I do try and be critical when I read yet another story by Western media that attempts to barbarise African behaviour but upon reading about South African thieves forcefully cutting off people’s dreadlocks I must confess that my critical analysis took a back seat to my more basic instinct of mild outrage.
As someone who has been locked since 2000, this violent violation struck me on a personal level. Lest, this mild outrage be misconstrued as vanity (“It is only hair”; “It will grow back” etc) I feel the need to point out why cutting of someone’s locks constitutes such a personal violation. Of course there is the most obvious reason – an individual (or individuals) performing an action on your person without your consent; but there are other reasons and these may apply to theft of hair in general but at this point in time I speak specifically from a black female locked person perspective.
Anyone with locks will understand, if only at the subconscious level, how much of a commitment it is. Locks on one level may just be a hairstyle but on another they are constructed as a political statement. Lock nomenclature is problematic; with some preferring to refer to them as locks over what they perceive as the negative term “dreadlocks”. I interchangeably refer to my hair as locks, dreads, dreadlocks with no particular preference for any and for this post I’m using locks out of convenience – I am not taking stand either way in relation to labelling my (or anyone else’s) hair.
The process of locking hair is equally divisive. Differing views on how one starts their locks; the method of maintaining locks or non maintenance; who can lock their hair creates all manner of tensions. There is of course the wider politics of “black hair”. When we commit to locking our hair we acknowledge we are (often unwillingly) being thrown into and judged by the standards of a highly politicised, gendered and racialised space.
In some spheres, so great is the misunderstanding of locks that a number of stereotypes and misconceptions have emerged; resulting in people with locks facing some odd questions and statements. Linked to this is the fetishisation of locks which can lead to some very uncomfortable situations for those with locks. Perhaps the biggest commitment is giving in to the unknown. Beyond the general styling and maintenance you commit to just letting your hair grow; however it chooses to. It is a gamble and for some people it pays off and their locks grow without problems; for others it may take years of trial and error (including starting over a few times) before they get the locks they want. What makes this even more of a risk is that there is no end point. Of course there are stages to the lock growth process; but your locks keep growing and changing and the problem locks can start at any time in process – you just never know.
This is what we commit to. So to have that ripped off you in what is being termed as a ‘cut and run’ can cause distress on so many levels.
I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the issues I have just mentioned. In fact my day-to-day lock concerns sit in the first world problems domain (“will the hot water run out mid shampoo?” do I have to sit through hours of Top Gun as my husband retwists my hair?”). That is of course until I’m confronted with these issues that I just mentioned; which is exactly what these crimes and more specifically the recent reporting does.
Apparently, “Johannesberg police said they had only one case of dreadlock theft officially reported last year, but anecdotal evidence indicates the crime is on the rise. Women are said to be the most vulnerable“. That not withstanding the news has been reported by quite a few outlets of varying size, reach and credibility and nearly all give the impression that this some sort epidemic. So now not only do people with locks have to deal with the tension, politics, stereotypes and just general drama; they have to contend with feelings of fear and panic possibly brought on by sensationalised reporting of an already misunderstood hairstyle.
The hair thieves are supposedly responding to more people wanting dreadlocks and wanting them now; and salons are being said to pay a lot for locks that they can then weave into their clients’ hair. The images of, dodgy salons and their supposedly desperate clientele add to existing stereotypes of deviant black behaviour and all of it is enough to leave a locked sister mildly outraged.