How Dreadlocks Work

Dreadlocks Today

As dreadlocks and Rastafari spread to the United States and abroad through the worldwide success of Bob Marley and the Wailers in the late 1970s, the hairstyle and religion were often met with fear and hostility in mainstream culture. The religion's ties to black nationalist ideology, marijuana smoking as a central tenet and misconceptions about dreadlocks as an unclean hairstyle contributed to the controversy.

In popular culture, films like "Marked for Death" and "Predator 2" (both released in 1990) depicted dreadlocked Rastafarian gangs that menaced American cities and children by selling drugs and engaging in violent pagan rituals. However, over time, dreadlocks have become more mainstream, thanks in part to figures like Marley, singer Lenny Kravitz and baseball player Manny Ramirez, who showed that dreadlocks can have a kinder, gentler side.

Today, there are hair salons in many neighborhoods in the United States, Canada, Japan, the U.K., and other countries that will assist in dreading your hair. The hairstyle has become popular not just with Jamaicans and people who sympathize with the Rastafari cause, but with people of all races and backgrounds.

However, dreadlocks can still cause an uproar in some circles, and there are many people who still see the style as being dirty or unkempt, or who associate it with radicalism. Employers generally have the right to fire people with dreadlocks, or force them to either cut them or lose their jobs. This is more common in the service industry, or conservative professions. If you are a Rasta or otherwise wearing dreadlocks as a form of religious devotion, you have a chance of winning a discrimination suit. But those wearing dreads as a style choice have less legal footing to stand on: Employers have the right to enforce grooming standards that encourage cleanliness, provided they don't discriminate against a particular race or religious group [source: Powell Trachtman].

Perhaps, like many hairstyles, dreadlocks will come to be seen as less radical and unconventional as time passes, and new hairstyles take their place on the cutting edge. After all, cornrows and afros were once seen as provocative hairstyles, and the shaggy haircuts of The Beatles were even seen as controversial.

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