From Preatoria to Hopefield

Some thoughts on “The Problem with Black Hair”

Jamaican girls with unmixed African hair – that super coiled, cry when it combing out, deceptively short until you tug on a strand hair – have mostly always relaxed their hair. Which, like most major life decisions, is totally okay when it’s a choice. Not so okay when  mothers relax their 5 year old’s hair because they just can’t bother to comb it.

Recently there’s been a movement toward “embracing your curls” – which some of my more cynical and curlier friends have decried as a purely “mixed girl hair” movement. African hair doesn’t bounce around your ears in curly waves, they complain, no matter how much product you put in it. Fair point, but short accessorized afros are steadily gaining pace among trendy hairstyles of the 21st century. And I am so happy when I see people not giving up on their natural hair for the sake of having it easy.

If you know me, you would know that statement is more than a little hypocritical, because my sole purpose in locking my hair was to have a low maintenance hairstyle. I hate combing my hair, bitterly, but I didn’t want to relax it because chemicals are terrifying. Locs were the compromise.

It helped my decision that locs are still relatively uncommon in this part of the island – the Kingston liberal arts and hipster scene is awash with dreads both real and temporary but in Montego Bay I’ve found locs are largely restricted to the working class. And I like to make minor stirs when I can, upset people’s predisposed notions.

The radically opposing points of view on black hair simply cannot find middle ground. There is the “natural camp” and the “neat camp” and for some reason they have decided that never the twain shall meet. Obviously one can be natural and neat, if one only adjusts and compromises the meanings behind those adjectives.

The afro is going to face the same uphill battle that locks did, because of its historic associations. Once upon a time, the only people with locs or afros were people who couldn’t afford to straighten their hair (read: poor people) or people who were rebelling against society (read: criminals). This antipathy toward hair that isn’t long and straight with no strand out of place is as entrenched as our antipathy toward melanin, toward the spectrum of sexuality, toward difference on a whole.

But the world is moving forward, tentatively. Acceptance is in.

Locks: tips I’ve picked up along the way

I’ve invested quite a bit of energy (and cash) into my hairstyle choice, and a good bit of that energy has gone into research. While I’m no expert, the following guide is meant to be a summary of the most useful information I’ve found on the internet as well as some of my own meandering experience.

1. If you have the option, use a professional at least to start your locks. It save your energy and time if you get it done right in the first place. But if you really want to do it on your own then make sure you know what you’re doing. Locks can look terrible if they’re not done right.

2. Keep ’em clean. So you won’t be washing your hair as often for the first couple weeks, but you don’t want bugs to start pitching camp tents inside your ‘do. And a tip: don’t use conditioner.

3. Stick to one method of locking hair. There are a variety of lock start-up regimes out there, depending on your hair length and texture. What you want to do is pick one and stick with it. It’s definitely not recommended that you start out interlocking and then switch to palm rolling a year later. (Or starting free form and then switching to interlocking. No. Just… no). It looks neater when it’s uniform.

4. Don’t be afraid to change hairdressers if you don’t think they’re doing it right. Not everyone knows the proper techniques to interlock hair, and it’s your damage if you stick with someone you know is doing a bad job.

5. You can get your locks maintained as often or as seldom as you want. Of course in certain fields, neatness is a priority and that means you’ll probably be spending a lot more money on your hair than someone who’s career is more laid back.

6. I would definitely recommend to everyone considering locks (for reasons other than just fashion) that they learn to do it themselves. It saves you time and money at the hair stylist and it keeps you from being too dependent on them, too.

But that’s just my two cents.


iRasta: FAQs

Credit to zigbone on Deviantart

Something I get asked every day (in various obnoxious, outraged tones of voice) is “Why you locking you hair?” The asker is usually mortally offended on my behalf that I would ‘mess up’ my ‘pretty hair’ for such a ‘low-class’ (insert any other derogatory adjective here) hairstyle.

To which I’ll usually take a few seconds to come up with a witty retort, fail to find one and respond (lamely!) that I actually like the style, hate combing my hair, etc. etc. These are the top four questions I get asked regularly.

1. Are you locking you hair?
Yes! :D

2. WHY?
Because I think locks are a great style for someone who wants to keep their hair natural. My roots might look fuzzy (especially when I’m a few weeks late for a styling appointment) but at least I have the comfort of staying true to them.

3. But your hair is so pretty!
That might be true but it’s still hell to manage! This question really gets my goat because it’s just a perpetuation of the classism we have here in Jamaica: people with ‘pretty hair’ don’t do certain things, don’t act a certain way. People actually get upset that I’m ‘ruining’ my hair by doing this, when I’m really just giving my hair the freedom to do whatever the hell it wants.

4. And your mother’s okay with it?
My mother wants to lock her own hair! It’s on her list of things to do with her hair (right before cutting it way short and right after what she’s doing with it now). My dad, too. Sometimes I love my family.

Whenever someone with processed/permed/creamed hair or someone with extensions/weave asks me these questions I get more than a little annoyed. You can bet no one gave them grief for their decision to chemically ruin their hair or put other people’s hair in, and yet I get all kinds of weird looks and consternation because I’m doing something Jamaicans have been doing since post-colonialism.

Bottom line: it’s my hair, so I get to choose what I do with it (short of cutting it all off, because I might wind up without a boyfriend if I go that far). ;)


{17} Rastaman deh pon top, as usual

Rastaman deh pon top as usual. Rasta. Dread. Natty. People with locks been called so many things, some of them not very nice, some of them completely false. So why people nowadays getting up and saying they want locks for style? Since when dreadlocks stop being dread and start being high fashion? Is something I have to look into since, after all, I want locks too.

My most profound experience with Rastafari came about as most of my profound experiences do: through a book. This one was in my school text, an excerpt from Rastafari: A Universal Philosophy in the Third Millenium. It’s the chapter where Mutabaruka reflects on Rasta from Experience. Mutabaruka used to be a very strong cultural icon, for the Rasta as well as the everyday Jamaican. I say used to be, because to my thinking he’s out of shape. No self-respecting orator can turn to nighttime gossip shows and still hope to be taken seriously, but I digress.

Muta talks at length about the history and origins of Rasta, from Back ‘o Wall days, mentioning Marcus Garvey and the Rastafari tenets. He looks at the different sects of Rasta, the different beliefs; he scorns the ‘town’ Rasta, who have to back up their ideas with Judaeo-Christian teachings, and reveres the Rasta in the hill, for whom Rastafari is not a bible-ting, because him don’t need to validate his beliefs. In the town, people called on the Rasta to validate himself constantly. Not combing the hair was foreign; believing that God used to be a man was heretic; smoking ganja was borderline illegal (and is now). Xenophobia is as old as time.

The fear of the locks was dreadful, dreadlocks. -Mutabaruka, Rasta from Experience

So this is where Mutabaruka says Rasta is coming from. This is the history of ‘dreadful locks’ and like he says you used to find Rastas in some weird places just because they looking different. So what would Muta say now? Rastas, they everywhere. In your schools, in your churches, in your offices and on the streets. But the attitude towards locks and Rasta still so different even here, where Rasta born and grow. In Mobay, people still don’t like them much. You mostly find locks on the labourers, the skilled workers and not so much the professionals. The older folks look down on locks, even the ones for style, and most of the middle generation not comfortable with it, either. The distrust and bigotry is still there in a big way.

Then take Kingston, the cradle of Rasta. They come a long way there, people with locks strolling up and down the university campus like ants on sugar. Doctors have locks, lawyers have locks, lecturers have locks. Is not just the artistes and the liberals, the button-up types adopting the style too. Is not just for the rebels, the khaki soldiers and the Che Guevaras among us anymore. But then Kingston is usually the trendsetter, especially for we here in Mobay and in no time, you see we stop turn up we nose at the Rastaman. But no matter where you go in Jamaica, Babylon still running them down for the herb.

To the rest of the world, Rasta is Bob Marley, is reggae music, is being high. Locks is not so much style as lifestyle and, for the few that adopt it, identification with a persecuted subculture. On the international scale, locks are still sneered at and scorned. It untidy, it nasty, it don’t look neat. You don’t see business professionals and academics with locks; you see entertainers and athletes and artists. No 9-5’ers here, locks stuck with the liberals and the rebels. But Rasta is not reggae music and Bob Marley and locks. How the old song go?

You don’t haffi dread fi be Rasta

And locks is not synonymous with being high and worshipping the Marleys. Sufi monks have a choice between shaving the head and growing the hair as dreadlocks; both styles represent a disregard for the physical body in the search for spiritual enlightenment. Rastaman have him reasons same way. In the hill, Rastaman grow locks because to do otherwise is to interfere with nature. On the ground Rastaman say that in Numbers 6, the vow of the Nazarene tell him not to cut him hair. Or him use the story of Samson and Delilah.

As for me, locks is a lifestyle choice. I have a whole lot of history backative and cross-cultural motivation, to say nothing of current fashion. As far as I’m concerned, combing hair should be the least of my priorities and not something that I obssess over. In the grand scheme of life, there are more important things I could be doing in the time it takes to do hair. Hypocritical? Yes. I still have to visit the hair salon every so often to keep it neat and clean. So, no, I haven’t entirely forsaken the ways of the world. But as Miss Lou say: if you don’t follow fashion, you will never inna style.