Reading the post on how white folks ask black men wearing dreads for weed made me think again about my own dreadlocks.
I decided to get dreadlocks to see how it changed the way people related to me. I had observed this effect with other people, and I was curious enough to explore it for myself. Unfortunately, I didn't think about what a high maintenance hairstyle dreadlocks are for a white woman. I didn't want to fill them up with cement, but I had never before had a hairstyle that required any maintenance. However white dreadlocked hair needs a lot of maintenance, and often just looks scruffy, dirty and matted.
Some things did change in the way people related to me. What I noticed most having locks were the ways white people tried to ally themselves with me, simply because I had locks.
White people spoke more, and more loudly in front of me about drugs. I got a lot of people casually mentioning what drugs they were on in a loud voice once they saw me, and others who didn't bother to lower their voices when I passed them talking to each other about drugs in the street. I never realised before just how many people are talking about drugs in the street.
I thought the little old ladies would start being afraid of me and stop telling me their life stories at the bus stop. But no, they didn't change, and I even got a compliment or two on my lovely hair from ones who couldn't see properly.
One of the most common remarks, particularly from white men who were trying to pick me up, was how much they like reggae, or how they're really into Bob Marley. They strongly identify dreadlocks on a white woman with Rastafarian appropriation and Bob Marley's image.
(Interestingly, as a side note, there was a 'hippie trail' to India from Australia in the 70's.I've heard white people who spent a long time there express their surprise and bewilderment at seeing dreadlocks appear in white culture when they came back home, as they strongly associated it with the Sadhus in India and had no idea why white people had suddenly started taking it on here.)
Over time though, dreadlocks have become more and more popular amongst white people, and for more and more reasons. But they have always been associated one way or another with defying social norms or choosing alternative lifestyles. Another way white people try to ally themselves with someone wearing locks is somehow work into the conversation that they wore them too at one point, even though they have a 'straight' hairdo now. It's pretty well accepted that almost no white person would have dreads forever (a few months to a few years is the norm), and the circumstances around getting rid of your dreads becomes part of the story.
Just recently I've seen a new phenomena - dreadlocks becoming a fashion statement. This is a remarkable shift because it brings dreadlocks into the mainstream white culture for the first time and normalises them, reducing them to 'fashion' removes the overt associations with Rastafarian culture which white people have linked with locks. As a result, a new thing white people do is to talk about dreadlock care and mention that their son has them - and often say that they would themselves if their hair was up to it. By doing this they're conveying that they understand the stereotype and don't go by it, and that they aren't judging you or making assumptions about you based on your locks. It's another way of allying yourself with a white person who wears them.
I still get a lot of random questions from white people about dread care; the most common one from adults is 'how do you wash them' and from kids it is 'why is your hair like that'. People do ask if they can feel them occasionally, but usually it's very excited teenagers who are thinking about getting dreadlocks themselves; I went through a stage around the time I got mine done of being intensely curious about the various ways of making them and the results, and had to stop myself asking people if I could touch their locks in that stage, so I usually say yes. Curiosity doesn't hurt.
It's not all positive. Overall, slightly less white people would speak to me. The occasional old man would gave me a filthy look. I think some people assume I am too cool for school, that I wouldn't want to associate with them, because there's been a lot of snobby people with locks around who won't talk to people who aren't in their subculture. Others believe the stereotypes and don't want to associate themselves with it.
Dreads are a very personal thing. When you start them you don't quite know what they are going to grow into. Over time you develop a relationship to them and you invest meaning in them. I will say I invested a spiritual meaning into mine; but as a Pagan I'm pretty much making it up as I go along.