The dread of dreadlocks
Dreadlocks are not Rasta and Rasta is not dreadlocks. Agreed?
Good. Now that we are together let’s proceed.
This is a text I got from Saara a few days ago:
“Straight question and honest answer is needed. Are my dreadlocks offensive and culturally inappropriate and should I cut them off?”
I wondered why she would feel like this and who successfully made her doubt her choices given how independently opinionated she can be. Anyways I responded with a resounding NO.
Let me tell you about my own dreadlocks story. For those who’ve known me previously you are aware that I had dreadlocks for a long time. I have since cut them and I’ll tell you about that too.
For me, when I decided to have locks it was a very personal choice and decision. I wasn’t really swayed by any sense of fashion or need to belong. At the time, dreadlocks were not illegal but they weren’t celebrated either. At the time in Kenya there were sects and illegal violent extremist groups that spotted locks as a sign of defiance, unity and identity. As expected, people with locks were victims of public prejudice. A lot of artists also spotted dreadlocks maybe as some kind of cool branding of membership of the arts movement or even just to look cute! That wasn’t it for me.
When I chose to have locks, I was tuning in to my personal spirit. I felt like my life was too pegged to a conventional setting and I wanted to find expressions that would free my body and soul. Dance was one of them but it wasn’t all. And even dance was something I could only do when I had the time and opportunity. I wanted a personal sense of freedom and my hair were the organs for these senses. They were my symbol and landmark of freedom; my expression of immortality and the values I believed in. My “faith systems”.
When I eventually cut my locks I had been experiencing the opposite of the purpose for which I grew them. I had personal struggles that didn’t allow me to draw strength from my faith systems. I had lost my sense of freedom and I was enslaved to just a superficial appearance and didn’t quite feel like I kept a deeper purpose for having them. So I cut them with the liberty of knowing that if I ever wanted them back I would have discovered a new meaning or retrieved my old purpose to grow them again. I still keep them somewhere safe with me and they remind me of these things. For me this was not something I can trade, so I’ve never been keen to throw them away or sell them.
Now Saara, I don’t find dreadlocks offensive and I am not just saying this because I have had them before. I think that they are a universal expression that doesn’t really belong to any particular entity, tribe, religion, race, gender… name it. In this age of neo-socialist ideologies, fashion and expression is a non-issue. So I honestly find preferring dreadlocks to only black people to be the most retrogressive thing I can hear today. Dreadlocks are a time old tradition that can be traced back many years ago. I’m not a historian but I come from a logical school of thought. It is simply silly to assume that black people could have been the ones who “discovered” dreadlocks.
I don’t know why Saara has dreadlocks, but I know for sure that there’s a reason she chose them. Whatever reason it is it goes beyond her skin colour, even if it is simply because she likes them.
Saara. If you have to cut them off let the reason be as good as the one that brought on your head.
--- Ozzy ---
P.S. I wasn’t high when I wrote this. I was listening to Bob Marley -Rastaman Live up
I spent two days in a row reading posts by @nowhitesaviors on Instagram. A site that aims to educate, advocate and take action. A brilliant site that sheds light to many important issues of racism and white saviour complex etc. But it is also a site that is deliberately provocative and wants to shock you and shake things around. Their slogan is “If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not listening”. I guess I was listening because I got seriously uncomfortable.
My dear husband (a Kenyan rasta himself) had to listen to me going through a whole lot of self reflection and evaluation of my past, especially the years we lived in Tanzania. It was a good discussion.
After that I kept on reading and the amount of hate and judgment white people with dreadlocks were receiving in the comments under the topic of cultural appropriation kind of threw me out of balance. Harsh words, quick judgement and the label of ignorant racist who is disrespecting black people was put on white people with dreadlocks by all colours of people. (Side note: I wonder does it make someone a better white person if instead of judging a black person based on looks they throw the judgment on a white dude? Just curious…)
So I got worried what other people might think (yes, I am human after all). My husband answered to me (direct quote): “I think you are too much in your head about the white black affairs. We are in a free continent. You choose how you want to look, not about what the society is thinking. Relax and get some sleep, what you cannot control, don't let it bother you.” This made me realise how incredibly confident he is with himself and how he looks. And of course he is, he has to be. How else can you live as a black person in a white society?
Even before I decided to put dreadlocks I had read about their history, the meaning in different traditions, the cultural context from past to modern day. The master of theology in me has always wanted to explore further. (I am not kidding, I have a Master’s Degree in Theology from Helsinki University.) In a way I do understand the reasons to hate a white person wearing dreadlocks if they indeed are ignorant and have not ever bothered to read a bit on the history and cultural references of the chosen hairstyle. Dreadlocks have a strong connection to a particular religion and ideology that one should at least be aware of when having them. But then again I never understand throwing stones before asking questions.
Ozzy is totally right, there is a reason for my dreadlocks. A reason that I have not shared a lot.
My hair has always had a role in my life symbolising changes. Whenever there is something huge changing inside me, I do a radical change to my hair. I have done this since I was 10 years old and first time decided to cut my loooooong hair super short and shock everyone. I also coloured it pink.
I put my locks when I accepted the fact I am gonna be a mother and my life is changing for good. So I have carried them since my first pregnancy in 2017 and they have grown with my first born since then.
I thought of cutting them off when we moved to Finland in 2018 and I was job hunting. I started feeling the prejudice this society puts on me because of them: irresponsible bohemian hippie. (That's for a white person, black guy with dreadlocks is of course someone who smokes weed and listens to reggae.) The realisation of this prejudice made me decide not to cut them and instead embrace them and walk my own path not giving in to the pressure of the society. I even considered changing from my half head dreadlocks to full head, but decided to stick with my 50/50 style the way I like it.
Additionally having dreadlocks here in Finland is a constant reminder of all the things I have learned about myself during the years I spent in East Africa. In a way they are an appreciation to the beautiful world I fell in love with and I was lucky to call home for some time.
One day I will cut out my locks. But as Ozzy requested, that will be for a reason that comes from within and holds equally important meaning as becoming a mother.
--- Saara ---
P.S. Fixing each other's dreadlocks is also a cute couple thing we do with the hubby. I lock his and he locks mine. No need for a saloon ever.