Loc’d: A Journey of Becoming

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has gained more significance for me throughout my mid-twenties. I say this because I didn’t begin embracing my Blackness until about 3 years ago (but more about that in a bit.) So in the spirit of MLK Day, I’m sharing about what Black hair has taught me about my own mental health; more specifically, my physical appearance, my interpersonal encounters, and my confidence.

Origins

I identify myself as a Black biracial male, though self-awareness and definition of my identity continues to evolve. I am the product of a Caucasian mother raised in Michigan and an African father, who immigrated from Sierra Leone, Africa.

Being raised by my single mother and maternal grandmother (both white), I received mixed messages about my identity in and out of the home. Kids at school would ask, “What are you?” There were the unsolicited comments about how I was, “talking white;” or better yet, those occasions where I was referred to as “an Oreo” because I was brown on the outside but somehow white on the inside!?

Add in the conflicted relationship between my mother and father (my father was absent throughout childhood) and you can see how I was left to figure out my identity from a prejudiced vantage point. Learning to become a Black Biracial male from my white mother and grandmother was… something. They had very little insight on how to help me embrace my American roots as well as my African ancestry.

Though I’m sure Sandra (mother) and Grandma didn’t know it at the time, they taught me to hate my blackness as I developed.

  • “Nigger” was used frequently and as grandma explained it, “That means an ignorant Black person.”
  • Grandma would say things like, “You’re more white than you are Black because you’re raised by the white side.”
  • Though my father wasn’t their favorite, Sandra and Grandma would often refer to him as “apeman.”

Most significantly, my mixed hair was treated as something to be tamed, not embraced. As I reflect today, I realize this mentality was influential in my trying to ignore my blackness for most of my life.

Who knew that afros and dreadlocks would become essential tools to embracing who I am?

Influences

I loved Whoopi Goldberg movies as I grew up in the 90s. Were they age-appropriate? No, but that’s neither here nor there!

I loved the carefree way that Whoopi portrayed her various roles with those gorgeous dreadlocks. She was unapologetically Black while simultaneously showing that a Black woman can be versatile on screen outside of the characteristic ghetto, attitude-having, baby mama persona that continues to be so played-out. I even wrote a report about her in middle school.

On August 25, 1998, Lauryn Hill blessed the world with what I believe to be the greatest album of all time, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. As a 6-year-old, I loved how Hill, like Goldberg, defied stereotypes of what was expected of Black people. This was a breath of fresh air from the “miseducation” that I was receiving at home.

I have this piece by artist, Sherrell W, a local VA artist, hanging in my home office.

And of course, I LOVED Ms. Hill’s crown of locs. When I decided to attempt locs for the second time in 2020 (more about that soon), The Miseducation album cover was what I aspired towards.

Confidence, awareness, lived experiences and lessons.

The Fro-hawk

Long story short, the first 25 years of my life was spent taming my cotton-like afro curls. Having no template, I got my hair cut short and “neat” at chain hair cutting shops for most of my life. I never went to a Black barber in that quarter century, if you can believe that!

But that all changed in 2018.

I stumbled across an image of a young Black man in a magazine one Saturday while at the laundromat. He wore his curls high on the top and had the sides shaved. I wanted it!!! I tore out that ad and brought it to the nearest barber shop. I marveled at the sudden possibility that I could style my hair instead of wearing it the same “neat” way that I was taught throughout my youth.

We call this, the fro-hawk!

That One Time…

In 2019, I decided to go bolder. After spending years marveling at the locs of my icons such as Hill and Goldberg, I was ready to get loc’d!

I trusted my poof in the hands of a loctician, conveniently located in the barber shop whom I entrusted to maintain my frohawk. I did no research and thought I’d step out of that shop with starter locs…

What a disaster…

Homegirl threw in some coils (not even tight ones) and fried my damn scalp under the dome dryer with the rationale that it would “set my locs.” She took my $85 and sent me on the way with the vague instructions of, “don’t touch it and come back in 3 weeks.”

The high heat had destroyed my already dry scalp. HUGE flakes of skin formed on my scalp and when I dared to scratch, the coils easily became unraveled.

And that, my friends, is the story of how I had locs for a mere 3 weeks in 2019 before washing them out.

Quarantine and Youtube

I continued to rock my fro-hawk into 2020 when that bitch COVID 19 made her debut. Like many, I was terrified to go to a barber shop… So my hair grew.

Circa May 2020, about 3 months past due for an edge up.

The lust for locs only grew stronger as my family and I sheltered in place, as I had ample time to scroll #Locs on Instagram. Then I thought, “What the hell. I can’t go to the barber anyway, so what better time to start locs?”

I threw myself into research. Youtube was a godsend as I learned about my 3c hair type and the methods to start my locks DIY at home!

A Photo Timeline

A week after I started my locs.

The fuzzy stage… Talk about HAIR ANXIETY!

~3 months loc’d (September ’20). I temporarily saw a loctician to get my hair insta-loc’d, which is a crochet needle method that speeds up the maturation (hardening) process.

~5 moths loc’d (November ’20) when my locs still stuck strait up, just before they “dropped.” I had also just dyed them a honey blonde… but they turned out more reddish brown.

This morning- Over 7 moths loc’d with my beautiful wife and 1-year-old daughter.

Conclusion?

Self-acceptance and awareness are a journey, just like dreadlocks. In this past 7 moths, my hair has taught me to embrace unpredictability. It has taught me to embrace what my youth mind believed to be imperfection.

White people, stop calling Black hair “nappy!” 

There has been a lot of trial and error and I have a graveyard of once-used hair products to prove that. I’ve dealt with even more prejudice from Grandma with comments such as, “It looks like worms growing out of your head,” or the lovely, “Please don’t grow them so long that they look like turds.”

Luckily, my not-so-woke grandma will never see this post. Thankfully, I have a fantastic therapist who has been working with me for about 2 years to embrace my intuition. It’s amazing to me that my time with this therapist conveniently coincides with my hair journey (I started seeing Barb the week I washed out my first set of locs!)

I’ve learned to channel the energy of Whoopi and Lauryn and to ignore the stigma tossed my way from well-meaning non-melaninated folx who voiced worries such as, “You want to look professional, you’re a therapist” and “I don’t want your hair to effect how others see you.”

While it has been a roller coaster, I can say with confidence on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2021: I LOVE MY DREADLOCKS! I am becoming the best parts of those I looked up to in my upbringing.

I’m reversing my own “miseducation.”

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7 thoughts on “Loc’d: A Journey of Becoming”

  1. Bryan Munson says:

    Love the locs, too. Always nice to hear something positive come out of 2020 – perhaps, a new vision.

  2. Tony Franklin says:

    I read you blog post word for word.. and here is my feedback.

    DO NOT CHANGE ONE SINGLE THING.

    The account you gave and what you have experienced due to being raised by white women and not having access to believe in your blackness. However, I am honored that you have discovered it now and have truly tapped into who you are as a Black Man, father and husband. You are shifting and shaping the world for bi-racial boys and girls like our children. I am in awe of those words and literally felt the passion and experience as of it were first hand.

    I too haven’t truly embraced my blackness until having dreads and having to “explain” to my wife why this is important to me. It’s beyond a Hairstyle but connecting to who I am inside a black man who celebrates and embraces my blackness.

    Thank you.

    1. Thanks so much, friend!

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