Stop Asking Me Foolish Ish Bout My Dreadlocks
I’ve been growing my dreadlocks for the past eight years. I say dreadlocks, because to me they’re more than a hairstyle or some fad being embraced by a particular new wave of black women who are sporting natural tresses as the “in-thing.” My dreadlocks are somehow entwined with my spirituality, my attitude, much of who I am. I’ve heard many women say they started locks because they were having problems with relaxed hair. That wasn’t the case for me. In the 12 years I wore my hair relaxed, I never had any issues. In fact, I’ve always had a healthy head of hair whether worn long or short.
I’d dreamt about having dreadlocks years before I would even begin the process. From my early teenage years when my hair was still natural, I’d approached my mother on the subject. Back then in the Caribbean there was a certain taboo with the hairstyle. Dreadlocks were inextricably linked to the Rastafarian movement that popularized them and unfortunately within the Barbadian society at the time, there was some negative stigma to being Rasta. My mother wouldn’t hear of it.
The year I turned 15, my godmother took me to a top male stylist in our capital Bridgetown and I got my first relaxed hair do. For a while I liked it. But by the time I was ready to graduate secondary school, I wanted to get rid of it. So much so, that I chopped off almost all of my shoulder-length hair into what was hottest do of the day – “The Toni Braxton” look. It was this hairstyle that preserved my tolerance for relaxed hair. Everyone loved the look on me and the compliments ensured I kept it for at least three years.
By the time I started my first job as a reporter I was again itching to get dreadlocks. It wasn’t that I couldn’t maintain relaxed hair; I was actually pretty good at that. People who knew me then can attest that my hair was always on point; I could relax my own hair if need be, cut it, color it, wrap it, hot curl it and I was also savvy at doing my friends’ hair. I remember once approaching a “very senior” editor at the newspaper where I worked and telling him about my hair plans. His response was, “And work where? Not here!”
Such was the big issue with a non-Rastafarian trying to wear dreads in a newsroom in Barbados. We had one person on staff that was Rasta and to my recollection; there was also a British/Barbadian editor who was starting the dreadlocks process – without protest from management. I was a lowly reporter, so I didn’t push the issue. A few years later when I was no longer with that company and had already moved to NY, I returned home for a vacation and ran into that “very senior.” He had just remarried and I was introduced to his beautiful young wife – she had some lovely dreadlocks.
Last Christmas I went home for the holidays and stopped by a couple of the media houses to look up some of my former colleagues. I was amazed and delighted at the number of women wearing locks in the newsroom. In fact, in Barbados as a whole, there seems to be an increasingly high number of women with dreadlocks and for many talented lockticians, maintaining the do has become a thriving business.
Similarly, here in Brooklyn especially in communities such as East Flatbush, Crown Heights, East New York, BedStuy and even Fort Greene, there are countless salons specializing in locks. Yet as mainstream as dreadlocks or locks have become, it is fascinating the types of questions people constantly ask me about my hair. Often, I wish it were an online conversation so I could send them the link “Let me Google that for you.”
I’ve developed certain pet peeves for the following questions.
1. Stupidest question: “Can you wash your hair?” People have even had the audacity to ask, “Does your hair smell?”
Answer: Of course I wash my hair, you numbskull (is what I really feel like saying), but I instead usually answer, “yes” with a smile. Just because one’s hair is natural, doesn’t mean washing it is or should be taken for granted. I’d argue that maintaining healthy natural hair requires more dedication than with relaxed hair.
2. The question that annoys me most: “So are you going to cut your hair?” or the variation, “When are you going to cut your hair?”
Answer: Do these people also walk around asking this question of those with relaxed hair? Stupse. Do they think I have a timeline for a particular length I’m aiming for or a specific age at which I’ll put a pair of scissors to my dreads? Stupse. I don’t know if or when I’ll cut my hair; let me check the crystal ball and let you know.
3. My favorite question: “You smoke weed, don’t you? Don’t people with dreads smoke weed?
Answer: No, I don’t blaze up, burn trees, not 420 friendly or any other jargon affiliated with smoking weed. I don’t smoke period; and never once have I.
4. Most baffling question: I wonder how this truly helps the inquirer, “How long have you been growing your hair?
Answer: I could understand if you also have locks, but if you don’t, in what perspective are you holding the response?
5. Most offensive question: “Is that all yours, is all that your own hair?”
Answer: I take issue with this because of all the love and nurturing I put into starting my locks from “scratch.” When I finally decided I was ready, I awoke one day, went to my stylist and asked her to cut off all my relaxed hair. I wanted to embrace my own natural hair, to really learn and understand it, to appreciate it and to just enjoy it. I went through the phase of it being fuzzy and looking unkempt as the bulbs (early stages of locks) formed. Due to the soft texture of my hair, it took a full year before the locks started to bond. There were many frustrating moments where I wondered if I’d ever really have dreadlocks. But never once did I consider cutting them. I relished the discipline of caring for them as I watched my “babies” slowly become sturdy coils. They’ve taught me patience and somehow instilled a lovely carefree feeling in me. And over the years, I’ve continued to shower them with TLC, as they remain healthy, grow longer, stronger, and are now a beautiful and a vital part of me.
By now, you’ve realized I love my hair. Even if you don’t like dreadlocks, kindly respect my journey with them. Stop asking me those aforementioned foolish questions. Yes, I love my dreadlocks and I wear this crown with pride.
P.S.: My dear mother and her only other child, my sweetheart younger sister both have dreadlocks.:-)
~ I Keep it Irie ~