According to Dictionary.com, dreadlocks are “hair worn in the Rastafarian style of long matted or tightly curled strands”. It is when you twist chunks of your hair into rope-like forms. These can occur naturally – by not combing your hair for a while or can be made in salons. Dreadlocks are mainly associated with people from the Rastafari religion. But people from many ethnic groups in history have worn dreadlocks before the initiation of the Rastafari movement. In Egypt, mummified remains wearing locked hairstyles and wigs have been seen in ancient artifacts and sanctuaries (Return of the Mummy- Toronto Life 2002). Indo-Aryan people from the Near East and Asia Minor, some Nepalese tribes, Indians, the Maori of New Zealand, Ethiopians, Pakistanis and medieval Irish Warriors are also historically known to have worn dreadlocks. Dreadlocks have always been interwoven with ethnic culture and spiritually of people all over the world since time immemorial.
Dreadlocks came into prominence in the 1930s during the advent the Rastafari movement in Jamaica. The Rastafari, also known as Rastafarian or Rasta strongly reject western culture because they believe the West have perpetuated so much evil against black people in the form of slavery. So in revolt, they embrace afro-centrism which embodies letting your natural nappy hair grow freely. This is considered indecent and a sign of rebellion by the West. However, when Reggae music gained eminence in the 1970s, dreadlocks became in vogue. The fashion industry capitalized on this new trend and set up salons, new lines of dreadlocks hair products and accessories. This made most people revert from the belief that dreadlocks are a result of not washing, not cutting and not caring for your hair, but the contrary. Corporate United States have now accepted dreadlocks as “just another fashion statement”.
First of all, the U.S Military’s definition of dreadlocks is disrespectful to people with dreads. They call it “unkempt”. Unkempt means “(especially of a person) having an untidy or disheveled appearance”(The Oxford English Dictionary). Using the word “unkempt” already dismisses everyone with dreadlocks as looking sloppy regardless of how the dreadlocks were made or how they look.
Secondly, the ban on dreadlocks are discriminatory to certain ethnicities and religions. Religions like the Mouride Brotherhood ,an Islamic sect require their followers to wear dreadlocks (toubanc.org). Ethnicities like the Ashantis of Ghana reserve dreadlocks for their spiritual people (Sultan). Prohibiting people like these from keeping their dreadlocks is unlawful and goes against the first amendment which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”(Amendment I) . The U.S Military’s law against dreadlocks breaches the peoples’ rights because it directly contradicts the first part of the first amendment by being a law against the free exercise of certain cultures and religions.
Thirdly, the law is specifically bigoted against black people, especially black females. Black women are not allowed to wear dreadlocks so they are forced to use dangerous substances to chemically treat their hair. Unlike women of other ethnicities, it is relatively hard for black women to just comb and tie their hair to the back because it is usually very fuzzy and difficult to comb and tie together. Due to all the frustrations in grooming kinky hair given very short time, black women resort to using relaxers to make their hair look similar to white women’s hair. Relaxers are known to be harmful and painful. Otherwise, their only other alternatives is to ridicule themselves by wearing wigs or weaves or to cut their hair really short. Their Caucasian counterparts are not made to endure all these ordeals because they are fine the way they are. It is black women that have to conform to look like them in order to be accepted in the Military. This is prejudice at its peak.
Fourthly, it is common knowledge that the US Military values practicality. As a military personnel, you are expected to be prepared immediately when called upon. This is relatively harder for females because most have hair to worry about. Is it washed? Is it combed? Is the style comfortable enough to do military activity in? etc- People with dreadlocks do not worry about most of these. All they need to do is to wash it when they can while they shower and they are good to go. They do not have to worry about combing and comfort. Dreadlocks are so convenient and easy to take care of that it can be argued that dreads are the ideal hairstyle for military personnel and the ban does not make much sense.
The proponents of the ban against dreadlocks may argue that dreadlocks are a safety hazard. They may contend that military personnel with dreadlocks are unable to fit gas masks and gas helmets in case of emergency and will put their lives at risk in such situations. The premise is false because dreadlocks are as voluminous as regular hair and can be tied into a bun like regular hair, So if a hair without dreadlocks can wear a gas mask and a helmet with no problems, then someone with dreadlocks will have no problem doing the same, Football is a contact sport and the players need to keep their helmet on for safety reasons. Football players are known to have dreadlocks and there has never been an incident in football where a player’s dreadlocks have caused safety hazards. Their dreads fit into their helmet perfectly fine.
The dreadlocks ban advocates may also say that the ban is for aesthetic reasons and is not in any way discriminatory. They also add that dreads do not look professional. Firstly, professionalism is perception. There are no set standards anywhere on what looks professional and what does not. As long as your appearance is clean, decent, inoffensive and not distracting, you look professional. People with dreadlocks can look professional if people with long hair can.
Another argument defenders of the ban put forward is that in the U.S Military religion and individuality take a back seat with everything else. You are expected to be a soldier first and everything else follows. The argument is flawed in multiple ways. Soldiers are human beings first and American citizens second. They are protected by the first amendment. On the contrary, the military is forcing everyone, regardless of race, ethnic group or religion to adhere to their own laws and change their appearance and identity to be as close to mainstream “White” as possible. If the emphasis was so much on neatness, they would let every military member regardless of ethnicity look neat in their own right.
The ban on dreadlocks by the U.S Military is undoubtedly unfair and inappropriate. The U.S Military should consider revising their hair rules, especially those of women to cater to people of ethnic minorities. Military personnel are an important part of our community and the fabric of the United States, therefore, we should not discriminate people that want to join based on trivial rules like the “no dreadlocks rule”. The United States is the melting pot of cultures, if tolerance is going to prevail, it must start among the defenders of this great nation.