I cannot speak for American culture, but I have noticed in West Indian culture, if a person chooses to wear dread locks, they are automatically a Rastafarian. For those who are unaware, a Rastafarian is a person who practices Rastafarianism, a religion originating in Jamaica. People who follow this religion abide by certain criteria such as wearing dreadlocks and refraining from consuming pork. In Jamaica, Rastafarians are rejected in society and are considered to be low class citizens. Because of this stigma, the majority of Jamaicans do not wear dreadlocks so they will not confused with Rastafarians.
Even with West Indians who have migrated to other parts of the world, the stigma of wearing dread locks still resignates with them. Many West Indians automatically consider a person who wears dreadlocks to either be dirty or poor and thus a Rastafarian.
As a member of the natural hair community, I have to defend my fellow brothers and sisters. I don’t believe that it is fair to pass judgement on the way in which a religious group or anyone decides to wear their hair. It is not fair to the religious group, nor to the individual. I understand that with old ways of thinking, it can be hard to break the stigma, but it is in no way excusable.