Locs vs. Dreads

Locs vs Dreads : Linguistic segregation of hair terminology.

Dreadlocks, Dreads, Locs, Dreadhead, Rasta and the list goes on. I have heard all of these terms used interchangeably to refer to my hair. I don’t always make a point of correcting people but these words are not all the same.

Have you noticed that if you put the word “Dread” or “Dreads” into any search engine you will see a barrage of images featuring Caucasians, a sprinkling of Bob Marley pictures and a one or two people of color? From Tumblr to Instagram to Facebook and Google that’s just the way it is.


Part of the reason for this it that many people of color have chosen to drop the “dread” and use only “loc” as a more appropriate representation. In many cultures the act of locking one’s hair is considered an act of rebellion and those taking part have traditionally been looked upon as undesirables. Some say the term dreadlocks was born out of the view of hair knotting to the point of a dreadful lock and thus they are dreadlocks.

As part of the Afrocentric empowerment movement more and more people of color have chosen to grow Locs as a means of embracing the beautiful possibilities of their natural hair. I heard one sister say, “I don’t have dreadlocks because there is nothing dreadful about my hair!”  In truth many afro-decedents find the term very offensive. Lacking the sensitivity which is produced by a history of racial persecution and discrimination, many Caucasians will use the term Dreads oblivious to negative implications.

Afro-decedents will say dreads as well. Sometimes uninformed of the origin or because of a different cultural perspective. I have heard that Rastafarians interpret the root “dread” to refer to one’s fear of God. The longer your dreadlocks the closer you are to the creator.

rasta-flag1In the words of Morgan Heritage, “ You no haffi dread to be Rasta.” At the same time having dreadlocks does not make you a Rasta either. The Rastafari movement is believed to be born out of Jamaica in the early 1900’s. Though it pays homage to Haile Selassie as God’s chosen king, it is not a religion. To be Rasta is a lifestyle which encompasses diet, some interpretations from the Bible, spirituality, the ideology of Africa as the origin of man and the renouncing of western ideals and constraints.

From the Ngakpas of Tibet to Hindu Sadhu men, dreadlocks stretch across cultures and carry a different meaning for different people. We must recognizing that words take different meaning for people based on their personal experiences and background. I know that with one simple look I will be interpreted into others perceptions. I am not a Rasta nor do I consider my hair dreadful. Thus I choose to use the term Locs.

People of all backgrounds should be conscious of the power of their words and speak wisely respecting how a person chooses to identify him or herself. Without an understanding of the words we use we will often find that what we say is not what we mean. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Peace <3
Niyya Teneé

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