Chapter 26: The Snake that Bit Medusa: One (Phenotypically) White Woman’s Dread(s)

In this chapter, I argue that the associated material, bodily, and conceptual notions of dreadlocks with contamination, detritus, pollution, and taboo become incendiary links to fears (and hopes) people have about race when faced with the locked “white” female head. Why is it that dreadlocks are largely interpreted in the United States as a sign of blackness, charging the site of the dreaded “white” woman with explosive social potential? The chapter suggests that when dreadlocks appear in unexpected places like the “white” woman’s head, chaos is wrought around her, for she circulates betwixt and between convenient and orderly cultural categories. Not only does she offend against societal conceptions of hygiene, but she also offends against U.S. ideas of racial order. This points to a hierarchical valuation based on binaristic conceptions of race (white/black, good/bad [hair]). That there appears to be saliency still in those old racial binaries is a harsh blow to the utopian pronouncements of multiculturalism as a movement and where Americans say they like to see themselves as a multiracial nation.