Squad: The Calling of the Common Hero - Page 55

The Biology of Perception “T hen Delilah said to Samson, ‘Until now you have mocked me and told me lies. Tell me how you might be bound.’ And he said to her, ‘If you weave the seven locks of my head with the web and fasten it tight with the pin, then I shall become weak and be like any other man.’” Judges 16:13 (English Standard Version) This is not the quote you want to remember as you are holding a pair of scissors to your hair for the first time in four years. Thankfully, that was not when I remembered that particular verse; self-examination came later. A quart of hair conditioner and seven hours of tearing hair later, I pulled a comb across my scalp for the first time in four years. Between pain, exhaustion, and the seemingly endless task, I experienced a trance-like state, leaving me time to reflect on my “hair identity.” Hair is a unique trait for all of us; biology dictates the quality of our hair, but we are ultimately able to decide how we present it to the rest of the world. Unlike clothes, which change day-to-day, we are limited in our choice of hairstyle based on a mixture of how our hair grows and personal ideas of how we want to present ourselves. Hairstyles can be used to present a particular self to the outside world, specifically that which we prefer to be seen. Having the same hairstyle for a long period of time allows hair to become an extension of personal identity. Locked hair, which has a minimum investment of a few months of immature plaits, or braids, is on the extreme end of commitment to a particular hairstyle. The conversion from a tangle into a felt-like lock is dependent upon pressure and time; this process does not happen overnight. Unlike most other hairstyles, maintenance is more like cultivating a plant than getting a haircut. Perhaps as a result of this long commitment, few hairstyles have the symbolic weight that locked hair does. Locked hair raises preconceptions about politics, race, and personal cleanliness. A number of religions, including Christianity, Buddhism and Judaism, in addition to the obligatory Rastafarianism, have firmly established traditions of plaited hair. I am certainly in the minority for not attaching spiritual significance to my locks, but it is nonetheless important to recognize this practice. People, with and without locked hair, sometimes assume the decision must have some deeper significance than a hairstyle. Questions posed about dreadlocks often reveal preconceptions about locked hair. I cannot begin to estimate how many times strangers asked how long I had to stop washing my hair, whether I was Rastafarian, or if I sold drugs. These commonly asked questions had easy answers — never,