Locs by any other name

Recently, I visited LockStar Salon on Chicago’s South Side and spoke to the owner there, letting her know about Loc’d Life. In our conversation, we spent a great deal of time talking about what we call our hair: locs, dreads, locks, or dreadlocks? One would think that for a simply natural style, one would not get caught up in a name for them. Clearly, I was wrong.

She preferred the term “dreadlocks” to locs. She did not like the term “dreads”. I questioned the difference it really made, yet she was passionate about her choice.

The etymology of the term “dreadlocks” themselves is as interesting as the debate. According to Wikipedia:

“The word is a compound word combining the words dread and locks that dates to the time of the invasion of native peoples in the West Indies. In the 1960s the intent may have been to evoke the dread aroused in beholders of the hair; “dread” also has a sense of “fear of the Lord” in the Rastafari Movement, which can be partially expressed as alienation from contemporary society.”

With a sense of dread in the name, I would think that the term “locs” would be a modern take. According to website dreadlocks forums, that seems to be the case (http://www.dreadlockssite.com/forum/topics/locs-dreads-dreadlocks):

“Locs seem to be the term preferred by the salon[s]. Dreads [are used] especially amongst African Americans and appear to come from a need to disassociate locs from their dreadful cousins dreadlocks or dreads. We’ve seen many sites advocating using only the term locs because dreadlocks are not dreadful. These are mostly African American salons that twist away all features that make dreads dreads so the locs look super manicured and ‘perfected’.”

Also on dreadlocks forums, there is yet another definition for the term “dreads”, and it states:

“’Dreads’ may seem like the shortened term for dreadlocks and often is interchangeable, often used with exactly the same meaning. However close observation can reveal that those who use ‘dreads’ almost exclusively and never or rarely ‘dreadlocks’ or ‘locks’ tend to use it as a ‘hip’ term. Of course many are not aware of this tendency. So, it is often the same as using ‘dreadlocks’ so the distinction is nearly meaningless.”

Finally, the Bible, mentions the term “locks” as part of the Nazarite vow:

“All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long.” —Numbers 6:5

So, is it “locs”, “dreadlocks”, “locks”, or “dreads”? What’s a loc wearer to do when referring to their style of natural hair? Is one better than the other? Is one totally bad? Is there really a difference? Or are they all one in the same?

In my opinion, I prefer the term “locs”—hence the name, Loc’d Life. For me, it feels new. Yes I am probably like the salon owners mentioned in the loc definition above. Yes, I like cultivated locs, but when you look at figures like singer Valerie June and model/knitwear designer Ladene Clark, freeform locs take on a beauty all of their own (For Ladene’s style, see volume 2 of our printed version at http://www.locdlife.com). It’s heritage is renewed and doesn’t come with the baggage that “dreadlocks” and “dreads” do, even though all these terms have the same long history, the same varying cultures, and the same far reaching significance and appeal as old as time itself.

I believe in a new way of looking at locs. It is the reason why I started Loc’d Life, to give people a new way of looking at locs, dreadlocks, locks, or dreads, without misconceptions, without “dread”, and hopefully without all the baggage that previous generations endured for a style that emanates from the soul, is rarely a fad for its wearers and has become a long-term if not lifetime commitment.

While we battle about the name, and as we think about what to call them, let’s remember that it’s a reflection of who we are. As Marcus Garvey said himself, “Take the kinks out of your head, and not your hair.” I couldn’t agree more.

What do you think? Let us know.

‘Till next time,
Gail Mitchell
Loc’d Life Magazine
Click on the blog link to bring you here.


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