Wednesday, June 24, 2009
It's My Hair Story and I'm Sticking to It!
Years ago in several dreams I saw myself in locks . When I started wearing my hair natural, without hot comb or chemical straightening, it felt so right for me--just as I felt it was and just as it was in my dreams. Key phrase: "It felt so right for me." For the last fifteen years or so, I have been so happy with my choice. My hair is now a little past my waist in length and my husband is quick to quote that I am "Nappy and happy."
It becomes a ministry in its own, my hair does. I've explained where locks are mentioned in the Bible when I've had my hair discussion at the beginning of the Girl Scout year with my Brownie Scouts. Yes, I have to have that discussion to get all the little girl hair questions out of the way so we can be about Girl Scout business the rest of the year. "Is that your real hair?" "Why do you wear it like that?" "Will you ever cut it?" "Can you take it loose?"
Mind you, it is an important discussion to have with little girls of African descent with African features. The media still tells them that those Africanesque features are not considered attractive. Before you disagree, take a look at the hair care products that are advertised on TV and in magazines. The "better" looking hair is considered soft, silky, "manageable" and straight. Even for hair coloring products, the African American models most often have chemically altered hair. That and the constant fight to pull, perm and tame the tot's tresses gives her the implicit message that she needs to be made over--that God made some serious mistake that has to be corrected-- before she faces the public. That is the concept I fight and one I take seriously as that implicit negative message has an impact beyond hair texture for children.
My job and my hair's job is to reinforce Psalm 139:14:
"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."
This my way to get the children to understand that means God doesn't make garbage and that includes each of them from head to toe.
A person's choice to wear artificially straightened hair--with all the consequences that entails-- is their own choice. Inevitably, I am asked about my hair by different people. Usually Black women who may be described by one of my friends as either Tres ghetto or gauche country or somewhat unenlightened will ask me if it's all mine and how I get my hair like this--as if they really don't know. These are usually women with very hard straightened hair that is partly shellacked with gel to the scalp, bleached copper red on the ends with hard hair ribbons cascading from somewhere on top or from the side of their heads. Yes, Virginia, some people really do wear salad bowls and waterfalls on their heads.Sometimes they have cute short haircuts that are super straight with little rows of not-quite-curled-but-rather bent curls on top.
These ladies will ask, not for an answer from me but to make a statement, which is usually an explanation as to why they would never wear their hair locked. Most often the answer to the unasked question is, "I couldn't wear my hair like that because I like to wear different styles/change my hair style a lot." One lady told me she likes to scratch her scalp and she believes locked hair would prevent that, so she will continue to smear skin-irritating chemical straighteners, which make her scalp itch, onto her head every three weeks just for the pleasure of being able to scratch the chemical induced itch. Stop. Blink twice. Now read on.
It amuses me when a lady with all of her hair cut near the scalp except for the little bent hairs on top, as mentioned above, tells me she likes to change hair styles when she hardly has any hair.
The other type is the "I'm-too-important-to-reveal-my-natural-hair-texture" woman who knows we all know but acts like we all don't know what we know we know. That type, if she ever does speak to the likes of me, will usually tell someone else in my presence how unprofessional natural hair is as she should know because she would not be in her position if she were not privy to all things professional. Her concept of professionalism usually includes not allowing a certain "ethnic look" to offend those of Euro-ethnicity.
To those women, here's the deal: You must get a life. I am ethnic. You are ethnic--in whatever way you define it. To say that one ethnic look is more professional that another is, to quote Mike Tyson impersonators: "Ludicrous! Simply ludicrous!" My ethnicity doesn't prevent me from enjoying my students and being professional at what I do with them.
Here's what my husband, who is of another ethnicity said he thought when he first saw me: "That hair caught my eye. I said, 'Here is someone who is real from head to toe. She is who she is and not a thing is fake including the texture of her hair.' I thought it was beautiful then and it's beautiful now." So say all my friends of all ethnicities.
To all those ladies: When you ask me about my hair, I tell you just to answer your question. That is all. I am not trying to proselytize you into a religion of natural hair. You do to have to explain to me why you prefer to wear your hair the way you do. You may not believe this but--read my lips--I really do not care. Really! I did not ask about your hair; you asked about mine. Be happy with your choice. I am with mine and I have no regrets and make no excuses for my decision.
Another questioner type are, of course children. Little Black girls are told their hair stops growing and cannot possibly get to be as long as naturally straight hair. Hello, moms! Tell your little girls that the pulling and yanking on hair with implements made for straight hair breaks it off--especially when that hair has been damaged by the chemical straighteners, then plied with greasy hair gook that is supposed to counteract the drying effect of the chemicals.
These children ask me, "Is that your real hair?" They are usually excited and want to play with my hair. Um, no honey. I love children but do you usually allow people you don't know to come up to you and touch your hair? Well, you shouldn't, and neither do I.
Teens and young adults who are starting their locks will ask some upkeep questions. I have to remind them that my hair is not part of a faddish fashion statement for keeping up with my peers. From them I usually get a smile and a "Wow!" or a "Ma'am, I like your dreads! How long you had 'em?" I have to remind them that there is nothing dreadful about locked hair. I prefer not to use the term for cultivated locked hair. In the West Indies, transplanted Africans allowed their hair to lock. Notice I said allowed. Those that escaped slavery to live in the wilderness would sometimes swoop down and attack English colonist who dreaded seeing them coming with their dreaded locks because it meant bad news! Since our hair is usually started or styled to induce locking they are cultivated. That is the difference and why I prefer the terms "Nubian locks" or just "locks." Mine represent my way of life and not a way to stay fashionably in step with peers.
Older White people ask me about my hair also. I'd rather a person ask and know rather than assume and walk around ignorant. So I don't mind answering questions. Sometimes older people ask me about their kids' hair. I tell them that for me the naturally tight curl pattern makes it a natural way to keep my hair. For kids with straight hair there is a different method for achieving locked hair that most parents cannot deal with because it involves lots of beeswax and not washing it for weeks. Ew.
The one question I do not care for is, "Has anyone ever told you that you look like Whoopi Goldberg?" The answer is yes. Someone has said I look like Whoopi Goldberg. Usually it is some well-meaning person of largely European descent who has had limited up-close exposure to Black people of African descent and thus have the perception that all of us with that heretical background not only know each other by name but that we resemble each other most remarkably! My husband who is an American of Italian and Irish background gets far more insulted by that comparison that I and says:."You look nothing like her and she looks nothing like you. How can he say that? Is he blind?"
My retort to the comparison to Whoopi---for which I am far more accustomed than my dear Hunnee-- is that I can understand that mistake seeing that we are close in age, both female, African Americans with locked hair. The big hairy BUT is, that while I deeply admire the Whoopster--which is what I call her on a more personal level, for as you know, we all know each other--- she is the more humorous of the two of us while I am the cuter.
I appreciate the beauty in all these things that God has created in each of us. I can appreciate these differences in my friends. Appreciation means not placing one above or below the other but knowing that the differences in themselves is a beautiful thing. My daughter's hair is nearly black and curly. My Hunnee's hair is wavy and blond. My hair is kinky and brown. It's all good 'cause it's all from God. How boring it would be to be all the same!
This is my hair story and I'm sticking to it!
"Gimme a head with hair Long beautiful hair...
I want it long, straight, curly, fuzzy
Snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty
Oily, greasy, fleecy, shining
Gleaming, steaming, flaxen, waxen
Knotted, polka-dotted; Twisted, beaded, braided
Powdered, flowered, and confettied
Bangled, tangled, spangled and spaghettied"
~~From Hair the musical