Dreadlocks became known worldwide after Bob Marley’s ascendancy to superstardom. The reggae singer’s iconic hair was deeply woven with his Rastafari beliefs. Dreadlocks are a sign of African identity and a symbolic covenant to fight against “Babylon” — the white European imperialist world. According to Rastafari tradition, Jesus will return as the Lion of Judah. Practitioners adopted the hairstyle to signify a lion’s mane.
Dreadlocks have become the frontline of arguments about racial identity. In September this year, the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that refusing to hire someone because of their dreadlocks was legal. The employee, Chastity Jones, claimed this was a violation of the Civil Rights Act. She argued dreadlocks are considered a “racial characteristic.” However, the court ruled that they are not an “immutable physical characteristic.” Dreadlock restrictions are now in place at some schools.
Abraham Rinquist is the Executive Director of the Winooski, Vermont, branch of the Helen Hartness Flanders Folklore Society. He is the coauthor of Codex Exotica and Song-Catcher: The Adventures of Blackwater Jukebox.