Pacific News Service, Commentary,
Charles Jones, Sep 25, 2003
Editor's Note: Once a hairstyle associated with consciousness and spirituality, dreadlocks have become the style of choice for youngsters more concerned with hustling than healing.
OAKLAND, Calif.--When I moved back to Oakland nearly three months ago, I was taken aback by a trend that had swept through the streets of "tha town" since I'd left in 2000: Dreadlocks.
No matter where you are in Oakland these days you'll see them. Long, short, natural, flowing locks. It should be a beautiful thing. It should be, but it's not. It's not even cute. Because under the visual beauty of so many black men being dreadlocked is the ugly reality that these are the same cats out sellin' dope, robbin', and driving up the body count in Oakland.
These young men who wear their locks with such pride and ignorance have no idea about the historical or spiritual significance of dreadlocks. No, to them it just makes them look "harder." Like gold teeth or puff coats, locks are now worn as an accessory to make you look more menacing.
Before I go on, let me put this out there for those who don't know: For centuries people have worn dreadlocks as symbols of a natural lifestyle, spiritual identity, or covenant with GOD (read: Samson and Delilah). Don't get it twisted, young Oakland: DREADLOCKS ARE NOT JUST SOME "HIP-HOP" HAIRSTYLE!
I realized it was a problem when, here at Youth Outlook magazine, we received an essay from a teenaged girl explaining how she saw dreadlocks as a warning sign. When she saw dreads on a black man's head, she said she knew that he had sold or used drugs, or was a gun-toting gangsta.
Now, when I first saw this I was pissed! Assuming the writer was white, my initial reaction was, "Stupid yuppie." But it turns out she was a young black girl from Oakland.
I felt sick.
How could any black person not know that dreads have historically been a part of our peoples' connection with the divine? How could anyone black equate dreadlocks with drug-selling, gun-toting thugs? Walking home from the subway, though, I saw the example she was working with. I was forced to swallow my delusions about dreadlocks.
Revolutionaries like the Kenyan liberation fighters, the Mau Mau, wore dreads. Conscious, intelligent rappers wore dreads. Bob Marley, the crown prince of reggae music and a devout Rasta, wore dreads. In the Bay -- back in the day -- brothers with dreads were considered corny by the ghetto. Not anymore. Youngstas sport the style, but they're ignorant of the history and culture associated with it.
The other day, as I was walking to my North Oakland home from the local store, a young man with dreadlocks asked me for a cigarette. While rummaging through my shirt pockets I noticed him staring at my shirt, which sports a bold print in the image of his imperial majesty, Hallie Selassie (a former Ethiopian king who is recognized in the Rastafari religion, the folks that popularized the dread look, as the second coming of Christ), so I asked him if he knew who it was.
"Is it Jesus?" he offered.
I handed him his cancer and retired to my home in silence. I woke up the next morning thinking, "Jesus?!"
Look, here's a list of books and other dreadlock-related Web sites for any youth who got locks and don't know what they mean. While some of these resources focus strictly on the grooming and maintenance of dreadlocks, others delve deeper into their spiritual and social meanings.
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