At one point or another, a black man needs to go through his dreadlocks period. The best time for that period is college, or from ages 18 to 28. True, there are black men with dreadlocks in their 60s, 70s, 80s, but at that point, the dreadlocks have become a religion—a form of Rastafarianism. Religion is one thing. But looking cool, the concern of a young black man, is another.
The college student is not growing dreads because he wants to be one with God. He wants, instead, to look like the shit during the first adult period of his youth. But why exactly are dreads great for the third decade of one's life?
Before answering this question, I must make it clear that, in the present article, I'm addressing only young black men. I know nothing about what white hair does or can do, nor about the hair worlds of women of color. If you are a white person reading this because you're wondering if it's okay for you to grow dreads, ask someone else. I don't have anything to offer in the way of enlightenment when it comes to the politics of white dreads. In fact, if you are not a black man, please feel free to leave this article at this point and read something else. No love lost, no hate gained.
And now for the answer: Dreadlocks capture the rebellious spirit of a young black man. You finally left home, you started college, you want to challenge the whole world, you want to be free of the past and radically open to the future. This is what being your age is all about. The kind of hair that best expresses this inner feeling is that which has been matted or braided into waving, flowing, long locks.
You can go to a hair salon and get dreads professionally done, or you can just let them happen by regularly twisting your hair until the locks catch. There is a poetic dreaminess in idly twisting your hair with your fingers for long hours while staring out the window. I had my dreads between the ages of 20 and 27. They never became long, but I loved them all the same. They gave me something to do with my hands. They made me feel like a rebel and an artist who was ready to break every convention.
In William Gibson's cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, there is a spaceship run by black men with thick dreads. It's called Zion. When I walked down this or that city street with my head of dreads, and dub music plugged into my ears, I would picture myself in a dub-filled spaceship that had left Earth. When I turned 27, I returned to Earth. I became a father and had to get a real job.
I cut off my dreads. I found sand in the core of many of the severed locks as they piled up on the floor of my bathroom. I knew exactly where the sand came from. My lover and I would drive to the Washington or Oregon Coast, and we would sleep and fuck on the beach as the ocean roared around us. Some of that lovemaking sand got caught in my dreads and stayed there for years.
That dreamy lovemaking time also became a human in the form of my son. He's now in his early 20s. I expect him to walk through the door any day now with a head covered in dreads. And you know what? When he does, I will be proud of him. On his 29th birthday, however, out come the clippers.