I’ve seen countless stories on Facebook regarding the discrimination that people who have dreads face. As much as it has angered, confused, or saddened me in the past NOTHING (absolutely nothing) gets my feelings all jumbled up the way they do when I witness my boyfriend experience discrimination firsthand.
Most people, whether they want to acknowledge it or not, have a predetermined idea of who people with dreads are, how they act, or where their morals align. They categorize dreadheads into a little box while carefully avoiding the word “stereotype” like the plague. They fail to accept, or even realize that they are perpetuating racism with these preconceived notions about a…. hairstyle!?
It sounds completely crazy because that is EXACTLY what it is; CRAZY! I have witnessed my boyfriend be denied jobs, I’ve heard family members tell him to cut his hair with fear in their voices because they know that dreads paint a target on his back, I’ve seen people cross the street that we were walking on in order to avoid getting to “close,” I’ve heard ignorant comments exchanged, and I’ve felt eyes follow us as we navigate through the store.
As a five foot four inch, one hundred pound, blonde hair – blue eyed female I do not experience these things when I’m out and about alone. I do not fear driving in a nice car at night, I do not get followed around the store, and I’m never worried about getting denied a job because of my hairstyle. People do not automatically assume I’m involved in gang-related activities, I do not have to pay attention to what color of clothing I wear in certain neighborhoods, people do not assume I sell drugs as a side hustle, or that I have a “FBGM” attitude. When I am pulled over I have never feared reaching for my wallet and the cop feeling threatened by my sudden and/or nervous movements. I have never been subjected to a vehicle search based off of my hairstyle being associated with drugs. I have never experienced people coming up to me touching or tugging on my hair asking if it’s real, how long it took to grow, or even ask when the last time I washed it was.
These are things that I as an individual were aware of before dating a “dread head” but had never truly experienced firsthand. Prior to dating my boyfriend I had never had to sit down with my partner and discuss hairstyles, I’ve never had to be aware of mine and my partner’s body language in public spaces, I’ve never had to apologize for ‘friends’ making ignorant remarks about his hairstyle and I have never had to prove my intelligence or innocence during conversations with strangers.
These, plus many more stereotypes, are all things my boyfriend has to consciously be aware of anytime we step out of the house.
So where do we go from here? How do we change the widespread preconceived notions about people with dreads? We break down barriers, we educate, and we communicate.
“Working to keep negative information out during a difficult conversation is like trying to swim without getting wet.”
I encourage all my non-dreadheaded readers to actively conduct your own research on predominately African American natural hairstyles. (Because dreadheads aren’t the only ones who get stereotyped). I encourage you to befriend people that come from different walks of life and that look different than yourself. Immerse yourselves in intelligent conversations with people whose opinions differ than yours. Ask questions. Be courteous. Be open minded!
I will always stand up, stand out, and speak up for those who I love. However, I am so sick and tired of telling my boyfriend that I love his hair, to keep his dreads, and that “people are just ignorant” when nine times out of ten when we turn on the news, open social media, or step foot in public people are proud and loud to declare otherwise.
(Or we could all just keep calm and date a dreadhead and spread the love but I don’t see that happening anytime soon so we’ll start with this here.)
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