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Strange Fruit: Professor Burt Ashe on the Cultural Significance of Dreadlocks

Burt Ashe

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University of Richmond Professor Burt Ashe always saw himself as a sort of a renegade. Edgy. Bohemian. But no one else seemed to agree. "The way that I presented to the world was completely, just amazingly, conventional," he says.

So he decided to change his look. "I thought maybe that me growing dreadlocks might be a kind of pathway to allow what was inside to be presented outside."

In doing so, he learned about all the presumptions the world projects onto black people with 'locked hair. Jai had 'locks for seven years, and like Ashe, he was often asked if he was Jamaican.

Ashe's book, "Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles," explores the history of dreadlocks, and details his own relationship with the look.

The natural hair movement continues to gain steam with black women, but what about men? Ashe says he got some interesting responses from them while working on the book. For example, "It's just hair, man. You're over-thinking this," and, "Dude, your relationship with your hair is a little too...."

"It's sort of a questioning of my masculinity," he says, "because I decided to talk about my hair and to reveal the anxiety that comes along with 'locking ones hair."

But he says there's a significance to black hair, regardless of gender—that we choose our hairstyles for a reason, whether or not we can put it into words. "I think it's time we start thinking out loud about the cultural realities and personal realities of what we do with our hair means."

In our Juicy Fruit segment this week, we talk about #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches, and the history of domestic and racist terrorism in the U.S.. On this Independence Day weekend, we wondered whether the founding ideals of our country—as a nation of immigrants, where you can be free from persecution—still hold true today.

At the same time we're confronted with more racially motivated violence, such as the Charleston shooting and the burning of black churches, we're also seeing some striking acts of civil disobedience. Bree Newsome became a household name after removing the Confederate flag from South Carolina's statehouse. And someone in Boston painted "Black Lives Matter" and dumped red paint on a statue of Christopher Columbus.

On a lighter note, we also recap what we loved and hated about the BET Awards, and argue about which members of #TeamStrangeFruit cried last week in the county clerk's office during Louisville's first same-sex marriages, and which simply had allergies.

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.

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