As a three-time loc wearer who recently cut my below-the-shoulder length locs in favor of an Afro, I have grappled with this question a number of times throughout my career. For me, my hair is more than something that sits on my head – it is statement of who I am. Yes, I have missed out on a few job opportunities because of my locs, but these situations did not deter my sense of self-determination none-the-less.
I know that I speak from a very privileged space as my educational background and experience have probably opened more doors for me than my hair has closed. Also, I worked in higher education when I first locked my hair. This is an occupational field that tends to embrace and promote culture and diversity more so than some other industries.
Likewise, I speak from a space of cultural-pride and strong familiar support. As an African American woman, I am very aware and proud of my cultural heritage. I also have very supportive immediate and extended family members who have always encouraged me throughout my natural hair and loc journey.
That being said, I know that everyone doesn’t have some of the same luxuries that I have had in terms of making a decision between my hairstyle and a prospective job. Conversely, I have heard many stories about individuals who had to cut or hide their locs in order to get and maintain employment. And I think that this is absolutely absurd and malicious on many levels.
But, the question is not about how I feel about the situation. The question is about what should be done when a job-seeker is presented with such a situation. And the answer is, “it depends”.
What Does Hair Mean to You?
Locs are generally ostracized in the workplace because they are deemed to be distracting. This is similar to someone wearing blue, purple, or orange hair color. Though, I disagree with this sentiment because locs are natural, cultural, and in some cases spiritual unlike these eccentric hair colors. Nevertheless if you conform to this viewpoint, you might want to consider cutting your locs in order to find gainful employment.
While many culturally-aware loc and other natural hair wearers tend to want to fight the cause, we have to keep in mind that locs are just a hairstyle for some people. Every loc-wearer of African heritage doesn’t have the same level of cultural or spiritual connection to their hair. In fact, a number of people opt for temporary loc extensions in order to experiment with the style rather than as a badge of cultural pride. In which case cutting your locs in exchange for gainful employment is okay once you are not violating your own principles.
On the other hand, if you value your locs as a significant part of your culture and heritage then you may want to continue to cultivate them. Not only will you be able to maintain your sense of cultural pride, you will also be able to maintain your dignity and integrity. If you opt to keep your hair in favor of oppressive and unjust employment practices, you win the game for both you and the next generation.
That is definitely what I choose do for the last 14 years of my career. It wasn’t always easy, but it was worth it. I am actually grateful for any job opportunities that I missed out on because of my locs. Because I feel as though I would have been miserable in such work spaces. I probably would have been perpetually exhausted trying to always prove my value and worth because of my hair and my heritage.
Likewise, I held onto my locs a little longer than I planned to because I wanted to cut them off about 4 months before I did this past April. When I felt that it was time to cut my locs off in January, the case about the student who was being forced to cut his locs in order to graduate from high school was brought to the forefront. At that point I decided to keep my locs a little longer as a statement of solidarity for him and other youths who may be experiencing similar situations.
I wanted other young people to see that you can wear locs and be professional at the same time. Though I ultimately decided to cut my locs this past March for personal reasons, I still stand by my principles on matters such as this.
What are Your Economic Options?
One thing that you can always accuse me of being is a realist. While I have many ideas about the way the world should be, I also know that the majority of us live in a world that requires us to be gainfully employed in order to survive. Except when it comes to occupations that specifically employ or emphasize such principles, cultural pride and spirituality don’t usually pay the bills.
So sometimes you have to make hard decisions when it comes to your principles and values versus your livelihood. That’s not to say that you must compromise in order to live a fruitful, prosperous life because there are many options when it comes to economic stability.
Instead of a searching for integrity-compromising employment opportunities, you can start your own business. I know a number of loc wearers who did just that. They decided to start their own business rather than cut their hair to get a job. Most of them ended up being appreciative of lost employment opportunities because those situations forced them to find a more viable solution.
Another alternative is to seek employment in an industry or company that embraces cultural diversity. While more and more corporations are promoting cultural diversity within the workplace, some industries consistently embrace this concept on a broad scale.
Here is a list of professions that may be more conducive for loc wearers:
- Culinary art
- Performing arts
As you see, loc wearers have options when it comes to their hair versus gainful employment. There is rarely a time when cutting your hair is the only choice that you have. Making the decision to keep your locs may require you to make some hard decisions like starting your own business or changing careers. The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to sacrifice your hair for finances.