The Assumptions We ALL Make About Dreadlocks

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When I heard Giuliana Rancic’s comments about Zendaya Coleman’s faux dreadlocks, the first thing I did was smell my own dreads to make sure they didn’t smell like weed…

Thankfully, they didn’t. But if they did, why should it matter?

Marijuana is either being decriminalized or legalized in cities and states across the country, and lots of folks are getting paid legitimately through the sale of Cannabis. Well, make that lots of folks outside of Black people. Although we are still getting locked up for illegal possession of it while others get rich, we apparently have more important issues to worry about – like looking more respectable.

Or as Jamilah Lemieux, the senior digital editor of writes:

It’s important that we understand that Rancic’s words were offensive because of the ways this stereotype, and the criminalization of weed, have harmed Black people. However, it’s also critical for us to consciously stop supporting the idea that weed smokers are bad, weed is bad, poor people who rely on government subsidies shouldn’t have it because it’s going to keep them from working hard, etc.

I understand why saying that Coleman would defend herself by name checking Ledisi, Ava DuVernay, Terry McMillian and other noteworthy Black folks who wear locs, faux and otherwise, by stating that they don’t “smell like marijuana.” However, I wouldn’t want her or anyone else to be disappointed if that assertion isn’t true.

I have some confessions to make: I have dreadlocks so long, they touch the small of my back. Most times, I pin them up into elaborate updos, and that makes it look like I have big regal crown sitting on top of my head. I am such a hair snob that I only grease my scalp with organic extra virgin olive oil and wash my locks in distilled water.

But I also eat double cheeseburgers from McDonald’s.

And because I was perm-less for nearly a decade prior to making the decision to lock my hair, I never did a big chop. Instead, I was able to skip over the stage where you look like Kyle from “Living Single” (I don’t care how cute you are in the face, it happens to everybody in that awkward growth stage) and into the stage where I had some actual length. Also, I have no desire to move to Ethiopia, although a visit would be nice.

The point I’m trying to make here is that there are all kinds of assumptions and stigmatizations around locks that go way beyond the fear of smelling like weed. When you have locks, people expect certain things from you. They want you to know about healing crystals and how to recite the Swahili alphabet on command. They also expect you to be righteous, noble and respectable at all times.

Like the time when an employer, who was a Black woman, kept giving me the Black power fist and teasing me about being a member of MOVE (a black liberation group in Philly) every time I had a question or made a statement in a meeting. Now granted, I consider myself one smart militant cookie, and there is nothing wrong with being “on the MOVE.” However, I also know a slight when I hear one. I don’t want people using my hair as an excuse to malign and dismiss both my work and my words just because they have stereotypical views of both dreadlocks and the function of Black liberation groups. And that is exactly what I told my former employer. Although she apologized profusely and claimed that she meant no harm, I was treated like a troublemaker around the office after the incident.

And it’s not just passive aggressive workplace harassment we’re talking about here. The assumptions about my hair are everywhere. Not only do we have Wendy Williams out here telling folks that natural hair isn’t red carpet ready, but we also have Anthony Mackie, in the role of Supreme Negro Apologist, advising young men to leave locks alone if they want to avoid mistreatment by law enforcement. With so many people wanting to associate negativity with the hairstyle, and many natural hairstyles in general, you can certainly understand why folks might get a bit defensive about all of this.

But when we get to the point in our defense where we are limiting the kind of people we think deserve to be associated with the hairstyle, it’s pretty safe to say that we have gone too far in trying to make our hair both respectable and acceptable to the mainstream. Because why can’t dreads be both red carpet and dime-bag ready?

According to the book Chasing Down Babylon, dreadlocks have long had different levels of significance for the Rastafarian community, and that includes showing a commitment to naturalness, as well as a desire to “generate fear in the heart of the Babylonians.” But aesthetically, dreadlocks are also a rejection of Babylon’s definition of beauty and culture.

If my dreadlocks have to make a statement, I would prefer that my hair represents a counteraction to the current European standard of beauty. But that’s if my hair has to make a statement. My actual preference is that my hair could just be seen as a reflection of my individual style and nothing more. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t want people walking down the street using my hair to make assumptions about my intelligence, my commitment to the community and social justice, and how much weed I smoke–unless they are going to front me a bag.

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