Existing As We Are

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: Lena Waithe is so important to the culture.

A Variety reporter asked her why she cut those lovely locs off and she responded with something that truly spoke to my soul.

“I felt like I was holding on to a piece of femininity that would make the world more comfortable with who I am.”

While Lena’s locs were part of the inspiration to begin my own loc journey almost four years ago, her reasoning for cutting them off is kind of the reason why I started mine. Locing your hair, in the eyes my traditional, southern family was not my best moment. My grandmother, who was born in 1929 and who cleaned houses for white people in Foxworth, MS, for a living once asked me when I was first growing my hair out, “What you gon’ do when they tell you that you got to do something with it?” “They” being a future (white) employer and “do something with it” meaning press/relax my hair so that it’s not as threatening – not so nigger-ish.

My mother, though wording her concerns a bit differently, felt the same. “I don’t know why you like to walk around with your head looking like that.”

In the South, hair, for black women especially, is everything. Anyone familiar with Tignon laws? No? Well, they were basically laws – specifically enforced throughout Louisiana – that mandated that black women cover their hair in the presence of white folk, lest they be offended by the kinks and naps. But once Madame C.J. came through with the invention of the perm, we didn’t have to hide our horrendous naturals under wraps because now, it could look presentable in the eyes of the whites.

Where I am from, hair and femininity are one in the same.

I’ve always thought locs were beautiful but as we’ve established, my family thought otherwise. I was asked all kinds of ridiculous questions from family and friends like:

“You gay now?” I mean, in hindsight, yeah (I hadn’t come out to myself at the time)… but that had nothing to do with it. “You’re hair was soooo pretty and long! Why’d you cut it off?” Because I wanted to??? And my favorite, “Are you going through something?” Like???

Now, this summer in D.C., I received nothing but praise for my freeform locs. I had never received so many compliments on my hair from other women or people in general. I had complete strangers come up to me and tell me how much they loved my locs. Unfathomable back home.

I never felt comfortable with straightened hair. It always felt like there was some element of performance that no matter how hard I tried, I just wasn’t getting right. It never felt like me.

This idea of being allowed to exist as we are – to be comfortable in our skin – is revolutionary. A lot of time, people are caught up in performance. And depending on where you are in the country, the rules – the script, if you will – for said performance is law and must not be deviated from or you will incur the disapproval of your peers who unwittingly stand to reinforce a binary that is actually made up.

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