25 June 2011

Don't Hate... Appreciate: My Loc Story

Fresh Trim Locs

I am a natural hair girl. Even when over 50 years ago to go natural, ala nappy, was counter-revolutionary to the revolution of civil rights and liberation I came out of the womb happy to be nappy. While others lauded Madame CJWalker cuticle libations, lye burns and singed ear cartilage, I was pleading with Mama just to leave my hair alone. And, on top of having the most voluminous head of hair of my siblings, I was tender headed! Mercy! All I wanted to do any Saturday other than sit with my head between Mama's legs getting just washed hair untangled and scalp greased, or going to the beauty shop to have my hair fried and laid to the side, was anything other than...

I swore, under my breath of course, that when I got grown I would not put another chemical or hot comb in my hair. For the most part that became my reality as the first act of liberation came when Mama left me at Clark College in Atlanta my freshman year. Before she drove off the campus lot I cut my hair to the quick and work a quo vadis for the next four years. During my foray into local and state beauty pageantry in my early twenties I conceded that I needed some help managing my hair if I were to let it grow out. Yes, I had about five years of jeri curl. The beauty of the j-curl for me was that it was applied to virgin hair and took oh so well. I thought I was liberated to no more tenderheadedness and hair style efficiency. Because of the great condition of my natural hair, I did not have to over saturate with oily goop and didn’t suffer ruined pillow cases and seat cushion head rests.

Slamma Glamma Locs
After that phase, the j-curl was very convenient but not spiritually liberating, I returned to natural hair. I wore twists when stylists were dying to get into my hair. I word head wraps and was mistaken for Caribbean or first generation African (I am fourth generation). I did my hair in simple chignon or up-do and tied it up at night just so I could only comb it one or twice a week. Don't hate, tenderheadedness ain’t to joke!

Calling me from across the crowd, fleeting on the city bus, catching a different plane, was dreadlocked heads. If there was one to be found in my purview, I caught a glimpse of it and yearned to pursue it, ask it questions, ask if we could possibly be kin. People with dreadlocks were culturally intimidating and comparably attractive. The dichotomy of intrigue remained unsettled within until the day my then 4-year-old son came home from pre-school and declared, “Mommy I want man braids.” After a bit of discussion I learned that for him dreadlocks on his young, hip, gentle spirited male caregiver was “man braids.” And he wanted to emulate something so pure and paternal and assuring in this young man that he declared that he wanted “man braids.”

Jazzy Jayy Locs @ 19
Ever the encourager of positive self image and empowerment, I told son that he could start growing out his quo vadis and that when he was five I would get him some “man braids.' This bought me time to research the process for loc'ing, grooming and hygiene. For the next year I researched and talked to every loc'd head I saw. What a learning experience that was!

I learned the difference between dreadlocks, sisterlocks and locs. I learned why some people with locs (my preferential term for the family of naturally locked hair) smelled unclean. I learned that locs held cultural, spiritual, and practical intentions as varied and religious identity and spiritual practice. I learned that white people loc'd (still very ewwwww to me). I learned that there are hierarchies of loc culture, sometimes even hostile towards one another. I learned most of all, that I wanted to loc and that I would loc in three years when I was 40.

A year after my son told me he wanted “man braids” I experimented with techniques I had researched. About six months later, I washed, conditioned, twisted and let it rest for week before repeating, untwisting and palm rolling. What I had not considered is that my son and I had decidedly different hair textures. To get his locs to lock I had to twist and tie down a couple of times a week until they got long enough to hold on their own. To get my hair to lock, I had to do little more than say, “let there be locs” and my happy naps hugged one another like Celie and Nettie in The Color Purple!

Hella Sexii Locs
Sadly, I learned another lesson: my Mother loathed my locs and took it personal that I would offend her Southern sensibilities and loc'd my son's hair. Huh? This is from a mother who worked the Civil Rights Movement, taught me African pride intentionally and contextually, and who was quite the fashionable stone cold fox of the sixties and seventies! Somewhere along the way to our maturity we had diverged on appreciation of Black beauty and hair care. My Mother's greatest concern was that people would not invite me to preach the Gospel because I had locs. Good thing Mama raised me to be a grown woman. I heard her, but didn’t listen to her! ROTFL. I didn’t undo my locs and I make a living preaching (and doing other religious scholastic and holy work).

Over the past 15 years my locs have grown as long as three feet. I have cut 18 inches off of the front when it got too long and heavy to hold soft curls; and trimmed four inches off the back when I have sat on them one too many times while driving. Today I tend 31 inch long locs that graze my voluptuous hips like a virtuoso tickling the ebonies and ivories some days and are sculpted into an impressionable crown of glory on others. I changed my grooming technique from palm-rolling to latching (with ingenious homemade tool). I am not tenderheaded when I style my locs. I pay homage to the diversity of loc styling in a Facebook photo album. I loathe having others touch my hair uninvited. I never have a bad hair day.

Liberated Locs with 51st Birthday Tiara
On this Loc Appreciation Day, I celebrate hair liberation for myself and for others. I more fully embrace the adage, “Do you, Boo!” by doing me and saying to adversarial pundits of my choice that chose me, “don’t hate, appreciate!”

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