November 15, 2008 § 3 Comments
so i love my hair. i love the fact that it is filled with red and blue and black cotton thread yarn. i love the fact that it is locked. i love that it holds a story and a history inside those locks. i love that it looks a little bit rock and roll. a little wild.
when i was growing up i had the worse hair in my family. by the worse hair i mean (y’all know what i mean) thick, nappy, short hair. i hated when my mother would do my hair. tears would come to my eyes. she would jerk the comb through tight kinks pulling at the scalp.
once a week she would hot comb it. she would sigh heavy. call me into the kitchen on saturday evening, grease the scalp and then the smell of burnt hair. she said my hair was like a sponge. it just held onto water for hours and took foreva to dry.
nobody liked to do my hair. every once in a while my mother would take me to a hair dresser and they would complain about how difficult it was to straighten my hair. they would say that they ought to charge more for hair like mine.
it was humiliating.
people said that i was tenderheaded. i dont know. probably not. i just didnt want to sit still as someone raked a comb through my hair for an hour complaining about it the whole time.
my best friend was white with long wavy brown hair. wash and go. she thought her hair was perfect and felt sorry for me because of my funny looking pig tails and braids. her mother would laugh at my hair on sunday after i had spent hours getting it done on saturday evening.
i hated my hair.
when i was 10 or 11, my mother started relaxing it. i hated the smell of the no-lye relaxers. and my hair never came out shiny, or long, or wavy straight like the girls on the boxes. i looked more like a scarecrow. but my mother would do her best with grease, pomades, oil, water, hot combs, and more relaxers. i guess the relaxers and perms made my hair easier for her to manage. but my hair never seemed to grow longer than my chin (and i dont have much of a chin!) and it was nothing close to wash and go. i would dream of the day that my mother didnt have to do my hair and i didnt have to put rollers in it every night.
when i was 13 i got braids for six months. the perm grew out. when i took out my braids, i swore i was never getting a perm again. the year before i had been jamming to the arrested development unplugged cd and i wanted to be natural. it seemed so simple.
god was i wrong.
i hadnt been paying attention to the fashion in my high school but all of a sudden out of 2000 people, 25 percent of whom were black (500 people), half of whom were women (250 people) i was the only black girl who wasn’t rocking straight hair. i was a freak. not a kinda freak. a hideous, social pariah freak. which is how i guess alot of people feel in high school.
on the bus home from school black girls (i guess they were popular or at least numerous) would gather and chant for a half-hour about how nappy my hair was. day. after day. after day. then they would go to school and brag about how much fun it was. they did it in gym class. and when they were passing me in the halls. my heart beats a little faster when i think about it. my mind starts to slow down and warp itself around the sound of them cackling behind me. for a few months there was not a single black kid in the school willing to be seen with me. i couldnt go to a class without the whisper campaign and jokes. could barely concentrate in class.
it was kinda ironic because my choice not to get a perm was in response to all this pro-black, malcolm x, each one teach one propaganda i was imbibing. i could quote malcolm x speeches by heart but was a social leper to black folks. daily someone would advise me to do something with my hair.
one afternoon i was riding the bus. and the chants started like usual. nappy. ugly. black. normally, i would try to ignore them. a couple of white friends were sitting with me and like usual they pretended that nothing was happening. turn the other cheek and all that. but this time, i turned to the back of the bus and watched them. they kept going. i kept watching. if they were going to insult me, then let them do it to my face. they quieted down a bit but kept going until one by one they got off the bus.
the next day two other black girls who had been sitting near the front of the bus stopped me and said that they admired me for turning around and facing them.
the next day i faced them again. they chanted for a few minutes and whispered but lost steam.
the next day i did it again.
i had been going home crying my lil 14 year old eyes out and refusing to straighten my hair. i didnt want to be ugly, but i wasnt going to let them win. i was not going to give into the hot comb.
i kept turning around and facing them. a couple of more girls told me privately that they were glad i had.
after a couple of months, my mom twisted my hair. i started twisting it after that. a couple of years after that i had locked it. i was still the only black girl in my high school without straight hair, but i stopped giving a damn. they still made fun of me in class and in the halls and on the bus, but i always had a smart come back. i didnt have to try to be liked. i wasnt going to be. my hair had insured that. i wasnt going to be considered pretty either. and no one thought i had good hair. my hair was indecent. but i was smart and quick and sarcastic. and people stopped insulting me where i could hear because they didnt want to hear what i thought of them. frankly my hair was the least radical thing about me.
i have never straightened it since. damn, its been 16 years.
i still like twisting and locking my own hair. rarely do i let anyone else do it.
recently, i was sitting with a white sister in law as we were talking about our children. her daughter is biracial and she has (too mind) great brown curly hair. her mother is a hair dresser and just cant stand her daughters hair. she wishes she had ‘good hair’. hair that lies down, follows gravity, is more straight, easier to manage, blah blah blah blah blah. she doesnt want her daughter to have ‘rough’ hair, and while she thinks dredlocks look cute on a boy it is looks kinda a butch on a girl. she talks about what ‘good’ hair my daughter has.
now, i love my daughter’s hair, because it is curly and dark brown and hers. but when my sister in law starts on that racist shit about her daughters hair i can barely bite my tongue (and rarely succeed). i just cant. she is wrong. her daughters hair is gorgeous. and wanting her daughters hair to be more european is so destructive. she starts talking about straightening it and having to manage it and when she gets older she is going to stick a perm in it. and i just dont get it. why does her mother want to change the most african-looking part of her daughter’s appearance?
then she starts giving me advice on what to do with my daughters hair. ”moisturize it”. that way it will lay down more. ummm…..thanks for the lesson?
i fear for what she tells her daughter about her hair. i fear that she talks about her hair as if it is something that is going to have to be ‘dealt with’ and significantly altered in order to be acceptable. i fear that her daughter will not love her hair as much as i love her hair. or as much as i love my own. dont get me wrong its fun to change the style up…but hating a part of yourself because it isnt european-american enough is heartbreaking. it can demoralize you. it can make you forget who you are. it can weaken your ability to stand up for yourself.
i know that white womens features are considered the standards for what is feminine. and so it is important that all features that can be altered to look more white women-y must be if one wants to be considered feminine or pretty. and considering that how a woman looks is considered to be her primary source of wealth in the society…i can understand the desire to create that image of prettiness.
but i also want to say that, the world is bigger than most people seem to imagine. that my hair is incredibly versatile. and one of my best features (including a cute-ass smile). and i havent wanted straight hair since i was 14 years old wishing everyone would shut the fuck up and let me enjoy discovering how soft my hair is. when it is not straightened. when it is just tiny curls on top of tiny curls.