I have several white friends who have or had dreadlocks and we've gotten in many arguments about their hair. I tell them I don't think white people should have dreads and that it's cultural appropriation. They say they respect and embrace the cultural roots of dreadlocks; that it's appreciation, not appropriation. As much as I like my friends, they're wrong.
The only white people who should even in the least be permitted to sport locks are white Rastafarians. To me, that seems to be a contradiction in terms anyway which I'm not going to deal with here, but since I'm guessing 98% of white people with dreads don't identify as Rastafarian, then it's safe to say that in general white people shouldn't have dreads. I don't care about your reasons behind it - get some scissors and cut 'em off. Please.
Several years ago when I was even more naive than I am now, I seriously considered getting dreadlocks. I thought it was cool and counterculture-ish (yes, I was trying to assimilate into that counterculture uniform). I didn't have a full grasp on the significance of dreadlocks, but I figured since I meant well then it was ok. Luckily, someone wiser than I pulled me aside and informed me that it was a bad idea. As a result, I still got a curly, poofy mop that at least pisses off no one else but me.
Though it should seem clear enough that white people + dreadlocks = cultural appropriation, a lot of white people don't get it. (Surprise, surprise!) The best way I've found to explain it to them is to remind them that they're white. Dreadlocks are not devoid of meaning. By a white person wearing them they are taking on or displaying a symbol that is expressive of a racial pride or a stand against oppression or other meaning that does not pertain to white people. It doesn't matter what meaning a white person gives their own dreadlocks, dreadlocks already come with meanings that do not pertain to, nor belong on, a white person's head.
The bottom line is that white people can cut off their dreads and recover all the privileges that might have been deferred because of their hairstyle. It doesn't work like that for anyone else. I feel like dreadlocks to a degree is just a way of flaunting white privilege - you might as well walk around with a sign saying, "Look what I can do! I can adopt your culture and still have white privilege! I can cut them off and get even more white privilege!" While certainly it's not intended that maliciously, I imagine for many people of color that's the message that comes across.
Since we're talking about hair, the same goes for the "Mohawk." Actually, what inspired me to write this was a short piece I just read about "Mohawks." Other concise info on dreads and "Mohawks" can be found here. Those of you white folks with dreads or who have friends with dreads, keep this in mind. It's not an attack on anyone individually; it's just the way things are.
PS - I'm thinking of starting a "White People and..." section on topics like hip hop, tourism, wealth, privilege, etc. Any ideas or suggestions?