MONTREAL — A Montreal comic who was told he could not perform — or even be in the audience — at a comedy show because his hairstyle was considered racist, is pleading for calm from both sides of the debate.
Zach Poitras, a white man with dreadlocked hair, received international attention after he was recently told by the Coop les Recoltes, a bar and solidarity co-operative at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal, that he and his hair were unwelcome at its comedy night. A white person with dreadlocks is form of violence toward people of colour, the organizers decided.
"To read that I am racist because of my hair — I find that absurd," Poitras wrote in a Facebook post Thursday evening. He declined an interview request Friday.
But while he is unhappy to have been denied the microphone, the comedian is also lamenting that he has become a "poster boy" for "polemicists" in the Quebec media who used his experience to attack what they consider an excess of political correctness. He said he does not want to be an instrument in their "battle against the left."
In a Jan. 13 Facebook post, the co-operative said that a white person wearing dreadlocks is a form of cultural appropriation — an example of a dominant culture appropriating the symbols, clothing or hairstyles of a historically dominated people.
"We recognize that cultural appropriation is a form of racism," the coop wrote. "For a person from a historically dominated culture, seeing their culture appropriated ... is a form of violence." White people who wear dreadlocks are considered edgy, the post continued, while black people with the same hairstyle are prevented from obtaining job opportunities.
Poitras says the co-operative overreacted. "I think that people are becoming a little too fragile with certain issues," he wrote. "And I'm talking about both sides. On one side, I'm being prevented from doing stand-up because of my hair. On the other side, they are telling me to sue the venue. Let's calm down please."
Jackie Maule, a comedian and hairstylist specializing in dreadlocks, says the claim that dreadlocks are only for black people is false. She says her shop was the first "natural hair" dreadlock salon in Montreal when she opened in 2002.
"I just finished doing (dreadlocks) on a guy from Israel," Maule, who is black, said in an interview Friday. "My place is multicultural, and dreadlocks for me are universal."
Poitras said he has been in contact with the co-operative and there isn't really a conflict between him and its members. He said he considers himself gender fluid and in general, his politics align with those of the co-operative.