03 May 2010

Dreadlock wearers brush off stereotypes


Crystal Bowersox rocks, it's plain to see. The folksy guitar-slinger from rural Ohio has dominated this lackluster season of "American Idol" with her vocal prowess and easygoing stage presence.
So why, then, are so many people hung up on her hair?
Via blogs and message boards, fans have issued proclamations on the long, blonde, ropelike dreadlocks that Bowersox, 24, sports. Some love them, but some deride them with a passion.
Venomous adjectives such as "dirty, filthy and trashy" have been used to describe them.
All this vitriol underscores the many stigmas and stereotypes attached to a hairstyle that dates back to ancient Egypt and, more recently, is often associated with reggae artist Bob Marley.
But even though such mainstream celebrities as Whoopi Goldberg, singers Lenny Kravitz and Adam Duritz, baseball star Manny Ramirez and author Alice Walker, have sprouted dreadlocks through the years, it's a hairstyle that remains highly misunderstood.
Loretta Green-Williams, 56, and Jordan Aiken, 23, have their own tales of dreadlocks woe. Green-Williams, a Pittsburg, Calif., resident, notices how people "talk down" to her and question her intellect -- never mind that she holds a master's degree from University of San Francisco. Aiken, a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, recalls how sororities and certain clubs shunned her.
Like others who favor dreadlocks, Aiken has seen them arouse curiosity in friends and strangers. A lot of people want to touch them. She has also dealt with what might be the biggest misconception about dreadlocks: that they're the unclean, unkempt byproduct of neglect.
"They're not dirty. I wash my hair. I really do," she says, laughing. "No one ever says they smell bad or anything."
Indeed, Michelle Robinson, who specializes in locking (or knitting) hair in her Oakland, Calif., salon, Naturally Yours Hair Care, insists that the hairstyle actually can be very high maintenance, with some dreadheads spending several hours a week on grooming and upkeep.
"There's a lot of ignorance out there. What we're basically talking about is just a larger strand of hair," says Robinson.
One issue concerning the hairstyle is tinged with tension: Who should wear them? For Rastafarians, dreadlocks are a symbol of inner spirituality. For many blacks, dreadlocks represent a vivid rejection of assimilation and an expression of racial pride. That's why some regard Caucasians with locks as "culture vultures."
For the record, Bowersox, who has had her locks for four-plus years, has said in various interviews that she has no intention of snipping them off just to please the "Idol" voters.
That sentiment draws a hearty cheer from Aiken, who has sported her blonde locks for a similar amount of time.
"It's a singing competition. They should probably focus on her voice," she says. "If she loves her locks, I think she should just rock them and ignore what the people are saying.
"They're probably just jealous anyway."