A Twisted American Dream come true

Author and Professor Bert Ashe spoke to VCU students on the identity politics of dreadlocks and black hair. Photo BY Nyasia Milan Williams.

Bertram Ashe, author of “Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles,” focused on the role of hairstyle-based identification during a talk to VCU honors students Nov. 8th.

Ashe, an English professor at University of Richmond, discussed segments of his book and his personal dreadlock journey in relation to the Americanization of African-American hair culture.

Ashe described African -American hair as a virtue and influencer on personality and identity perception. Ashe said he didn’t quite find himself until he started the detailed and long process of having dreadlocks.

He said he is aware of the negative stereotypes of those who wear dreadlocks and that the style itself is considered a reflection of people being unclean, laz

y, criminal and foreign, but he is not immune making assumptions of someone’s lifestyle based of their hair. He recalled a conversation in his book where he tried to guess the sexuality of black women in association with their hair.

“I couldn’t help but wonder if the black women who were wearing the closely cropped hairstyle we’re queer,” Ashe said. “Is it a hairstyle for black lesbians?

The book explores the connections between symbols and groups and how this relations is used to identify the hairstyles worn by people of color with specific groups in often negative ways.

Like Ashe’s “dreadfully conventional haircut,” neat dreadlocks were considered preferred in American culture, differentiated from the Rasta or Jamaica style dreadlocks, said Ashe. The provocative days of dreadlocks have passed and the hairstyle has grown into more of a conversational sign, said Ashe.

Ashe decided to lock his hair at the age of 33 — His decision to do it later in his life is tied to the the influence of his family’s idea of middle-class success which revolved around the assimilation ideals from Cosby show in the 1980s. The idea of a clean cut, conventional, high-success family like the Huxtables who wore standard clothing became the mold of success for many African-American families Ash said.

Ashe said locking his hair later in life made it a center of academic research and the intellectual contemplation he does today.

“If I would have grown them earlier that would not have happened,” Ashe said.

Ashe is also aware of how social status in higher education shields him from the negative consequences of being an African-American working professional in the corporate world.

“It’s way easier, nobody’s ever given me any push back,” Ashe said. “At least not to my face.”


Nyasia Milan Williams, Contributing Writer

 

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