Much ado about dreadlocks.
Ashe (English and American Studies/Univ. of Richmond) sustains an engaging tone as he obsesses on his decision to grow dreads, the significance and implications. His adoption of the style seems to coincide with the cultural shift in dreads away from a feared symbol of rebellion. “Dreads have, alas, become a cliché,” he writes, and then later elaborates, “I’m to blame. It’s all on me. If only I hadn’t attempted to use dreadlocks to explore the hyphenated space between un- and conventional, I have to believe dreads would still be the cutting edge hairstyle it once was.” As an academic who developed a course titled “Hair, Hoops and Jazz: Explorations in African-American Expressive Culture,” Ashe refuses to be stifled by typical academic strictures, and his attitude throughout seems playfully serious (or seriously playful), as he details more about dreads—their origin, their rise to popularity, their co-option, their care and upkeep—than most readers will think they would want to know. He confesses that he was never much of a reggae fan as he obsessively explores why he was nonetheless drawn to dreads and why it took him so long (years, decades) to act on that impulse. Even after he becomes dreadlocked, he seems far more interested in the reactions his hair elicits from others than in whatever it says about him. He’s very funny on what he calls the “B.H.P.D.—the Black Hair Police Department,” but most of the responses seemed to be that the dreads made the professor look even more professorial. “I’ve always admired nonconformists,” he writes. “Admired them from a distance. In my early years, I was not only a conformist, I was a hyper-conformist. Conformity, after all, is just a form of willing invisibility, a way to blend in, to exist and yet remain unseen.”
Sometimes hair is just hair, though the dreadlocked professor rarely leaves it at that.