MY HAIR, MY FREEDOM: DARE TO DREAD OR FOLLOW RULES OF THE SYSTEM?

  • 2020-03-11

Despite negative reactions, dreadlocks have become popular in many cultures. Some lock up their hair to look cool or make a fashion statement, whiles others do so basely on religious beliefs. Though the earliest depictions of dreadlocks date back as far as 3600 years ago, it is only in recent years that they have become socially acceptable in many societies. But just like any hairstyle, wearing dreadlocks is an individual choice. Dreadlocks are very common in the Rastafari Movement as they are symbolic of the Lion of Judah. Rastafarians are inspired by the Nazarites of the Bible to wear dreadlocks; it also establishes a closer connection between the movement and the ideology it espoused. To them, it gives a sense of greater authority.  

Although it’s cool to be fashionable, dreadlocks are not accepted everywhere. Misconceptions also exist about dreadlocks as a hairstyle and the people that wear them. A faction perceives dreadlocks to be unclean while others, regardless of their education and status, view dreadlocks as “a crazy person’s hair”. They further judge people who wear dreads, particularly men, as deviant, uncultivated and unruly. The debate against discrimination for people who wear dreadlocks continues as there are several complaints that you cannot get a decent job or work in a corporate environment wearing dreadlocks in certain communities, even some learning institutions disallow students with dreadlocks.  Well, previously, dreadlocks were not widely accepted but now, this is becoming less and less the case. Some employers required workers to adhere to a dress code that demanded a “business/professional image” and prohibited “excessive hairstyles or unusual colors”, whereas there are people also who wear dreadlocks work in various positions, including white-collar professions.

Rastafarians in Malawi have long suffered discrimination because of their hairstyle. For years, Malawi's Rastafarian community kept pushing the government to lift the ban on students with dreadlocks being admitted into public schools. According to them, “dreadlocks were a fundamental tenet of Rastafarian beliefs and therefore should be exempted from the policy”. However, the ministry of education stated the ban was justified under a policy that required all pupils to have a smart appearance and keep clean hair.  Six-year-old Makeda Mbewe was kicked out of her primary school for wearing dreadlocks, however, thanks to a landmark court ruling that ordered public schools to allow students like Makeda, she is back in school.

Discriminatory hair policies, be it on the basis of race or religion, are not exclusive to Malawi. African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, and others also have policies that do not allow certain hairstyles like dreadlocks in public schools, even to an extent, some have placed a ban on girls leaving their hair in its natural state.

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