True Power

True Power

Thursday, January 7, 2010

William DeShay, A Family Affair

DeShay and Sons

1)When and why did you decide to wear dreadlocks?
I believe the first time I made the decision to lock my hair was around 1986-87. I was a Process Server for a company in Cali. (Robert A. Cook & Staff) and we would deliver subpoena’s for lawyers to different entities. One day I had to go to the Santa Monica Superior Court building for some business and while there I had to see a judge in a courtroom. When I entered the court, my eyes perused the room and I noticed an African American man (a lawyer) sitting with his defendant (who was Caucasian..). The gentleman was well dressed in a gray pin-striped double-breasted suit. That wasn’t, however, what caught my eye. He was tall and well built (as though he might work out often) and had shoulder length white locked hair! I had never seen such a thing in court before but I was truly impressed by him. He may have been in his 60”s or so as far as age goes. I waited a long time outside the court room to get a chance to speak with him about his hair, but I never got the chance. Still, I was so impressed that I went home and told my wife about it and my other family (mother, father, and brother). They appeared interested in my story, but not as impressed as I was. It was then that I decided that I could be “who I was” and be proud and confident. However, I didn’t actually do it until 1997. Although, I had seen some people with their hair locked, I had not met anyone to give me a lead (someone who would lock my hair…). Most of the persons I saw with locked hair in LA were indigent, homeless, etc. Their hair had probably locked due to mismanagement and was dirty and matted. It was in 1997 that I was mentioning to my mother-in-law about getting my hair locked (for hers was locked and beautiful….had been so for 3-or so years..), that she gave me a woman’s name who did locked hair. I was seeing a few people ( in television, and sports, etc. ) wearing their hair natural and it appealed to me, and I went and got mine done.

2)What was the initial response to your hair style from friends, family, and peers?
When I went to get my hair “twisted” it was a little more that an inch long. My “lock-smith” (I jokingly called her…) informed me that my hair would have to be re-twisted on a few occasions before it would actually lock, and as such, scheduled me for additional visits [charging me heftily for each one..]. Each additional visit was about $80.00 with the initial having been $300. (that’s right 300.00). Needless to say that there was only one additional visit (and that was so I could figure out what the girl was doing so that I could do it myself!!), and then I ditched my “lock-smith” for a long journey of “self-care.” My family was not pleased with my decision. My mother went on and on about how I “would not get any decent jobs…” and that “it was tough enough being a Black man in LA without also having hair that would stereotype…” me . My father, however, said very little. He was always a quiet man. He was the one, when in the early sixties young boys were growing the Naturals and then Afro’s, who consented to allow my brother and I to grow our hair : with the understanding that we were to comb it and care for it properly…or it would be cut. He listened to my mother and I exchange views, and then asked me if I had really considered the challenges that I could face. My colleagues at work were mixed in their reaction. There were those who really loved the idea and then there were those who felt that I was just trying to get attention, or convey a militant stance (those were the other African Americans…). The other races would sneak looks at me (when they thought I couldn’t see them…) , or just outright stare in awe or disgust.

3)What do you like or dislike about your hair?
Honestly, I didn’t like that way I had been introduced to the initial locking of my hair. I was later informed (by others who had their hair locked) that I should’ve “shopped around” for more affordable rates. The problem was that I was a neophyte and just did what I could at that time. When she (hair stylist) did my hair she had them in small twists. As my hair grew and eventually locked, I researched how to “wed” locks for a thicker head of locks and did it myself. I like my hair locked. It is just the way I pictured it. It was cut when my father died (in 2001), and relocked by a sister from Jamaica (a friend of mine) in 2006. I went through the whole arguments about the stigma of having locked hair with my family (again!!) then also. I told them that the hair was not the problem, that it is the American culture! I am a dark-skinned person. I cannot change that (…and don’t want to). I have been discriminated against because of it by some (even of mine own race!). However, I like who I am, and this choice of hair completes the picture of “who I am.”

4)Have you noticed a boost in confidence or any other personality changes?
I have not really noticed any changes in personality as a result of my choice of hair-style. Maybe it is because I grew up in that whole era of “liking one’s self” and “being proud” of who you are. I did return to a more introspective stance. Before I had locked hair, I would study GQ, Esquire, and other magazines and to find out how to be more appealing [for jobs, women, image, etc…]. When I locked my hair I realized that what I had been studying in those magazines were persons who had found their niche; who knew who they were, and were sharing the benefits of that “knowing.” Now, I have found mine….and am comfortable with that “knowing.”

5)What is the response to your hair now?
I don’t know if I have just changed the way I view things or what, but I get more looks of approval than objection now. I’ve noticed that there are less objectionable responses to my hair. Random statements come to me such as, “I really like your hair!”, or “How do you clean it?”, or “Did it take long to grow?”, from different cultures and races of people. My mother loves my hair, and speaks of how beautiful it is. She still admits that she had the challenges with possible stigma(s), but she is proud of my choice to wear the hair anyway. My brother admires my hair, but he works in the business world and is very successful and could not wear it and continue in his field. My daughter loves my hair and has even “threatened” to lock hers… hasn’t happened yet. My oldest son likes my hair but has not said much more than that he likes it.

6)What state are you from? I was born in Akron, OH

7). Did your son approach you about getting dreads or did you suggest to him that he should get dreads?
I am like my father. I allow my children to make decisions as they show that they are able to handle the freedom that goes with the decision. My son came to me one day and stated that he wanted to get his hair locked. His mother was objecting. However, I suggested that he be allowed to get his hair locked as long as he can prove that he can take care of his hair. If and/or when he stopped caring for his hair, then we would have to re-visit whether deciding to have locks was a “good thing” or no. I think my sons (and daughter) watch me very carefully to see what I do- which makes everything I do of importance. I am pleased that my youngest son was impressed with my locks to the extent that he decided to do the same thing. I am no less pleased with my oldest son for the decision he has made not to wear locks. It shows that each has learned that they can be individuals and still be confident and comfortable with who they are.

8). Do you think dreads add to the masculinity of the black male?
More and more locks are being seen in the public circuit: Football, Basketball, and other sports players are wearing them….Yes, it adds something to the masculinity of the Black male to be able to express one’s self “freely.”

9)Do you see wearing dreads as a larger tie to black culture?
In some ways yes. I have studied/read that as far back as the Hebrews (who were dark skinned people) having locks [as is shown on the sculpted walls of Babylon..]. I think the connecting force is in the fact that one Black or African American individual sees another who is comfortable or confident or proud of his culture – to the extent that he/she expresses it openly (in this case through the hair…) and in some ways it is “inspiring.”

10)Did it concern you how other ethnic groups would view your sons choice in hair style?
A little. I say little, because it is not as “defining” an issue with children as it is with adults. With adults, we see everything we do as defining us, when in actuality those intricacies “describe” us….these actions are not “who we are,” but rather “what we do.” Somehow, as children and youth we know this, but we lose site of it as we grow into this social culture we call “American culture.” That is why locks have become interesting to young persons of other cultures (i.e. Caucasian, etc. ) and they wear them also.

11)I know when I visited New York in 2008, I felt a sort of kinsmanship with strangers wearing dreads. Do you believe that a father and son sharing this hair style may create a different more intimate bond between you and him?
Yes, I believe that the bond between me and my youngest son has become stronger. However, it is not something that can be compared to the bonding between me and my other children (I have three). Each bond is strong in its own right, and as such is different from the other two. So, though the locks have brought us (my son and I) closer, it is “closer than we were to each other before,” not “closer than I am to the other siblings.”

12)Some one commented to me that dreads are just hair, get over it. Do you think dreads are just another hairstyle with no particular significance?

To the other cultures, yes, locks is just another hair-style. Also, to those who aren’t interested in culture, to wear a Mohawk, or a Page-boy, or some other style hair is “just another hair-style.” To me it is becoming more than just another style. It is a connection that I can have (as long as I have hair…smile) with a former culture that dates back to the earliest civilizations. Yet, it expresses an individuality that is all my own.


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