Loc’d up for Free
Written by: Alexis Eduardo Francisco
It has been a year since I decided to grow out and loc my hair. I’ve been reflecting on this process and have come to clarity that loc’ing has become one of my most important and powerful spiritual practices. I made the decision to grow out my hair as an invitation to enter more deeply into confronting the anti-Black racism I had internalized from la cultura Dominicana and my experiences growing up in the states. I wanted to face and heal the cancer of deprecation I had been taught to associate with certain aspects of my embodiment – perhaps most with what my people refer to as pelo malo – hair with the audacity to confess we carry the blood of African kings and queens. Hair that reveals that we carry the Black blood that fertilized la isla’s mango trees and rice fields, the Black sweat that sweetened the grasses that fed colonial cattle, the Black rhythms that carried songs of resistance in the winds. Ese pelo that carries the scent of the women in whose wombs we were knit, and out from whose joie-de-vivre and will-to-struggle we emerged – the names, the stories and songs we have allowed ourselves to lose in favor of glorified Spanish patria. I was inviting myself to embody that crucible and explore its depths. I was asking myself to feel through the urge to fix, cut, change or otherwise force my body to meet the colonized standard of beauty I had been taught to measure myself up against, daring myself to sit still against the ways I had unsuccessfully and at times successfully learned to want to blend, dissimulate, hide or try to make myself invisible in spaces I was allowed but never welcomed into, awakening to new understandings of myself and hungry to know what the ancestors might reveal to me when I made the choice to honor with reverence the Black that I embody.
My hair has become a small external reflection of the breaking and resetting of bones, a recasting of the foundations of who I thought I was, the earliest discovery of riches in the depth of my inheritance, and a complete reimagining of who I am being called to become.
On a day-to-day practical level, I may have been naïve to think loc’ing would be easy. The truth is, my hair requires considerably more attention and maintenance now than it did when I was buzzing it short, but I feel more myself now than ever before. I experience the time I spent with my hair as a blessed opportunity to invest energy into my appearance in a way that feels affirming and reverent, and usually with the added bonus of quality time building with a friend or kin who helps me wash and twist. The process has delivered profound lessons in patience and self-confidence – it took close to 8 months for these rizos to come together and start to loc. Try predicting what my locs will look like any given morning! Every time I get a derisive look or comment about my hair, or I notice my own internal dialogue turn negative, or I feel the low-grade angst of wondering how I will be perceived in a new space – I have an opportunity to practice loving myself, to practice claiming my dignity, to practice remembering that the ground I stand on is holy, that my roots are unfathomably deep and complex and that only la madre tierra bears witness to the struggle that birthed my existence – who in this world could have the power to challenge the divine fire I have inherited?