After nine years of growing dreadlocks, I’m back to where I started: bald. I’ve been contemplating cutting them for a few months now, but never seriously thought I was quite ready to let them go.
The locks became such a big part of who I was as a person, despite the fact that wasn’t something I considered when I first started to grow them. My original intent was to let my hair grow naturally, without any impedance from a comb. I wanted to see what hair looked like when original man roamed the planet. Also, I knew my hairline was moving back fast and I thought I might as well grow my hair long, while I still had it…and I did!
Back in 2000 I rocked a shaved head and let the hair grow. Slowly, but surely, the curls started to grow and I had a mini-unkempt afro. I liked the look of the nappy fro. It was bit wild in style, but easy to manage. As the first year ended, the naps started to lock up. I had small dreads that pointed straight to the sky, as if the force of gravity was more like the farce of gravity. This is when people started calling me Bob. Not Marley, but Sideshow. Yep, Sideshow Bob, the evil genius character on The Simpsons whose red, poofy locks defied gravity’s pull towards the Earth. I thought this was a bit of an amusing nickname, and I heard it for a good two years before my locks dropped.
By the end of 2003, I had locks that actually succumbed to gravity and pointed downward. At the time I lived in Washington, DC, and it was nothing unusual for a Black man to have dreads. I was not, and never was a Rasta. I was just a dude with dreadlocks. I’m not sure if everyone gets the difference, but the distinction is clear. To be a Rastaman means living a certain lifestyle and maintaining a particular belief system. Most notably, Rastas believe that the former Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, was the incarnation of God, or Jah. I am an Eritrean American and there is no way that I would ever believe that a man who directly oppressed my people for a generation could be seen as part of the Holy Trinity. No way! No how!
As the time passed, the dreads grew long and I ended up in southern California. Now I was in a place where it was rare to see a Black man with long dreads. Keep in mind that I did not twist my locks or go to the salon to maintain them. There was no uniformity to the dreads and they grew as they naturally would grow. This is when I started getting called Bob Marley all the time. Seriously, I was surprised how often people would call out to me with a “Yo, Bob!” In fact, they were more likely to start singing Bob Marley songs to me. I have previously written as to why I think people called me Bob in the OC, but I’m not sure I will ever really know why it was such a common occurrence. I will definitely not miss any of that nonsense.
Anyway, I truly believe that people perceived me as a less threatening Black man when I had dreadlocks, as opposed to when I had a shaved head. I’m not sure why, but I could tell from the way others interacted with me over the years. This was particularly true on the streets after dark. I’ll admit, walking by anyone late at night typically can raise anxiety in any person, but I saw much less over the shoulder looks and purse clutching when I had locks. I know this was not my imagination. I have always been sensitive to how people perceive young Black men as a “threat” and was always offended when I was seen in this way. Nonetheless, I have always been a peaceful person that tries to shatter this stereotype.
Amusingly, I was consistently asked if I was a famous reggae star or if I was from Jamaica. “Are you a musician?” was the typical question I heard, because I think people didn’t want to flat out say, “Hey are you in a reggae band?” I’m sure if my dreadlocks were more cosmetic in appearance I wouldn’t have been asked if I played music. Also, people never stop to think that not all Black folk donning long dreads hail from the Caribbean. Ha! I always got a kick out of that, because my face distinctly looks like a person from Eritrea or Ethiopia.
Nonetheless, the locks became a bit of an annoyance in the past year as they neared the bottom of my back. Even when tied up and back, they find a way to whip me in the eye while playing sports. They’d get caught in the car door at times when getting in and out. They accidentally took a dip in some meals that I’ve eaten and one lock even dove into the toilet when I bent over to pick something off the floor in my bathroom. Ewwwww!
Then the perfect opportunity to chop the locks came up. I got a job offer to teach in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. Although Emirati culture is not nearly conservative as Saudi Arabia, the hair may be an issue while teaching in public schools. I heard that one guy who had hair down to the middle of his neck received several complaints. Plus, it’s consistently over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and dreads are hot as hell on the head. I was all for cultural sensitivity and a naturally ventilated dome. So, I did it and chopped the locks!