Making the decision to lock my hair had been a fairly easy one.
Unlike the men and women who agonize over the decision for months, if not years, I came to my hairstyle change rather easy. It was after a trip to Brazil, in which a curling iron and flat iron were unavailable to me and the only other option, for the duration of the trip, was a neatly done two-strand twist.
There was no spiritual or political reasoning in my decision, just a desire to reduce the cost of hair salon visits and beauty supply expenditures as well as cutting down the many hours a month I gave away getting my hair “fixed.”
Yet despite the growing popularity of the hairstyle and its social acceptance in the black community, the decision to go natural or to lock one’s hair comes with deep ramifications both personally and professionally in mainstream culture. About three years later, my hairstyle choice has drawn a lot of attention, mostly from curious brothers and sisters, who tell me that they have considered it but are weary that there hair might be perceived as “too nappy.”
Take for instance the story of young Mr. Patrick Richardson, the 16-year-old Vicksburg, Mississippi high school student, who was recently kicked off of homecoming court because of his dreadlocks. Although there was no written policy about the hairstyle, Richardson, along with another student, were told by the principal that homecoming is of “a higher standard” and dreads are not acceptable.
This hair issue is not a new one. In 2006, the Baltimore Police Department issued a new dress policy, which prohibited “extreme,” or “fad,” hairstyles including cornrows, dreadlocks, and twists. And who could forget that in 2007, Glamour magazine beauty editor made controversial remarks at a luncheon for women of Wall Street, that Black female attorneys should avoid wearing “political” hairstyles like dreadlocks or Afros, because these hairstyles are seen as unattractive and unprofessional.
With this kind of unwarranted mainstream fear of the kinks, it is no wonder that the vast amount blacks, particularly women, opted for the weaves, wigs and chemically and heat-induced straight hair. While straight hair is not necessarily an indicator of one’s own desire to assimilate into the dominant beauty standard, we can’t totally ignore that the decision to go natural can dictate between being employed or unemployed.
In the mainstream, kinky or nappy hair has gotten a bad reputation in our community as being as wild, dirty and shameful. The obvious root of our peculiar relationship to our hair can be traced back to slavery, when the half-white and longer, straighter hair offsprings were treated better – but not by much – than the darker black slaves.
And even in today’s Europeanized beauty-obsessed culture, many of our people still harbor deep in their sub-conscious the belief that straighter hair will be taken more seriously than kinky hair, which is why we spend hundreds of our dollars every year at Korean-owned hair supply stores in hopes that we can buy that professional look.
In a perfect world, Negro physicality including kinky hair, brown skin, full lips and broad noses, would be as normal and acceptable as our white counterpart. But in the real world, some of us cannot always afford to dismiss the societal prejudice that motivates black people, in particular black women, to straighten their hair.
Even after the black is beautiful movement in the 60s as well as affirmative action, sensitivity training programs of the 70s through the present, black folks and their hair is still subjected to the discrimination practices and policies of many corporations.
In other words, sometimes straightening your hair is not a matter of self-hate but rather of survival in hostile environments. On the flip side, I would never consider myself a revolutionary in any shape or form. The very idea that Black hair, in its natural state, is considered “revolutionary” is a point not missed on me. When you have [dread] locks, people treat you different. Prior to locking, I was “Hey Shawty” and “Miss.” After the locks, I am “Sista,”-with and without the “h” at the end.
And while I appreciate the new level of respect I get from members of my own community, it is an honor, which I had not earned. Nothing has changed about me except the hairstyle and yet because of hairstyle, people do make assumptions of me – both right and wrong.