A little over three years ago I made one of the best decisions of my life.
I decided to loc my hair.
I began transitioning into wearing my hair in its natural state, unintentionally, in 2009. It had been a few months since I had a relaxer put into my hair and one of my best friends suggested that I opt out of using them. I agreed and began the process of embracing my natural texture.
Fast forward to 2016 where the amount of work it was taking to maintain my hair was frustrating and overwhelming. It had become evident that I was either going to relax my hair again or loc it. The former wasn’t an option, so I went with the latter.
Before I started the journey, I was told by many that the early stages would be the most difficult. My hair would be short and in a state of trying to figure out exactly what this process was. I was advised there would be times when I would look in the mirror and not be thrilled with what I saw happening. All of this was true. Thanks to those who warned me, I was prepared and equipped to handle those difficult times.
Nearly every day, I receive a compliment on it and I wouldn’t dare say that the words of admiration don’t give me warm, fuzzy feelings, because they do. It took me 34 years to finally land on the style that suits me to the fullest.
However, what I wasn’t prepared for were some of the conversations I’ve had about my locs. Mainly with white people. Particularly older white men.
Anyone who knows will tell you that one of the first things that stands out about me is my personality. I’m outgoing, bubbly and enthusiastic. I love laughing, having a good time and talking. It’s not unusual to see me somewhere engaging in conversations with persons from all walks of life. I love meeting people and listening to their stories and sharing experiences.
Last week I had a conversation with a gentleman, who is white, about a variety of topics. He and I often talk when we encounter one another. Our conversations are usually riddled with jokes and discussions about the latest happenings. During this moment in time, he decided to inquire about my locs. My hair was freshly washed and was wavy thanks to the plaits I had placed in them the night before. He told me he liked the style then asked if I had gotten it done that morning. When I informed him that I achieved the style on my own, he began to ask questions about my hair.
His inquiries centered around the process of achieving locs, the maintenance of them and if I could ever “take them loose.” I explained to him how they were started, what I do to maintain them and told him about the processes that would be necessary if I ever wanted to take them out of my head.
Our exchange was pleasant, cordial and uplifting.
It was at the opposite end of the spectrum of what I’ve experienced in the past.
I’ve had older white men refer to my hair as strings. One asked me what do you call these things in your hair. I even had one pull one of my locs as a joke. He laughed. I didn’t. And the words that came out of my mouth in response did let him know, without a doubt, that he should never do it again to me or any other black woman. The ignorance shines brightly some days.
There is absolutely nothing funny about my hair. It’s beautiful. It’s flourishing. And it’s all mine. The negative form of these types of conversations truly get me riled up because it’s another form of oppression. We (black women) have been told, for years, how to speak, dress, express our feelings, think, shine and act. We’ve been expected to conform to standards set forth by men who have often viewed us as less than the royalty we are. We’ve often been forced to tone down who we truly are to appease those who sign our paychecks and approve our loans.
I’m over it. Been over it.
Now let me be clear, I don’t mind having the discussions. Part of the way this society grows is by asking questions when there’s a topic one isn’t familiar with or doesn’t understand. I believe most people welcome these conversations because you not only give something to others, but the seeker gets something in return.
The key to setting the stage for a beneficial transaction is to present your inquiries in such a manner that your tone isn’t filled with condescension, mockery and pacification. It’s perfectly fine if you don’t understand the locing process, can’t comprehend why I loc’d my hair or don’t like it. It is not for you to understand because it’s my hair and I can do what I want to with it. I won’t allow anyone to place me into a box simply for their own comfort. I wasn’t put here for the comfort of others. I was put here for a purpose and I’m going to fulfill it whether you like it or not.
In this political climate, it’s just as important now as it was fifty years ago, to arrive at the table with an open mind. A mind that’s ready to exchange ideologies, learn from others, grow and act. If you can’t come with that mindset then there’s no need to approach me. Besides, I’ll be too busy flicking my locs to notice.
by Kassaundra Shanette Lockhart
Originally published June 3, 2019