This afternoon I stopped by the neighborhood beauty supply store to purchase hair clips. I planned on palm-rolling my locks this weekend and needed the right supplies. Walking in, I saw a dread-locked brother standing close to a woman that I presumed to be his girlfriend. He glanced over when I walked in the door and we gave each other the look…a quick appraisal and approval for sharing the same hairstyle.
As I made my way to the counter, the brother was standing alone and asked, “are you rasta?” I told him no and turned my attention back to the clerk. I wouldn’t have given our conversation any more thought except that out of the corner of my eye, I could see this brother shaking his head.
Is he shaking his head at me? For not being a rasta?
After paying for my things, I turned to him and asked him why he was shaking his head.
“I’m offended because of your hair. It just seems like a lot of people down South have their hair like that and they don’t know anything about their history.”
“Hmmm…I’m offended that you are making a judgment about my and my choice of hairstyle without asking me about my view on my hair. Do Rastas have a patent on locked hair?”
“No, I’m not saying that.”
“I thought that a critical piece of Rastafarianism the process of becoming aware and learning about knowledge of self? Couldn’t my hairstyle be an extension of my own personal journey, and if so, how can you have a problem with that?”
“Uhmmm…that’s one way to look at it.”
Instead of engaging me in conversation, he continued shaking his head. His girlfriend walked up with her products and asked if he was getting in trouble. As I looked from him to her, purchasing products to tame her brown and black, down the back weave, I understood his refusal to build with me. His priorities were in conflict, and he had a hard time reconciling his definition of blackness with hers. He lost credibility in my eyes, not for her hairstyle, but for his inability to stick to his supposed principles in all aspects of his life. In retrospect, I just think he wanted to be a culture bully, trying to make someone else feel as though they weren’t authentically black or authentically conscious. Unfortunately, he met up with a sister, moi, who refuses to let someone else define that for her.
In parting, I left him with this thought: “Well, for someone so concerned about keeping the culture safe, you just missed an opportunity to drop some knowledge. I’m even more disappointed than you.”
The reality is, there was a time when our hairstyles might have also meant that we shared the same politics, but with natural hairstyles and dreadlocks in particular becoming more mainstream, one can no longer make that assumption. Outkast made this point when they said “everyone with dreads is not down for the cause/and everyone with fronts is not down for the fall…” Like brother Rasta, I still struggle with this everyday. I guess today was a lesson for both of us.