The Power of Hair
Her hair is beautiful. The long and soft locks hinting of lavender are reminiscent of wild, carefree, summer nights. She decorates it with beads and colored ribbon, each piece a glimpse into her beautiful personality. She's strong, independent, and genuinely kind, with one of those innocent, sunny personalities that everyone likes. But when she goes to the store, the cashier ensures that the camera is filming. People ask her for marijuana but she doesn't smoke, and doesn't intend to. Her boss threatens that it is her hair or her job. She is the victim of discrimination-- only because she wears dreadlocks.
There are many misconceptions about dreadlocks which cause discrimination against those who wear them. People think that dreadlocks have never been washed and that people that wear them are of the Rastafarian religion, smoke marijuana, and have an intensive need to rebel from society (FiddleSticks268 et al). While these stereotypes might be true sometimes, the stereotype cannot be generalized to all who wear dreads. Dreadlocks create social diversity, those who wear them are individuals; locked hair is actually very clean, it is an ancient, natural tradition, and it is commonly a sign of spirituality or religion. Society's perceptions of dreadlocks cause undue discrimination to people who wear dreads. No one should be discriminated against, especially no because of way that they wear their hair.
Perhaps the most common misconception, the one that may be the biggest cause for concern in a workplace, is the cleanliness of dreadlocks. Horror stories abound centering on dreadlocks. A personal friend of mine, Geoff, tried dreads in his "crazy, rebellious college years." He stopped brushing his hair, and after six months of not washing it, he had to shave his head. It was nasty, smelled, and looked disgusting.
However, "dreadies," as those who wear dreadlocks affectionately call themselves, can't afford to have moldy, smelly hair for that long; after all, they must live with them. Most dreadies keep their hair for years because of the work and energy devoted to creating them. Separating locks from each other until they turn into individual dreadlocks takes months! In fact, according to Dreadlockssite.com, an online community dedicated to connecting dreadies and introducing resources for growing product-free, natural dreads, the cleaner dreadlocks are, the faster they mature: that is, the faster they tangle into a thick cord of hair.
Most dreadies wash their hair two to three times a week (FiddleSticks268 et al). In order to keep dreads clean, they must be washed with a residue-free shampoo. Furthermore, dreadies will commonly rinse their hair with a baking soda solution followed by a vinegar solution. Often this rinse will include lavender oil for its fresh scent and added hair-health benefits. This trend is also rising on social media sites and is referred to as "No-poo" (no shampoo), leaving users, typically loose-haired users, with "shinier, healthier-looking hair that [has] less frizz and more body than... before" (Dahl). Others use non-residue, natural shampoos such as Vickie's Goddess dread bar, or Dr. Bronner's shampoo (FiddleSticks268 et al). All these methods tend to be environmentally friendly because they are biodegradable and don't contain harsh, synthetic chemicals.
While people believe dreads are dirtier than loose hair, because dreads are in a tangle of hair, I argue they are even cleaner than the average person's head! The dirt and dust particles have a harder time penetrating the locks (think of an air duct filter) whereas loose hair has plenty of strands for dirt to cling to. Next, dreads catch hair that is normally shed. So while people with loose hair might be leaving their "dirty" hair everywhere, dreadies keep it to themselves. This is helpful for those who work in food places as dreads work better than hair nets (Clean).
Another common stereotype about those who wear dreadlocks is that they must be Rastafarian. Perhaps people believe that if someone does not have dreads simply to rebel from society, the only legitimate reason is religion. However, Rastafarianism is only as old as the 1980's, and dreadlocks have been around for thousands of years. In 2500 BCE followers of Shiva, a Hindu deity with matted hair, were recorded to have worn dreadlocks. Intact dreaded wigs have also been found inside ancient Egyptian tombs. While the first largely documented cases only go back a few thousand years, stories in ancient texts lead us to believe that dreadlocks were worn by Nazarites, Celts, Germanic tribes, Greeks, and even Vikings. Neanderthals certainly were not using combs during the dawn of human time! Hair that is left alone will naturally dread. Dreadlocks are an ancient, natural practice and should not suddenly be considered taboo now.
Some religions have very deep associations with dreadlocks. Under this framework, discrimination against one's appearance becomes discrimination against one's personal beliefs. One example of deep religious associations can be found in the well-known bible story of Samson, a powerful Nazarene leader with locked hair. Once Delilah cut off Samson's seven locks, he lost his power and was captured by the Philistines (Dicara). Many religions, including the Nazarene and Kemetic religions, believe that hair records one's life: what a person eats, any toxins that have been in the body, and therefore one's life energy. Spiritual Master Naba Lamoussa Morodenibig, an expert in the Kemetic religion, explains that when hair is shed every day, this energy is spread away from the person; however, when hair is kept on the head, tangled inside dreadlocks, this life energy is kept inside one's body. Tangled hair, then, signifies closeness to God. Morodenibig is very passionate about how dreadlocks are not supposed to be worn for fashion, as a political statement, or as a connection to the marijuana culture. Having dreadlocks "causes the Gods to notice [people who wear them]." People who wear them have vowed to follow the 77 Kemetic commandments intentionally or not, and by breaking any of the commandments, the Gods' punishment becomes more severe (Irita).
While dreadlocks are very religiously significant for some, others consider them spiritually significant, regardless of their religion. Many people who decide to dread their hair do so with the intention of going on a "journey" because the process of having dreadlocks is full of discovery. Along the way, dreadies learn more about themselves, seeking to understand who they truly are. Many agree that they are not the same person they were before dreadlocks.
In a personal statement, Tyler Rakowski talks about how much dreadlocks have changed him in the three years he wore them (Rakowski). "I grew into a wonderful human being and changed my life around from low life drug addict tosuccessfulcollege student..." When describing the journey he says "Think about the beautifulmetamorphosisthat your body and mind went through while those little buggers grew and locked and changed with you, not just as aseparatepart of your body, but a direct physical representation of your inner spirituality" (FiddleSticks268 et al). Rakowski is successful because of his dreads, describing exactly the opposite of what many people might think.
From a series of answers to interview questions posted on Dreadlockssite.com, many dreadies describe the different reasons for starting to dread. Gavin Parsons started dreading because he wanted to be closer to nature. "I love my life and feel like starting dreads is more of a start to a different way of life, a different state of being.... I didn't start this journey as a hairstyle or a way to look cool. I started living more naturally..." Sunflower, on the other hand did partly get them for fashion purposes: "I love how dreadlocks look/feel, I love decorating (so I can put beads sea shells etc), and though I am free forming, to grow with patience as my locks grow in beauty" (FiddleSticks268 et al). Peter, a USU student, agrees, saying, "People who have dreadlocks simply want a stylish and low maintenance hair style, they don't want to be judged just as much as everyone else" (Peter). NaturalDreads01 started dreads for "mainly spiritual [reasons]," much like who "wanted them to help me humble myself and remind myself that I'm beginning a journey into my new religion/way of life" (FiddleSticks268 et al). The reasons are as diverse as the dreadies themselves.
While dreadies aren't all Rastafarian, Kemetic, or Nazarene, and while dreadies might not intend on gaining spiritual powers through their hair to be closer to God, many might still be spiritual in their intention for having dreadlocks. Very few wear dreadlocks simply to rebel from society. There are easier, ways, requiring much less effort in time and energy, to do so, (for example, dying one's hair blue). When society discriminates against dreadies, it is discriminating against a spiritual belief--something deep and defining inside a person.
While spiritual beliefs are hard to prove, the government actually protects those who are part of organized religions. It is unlawful to discriminate against employees wearing dreadlocks according to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This Act protects employees from being required to cut off their dreadlocks if dreads are worn for religious reasons. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) must require employers to respect religious beliefs including Nazarites and Rastafarians. (Fuller).
Many of the dreadies interviewed experienced direct discrimination in the workplace. Baba Fats shares that "I worked for Whole Foods as a cook for 5 years and had my locks the entire time... At one point they were only 6-8 inches long. I knew, though, that at some point my locks would be too long for the hair net. I heard from some people at a different store that they made tams with the store logo on them. So I brought the topic up to my store boss. He straight up told me that he would never allow me to have that hat because no one else wore it. And that when they got that long, I'd have to choose between my hair and my job." Peter also faced discrimination in the workplace. He says, "[I] was applying as a snowboard[instructor] on the east coast at Sugarloaf mountain. Keep in mind I have already been an instructor for 3 years at another mountain. When I was at the pre season clinic, after the full day of training, I was taken aside and talked to about my dreads. The ultimatum was either I cut my hair to work, or don't get the job. So I said Iwouldn'twork for them" (Peter). Both individuals were discriminated against so severely that it affected their employment!
The law only protects those who dread for religious reasons. The majority of the rest who started dreads for spiritual reasons--beliefs as deep and important to the individual as religious beliefs--are not legally protected. Employers can require dress code at the workplace, but it is not ethically right to draw a line between spirituality and religiousness. Not on something as trivial as a hairstyle.
The cleanliness and religious stereotypes certainly aren't always true; however, some of other stereotypes might be partly true. For example, while not everyone who wears dreads smokes marijuana, some do admit to smoking every once and a while. While people do participate in drugs, does this necessarily mean that it is related to wearing dreadlocks? A Gallup Poll in 2002 showed that 34% of Americans have smoked marijuana (Robison). That is one out of three people. Yes, a dreadhead might smoke marijuana, but so might anyone else. Just because there is evidence to support the stereotype does not mean that it is true; the stereotype might be as true for everyone else as it is for those who dread their hair.
NaturalDreads01 agrees with this position. He says "I think anothermisconceptionis that many of us who are locking... do drugs. Not to say that some don't, but I would surely not say that all dreads do" which proved to be true based on others' answers. Baba Fats agreed, saying, "Considering that I started my journey when I was quitting smoking weed, I think that is the major misconception. I don't do any drugs other than smoke [cigarettes]. I don't drink or smoke pot" (FiddleSticks268 et al). Peter even gets stereotyped this way by those who do drugs themselves! "I don't do any drugs but people are always coming up to me looking for drugs" (Peter). There are quite a few individuals who do not smoke and don't intend to.
Of course, then there are the few that might fit the stereotype, like Soaring Eagle who says, "I do smoke weed, but far less than anyone I know... I'm very much anti drug, anti alcohol, anti poisoning your life," and Gavin Parsons, who agrees, says "I smoke a joint or two from time to time but in my opinion is the most natural thing to put in your body. If man has touched it, it's probably bad for you" (FiddleSticks268 et al). It is interesting to note that the latter two dreadies, while admitting to smoking marijuana every once in a while, are very much against alcohol and drugs. (Some believe that marijuana is not a drug, but is a natural herb instead.) Furthermore, these last two that do smoke are proportionally very close to matching the 34% statistic expressed in the Gallup poll (Robison).
Other stereotypes, such as specific trends in personalities are not always true. Based on the variety of answers to the interview questions, dreadlocks don't do much to describe a person. Baba Fats says " I think, typically,stereotypesare true. Most people with locks are liberals. Many do drugs, Many are hippies. There are exceptions, and it has a lot to do with who you expose yourself to." Answering precisely the same interview question, describes how "most people assume I'm a liberal, left-wing fanatic, hippie. ...[This] isn't necessarily true. I'm not a liberal anyway" (FiddleSticks268 et al). Even dreadies can't agree on a particular motif in personalities!
Discrimination against dreadlocks is based on false stereotypes. Dreadlocks are clean, arguably more so than loose hair. Not all dreadies do marijuana, and if they do, it is probably not associated with their dreadlocks. While many wear dreadlocks for religious reason, those who don't often still have specific spiritual reasons as well. Discrimination is very real; it is not fair to deny someone their job because of these false stereotypes. Next time you see the girl with the dreadlocks, don't assume. Get to know her sunny personality first, and her hair second. Her hair is beautiful, if not to you then very much to her. She is diverse, a naturalist, an individual, and has undergone a powerful journey to discover herself. And her dreads--they're just a hairstyle.
Clean, Jonny. "A Note To Employers - Dreadlocks in the Workplace." DreadHeadHQ. Web. 21 Mar 2013.
Dahl, Melissa. "Ditching shampoo a dirty little beauty secret ." NBCNews.com 23 Apr 2009. Web. 10 Apr. 2013.
Dicara, Vic. "Dreadlock History." Knotty Boy. Web. 21 Mar 2013.
Irita. "The History of Dreadlocks." Sunnyside Magazine. 09 Dec 2009: Feature 8.2. Web. 21 Mar 2013.
FiddleSticks268, et al. "Dreadlocks and Discrimination: Interview Questions." 30 Mar 2013. Online Posting to Dreadlockssite.com. Web. 10 Apr. 2013.
Fuller, George. "Discrimination against Employees Wearing Dreadlocks Unlawful." Xanga.com, 21 Dec 2012. Web. 21 Mar 2013.
Peter. E-mail Interview. 02 Apr 2013.
Rakowski, Tyler. "dreadlocks and how they change you." 13 Feb 2013. Online Posting to Dreadlockssite.com. Web. 21 Mar 2013.
Robison, Jennifer, ed. "Who Smoked Pot? You May Be Surprised." Gallup.com. Gallup, Inc., 16 Jul 2002. Web. 10 Apr 2013.
updated by @fiddlesticks268: 01/13/15 09:51:38PM