlocks. Ashe, an associate professor at the University of Richmond, wavered for 20 years before he decided to grow out his hair.
He talks about his journey in the following video:
Black women have been marginalized for attempting to wear dreadlocks in the workplace. For example, Chastity Jones received a job offer from Catastrophe Management Solutions (CMS), an insurance claims processing center, in 2010. When Jones refused to get rid of her dreadlocks, the job offer was rescinded.
“How can the court or an employer feel they have a right to strip us of this option to wear whatever hairstyle we chose?” said Lissiah Taylor Hundley.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a race discrimination lawsuit against CMS on behalf of Jones in 2013, stating, “Dreadlocks are a manner of wearing the hair that is physiologically and culturally associated with people of African descent.”
Last September, in a 3-0 decision, the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of CMS asserting that it’s legal for companies to refuse employment based on hairstyles.