Dreadlocks Unwelcome in a Louisiana Parish

A sheriff in a Louisiana parish (similar to counties in other states) said recently that people with dreadlocks and "other chee wee hairstyles" are unwelcome in his jurisdiction. Dreadlocked essayist Jimi Izrael offers his thoughts on the sheriff's bias, and says he's unlikely to vacation in Tammany Parish.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

There's been an increase in crime in New Orleans, so some people are fleeing to nearby Saint Tammany Parish. But the sheriff there is not exactly welcoming them. Here's Sheriff Jack Strain in a TV interview.

Sheriff JACK STRAIN (Saint Tammany Parish, New Orleans): I don't get into calling people names and all of that fact. But if you're going to walk the streets of Saint Tammany Parish with dreadlocks and chee wee hairstyles, then you can expect to be getting a visit from a sheriff's deputy.

BRAND: Chee wee hairstyles? Well, that got writer Jimmy Izrael thinking.

Mr. JIMMY IZRAEL (Writer): The Katrina love fest is over, and you don't have to look any further than Tammany Parish, Louisiana for proof. Sheriff Jack Strain of Tammany Parish despises the migration of displaced New Orleanians so much, he started a kind of backwoods profiling campaign, where he says anyone coming into his town with dreadlocks or any kind of chee wee hairstyle will be detained. He insists he's not a racist. And you know what? I believe him.

Strain just feels he has no other choice but to revert back to antebellum slave trapper type tactics, to bring peace back to his little hamlet. And I get it. Tammany is Mayberry, and Jack Strain is Andy Taylor. But Andy was never quite this ignorant. I've had the occasional Mohawk or flattop in my life. And 18 years ago, as kind of the first step into a spiritual journey, I stopped cutting my hair. And while I've never had hair that resembled a chee wee, today, I do in fact have locks that extend past my waist.

Locks are very low maintenance. I wash them. I dry them. And I'm ready to go. No weekly trips to the barbershop, although I visit for the man talk and the occasional lineup. There are times when having locks was annoying, like when I feel forced to entertain dinner party questions about the care and maintenance of it, or fend off requests to touch it, which is just impolite. Or sometimes, people ask me if I play reggae, and I tell them sorry. A part from being classical trained in violin, I am not musical in any measurable way.

People often wonder how a person with dreadlocks stays gainfully employed. And when I tell them I'm a professional journalist and commentator, this often blows their circuitry. And I stand back and watch them ponder, snickering to myself.

I've managed to live my dreadlock life pretty good. Some days it's more fun than it should be, like when people ask me if I'm Jamaican. And I say no, man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: The looks on their faces. Hey, it's how I make my own fun, and it helps my workday go that much faster. I've worked in diverse parts of corporate America with little difficulty. I can admit my hair doesn't go over well when I meet the parents. But guys, I've got to tell you, chicks dig the hair. I've never been refused admittance anywhere or detained by police, because we all know the days of that kind of profiling are long over. But then, I haven't been to Tammany yet. I understand Sheriff Strain's frustration, with the influx of desperate New Orleanians, but I'm hopeful someone will get him to reconsider his black hair apartheid before he decides to go retro and dust off the Whites Only signs.

You know, I need a small town vacation, but I'm a little disheartened by Strain's poor attitude toward diversity. So I've decided to hold off my holiday to Tammany Parrish.

MADELEINE BRAND: Commentator Jimi Izrael writes for the Lexington Herald Leader in Lexington, Kentucky.

A well groomed DAY TO DAY continues.

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