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Culture, Reality

Jacking Locks

by Nolan Stevens / 29.10.2012

Hair, and in particularly black hair has had a tumultuous history in this country; from the pencil tests of the not-so-good ol’ days, to the more recent debates surrounding weaves and extensions. The issue behind our hair hang ups seems to have more to do with a sense of self than aesthetic appeal. As Bonnie Henna confessed in a recent TV interview about her experience of castings in the states: “I think that my chances were affected by not having straight hair.” The flip side of this argument came from Nikiwe Bikitsha who said she was only taken seriously once she had took off her weave in favour of a short, natural hair style. But all of this is old news, right? That’s what I thought until an all new black hair story caught my interest.

The latest involves whispers of violent attacks and dreadlocks. The two almost don’t belong in the same area code never mind the same sentence, so naturally I did some investigating. Apparently people with dreadlocks are being mugged for their hair! S’true, nothing is safe here in Afrika, not even your hairdo. According to the dreadlocked brothers and sisters I spoke to, cats are being jumped, forcefully held down and their hair cut off. Why? Because dreads (or at least dreadlock hair extensions) have become a hot property. A set of shoulder length dreads can fetch up to R3000 at the salon. All of this made me regret cutting my dreads and not selling them. I could’ve scored a nice pay day! What is interesting though is that the reason that I did away with my locks is exactly the same reason why people want them so badly these days… well kinda. I’d started feeling like a fraud for having locks and being treated with the respect reserved for Rastafarians. All the ‘Jah Rasta’ and ‘I and I’ salutes I got on the streets made me feel like an impostor. I am not, and never have been, a Rasta. But it’s clear the dreads elicit a response that’s more than the aesthetic appreciation of a hairstyle and more tied into concepts of black consciousness. To spin it a different way, identifying with something inherently black has become the new black…

The messed up part about all of this is the inherent violence involved in these attacks. Criminals are literally holding people down and cutting off their hair to supply the demand for a fad that at its roots celebrates proud, conscious African-ness.

Maybe it’s just another example of black self-loathing? As a card-carrying darkie I ask myself why something as innocent and natural as a dreadlocked hairdo has become so entangled in the legacy of Afrocentric pride and this modern tale of brutal, fashion-driven crime. And how does one reconcile these events of blatant black on black violence with the positive connotations that tie into dreads and blackness, especially when one buys dreadlocked hair extensions? Can people rocking fake dread extensions feel the same sense of Afrocentric pride knowing fully how their new hair may have been acquired?

It’s a truly bizarre, modern situation. And one that highlights just how seriously we need to find something, anything, that could make us all feel like we have moved from b(lack) to black.

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