At the time of writing this, the year is 2021. I live in the United States. I am a black male, and surprise surprise, I’m STILL concerned about my hairstyle. More specifically, I’m concerned about how I will be perceived with dreadlocks (which I will be referring to as locs).
My First Set of Locs
A little preface about me, since graduating high school in 2011, I decided that it would be fun to live out my childhood dream of growing my hair. I wasn’t allowed to do so when I was younger. So when the time came, I proceeded to grow my hair and even started a set of locs for personal reasons.
Fast forward a few months, and I began to look for a part-time job. I didn’t want anything in fast food; I wanted to be customer-facing. I went on several interviews only to be dismissed without understanding why.
After speaking with my father, he hinted that it may be my hair holding me back. During this time, my hair was in what many call the “ugly phase” of locs. My hair was always frizzy and a little difficult to maintain.
A few weeks of pondering led me to cut my hair. I was hired by the next company I interviewed for. This alone changed my perception of hairstyles. The only noticeable difference to me was a “cleaner appearance”. I use quotations because I was taking care of my hair and it was clean but as I mentioned before my hair was a little wild and locs have a negative connotation around hygiene.
Forming My Own Opinion
Since cutting my hair allowed my personality and qualifications to outshine my appearance, I adopted a typical fade hairstyle for the remainder of my college career. I was a business major so I often had to dress up for presentations, and the fade complimented that clean professional look.
As I maneuvered through that experience, I wanted something that would help me stand out from other candidates that looked like me. I considered myself an artist, and while that may help me get a more creative job, it wasn’t likely to help me stand out physically. So I decided to grow my hair again, but I decided to keep it on the short side just to be safe.
January 2015 is when I decided to grow out my hair again. It was also around this time that I got an internship that would turn into my full-time job after graduation. Over the course of the year, I continued to let my hair grow and my employer said nothing. Every now and then I would get questions about what I was doing with my hair, but nothing to worry about or out of the ordinary.
Since everything was going fine, I once again decided to try locs. However, this set didn’t last because one month after I got them, I needed to find a new job. Due to my previous experience, I decided to cut my hair once again before ever going on an interview.
I was hired with my hair cut. Although this new job desired a higher caliber of dress attire, I still decided to grow my hair as a distinguishing feature. I decided the best course of action however was to leave my hair in a loose natural state.
I soon found myself needing another job opportunity, however this time I decided not to cut my hair. I simply pulled it back into a small ponytail or puff. And to my surprise, I was hired.
This event changed my perception. I *could* have longer hair in a professional setting.
To test the waters even further I continued to grow my hair while at this job. I soon discovered that I was in a special circumstance.
The first thing I realized was that while I am technically in a professional business setting, I’m in a creative field, marketing to be specific. I am not customer-facing. I am allowed certain liberties other customer-facing employees are not.
The second thing is that I was one of 2–3 black males who worked there. I’ll save the racial identity complex debate for another day, but just know that it weighed on my mind.
The third circumstance was that I have an employer who can see past my appearance to my quality of work. I understand that not every black male with long hair has that liberty.
Why this matters today
It has been a few years since I tried to have locs. It’s been even longer since I gave them a fair chance to mature and grow. This decision matters to me because of the perception people still have about locs.
I am a college-educated black male with 6 years of experience in my field. If and when I decide to find a new job, I am still concerned that my prospective employer may have a negative impression of me based on my hair alone.
I feel that I should be given an opportunity based on my skills and quality of work, not dismissed based on the hairstyle I choose to wear. My hairstyle is a personal decision that has no impact on my work at all.
I’ve seen countless stories of schools not allowing students to wear locs. I’ve seen stories of prospective candidates denied jobs based on their hairstyle. I’ve heard stories of people asked to cut their groomed, manicured locs because they made others feel uncomfortable.
I’m concerned because I know the stigma still exists.
Doing it Anyway
After stating all of that you may ask “So why would you get locs if you’re afraid of the perception? Why would you subject yourself to those things?”
I’ll answer you by saying that I am tired of trying to fit in and play by the rules society has set for my hair. It’s wrong: the rules and the negative stigma surrounding the hairstyle.
Having locs will not only be my dream come true but will serve as my own personal form of protest against a system that deems my natural hairstyle as unkempt.
I mentioned it before but my hairstyle has no impact on my quality of work, and therefore should not be a qualifying factor in my employment.
I’m concerned about my hairstyle in 2021, but I shouldn’t have to be.