I often wonder if hesitations regarding Black hair are in direct relation to general insecurities and misconceptions specific to the Black woman.
The marginalized have a tendency to protest; consciously, unabashedly, secretly, illegally- One way or another, those of us who feel different or maybe unaccepted will either reject the reality of being labeled a minority completely, or find a way to express our pride in our uniqueness.
For me, my protest was making the decision to wear my hair in it’s natural state. I noticed that I was using a European standard of beauty as a security blanket, and did not want to spread those restrictions to my young daughter. I performed my own big chop, and tried to rock a “wash and go” for a couple of weeks before being overwhelmed by having to condition, twist, and wrap my hair every night. Still, I felt pride.
I felt Black.
I loved that there was a completely different pattern and way of dealing with my hair. I enjoyed standing out. I started getting winks from other natural women. Things were great.Then it happened.
My husband comes from a German-American family, and I think of the twenty or so family members I’ve met on his side, maybe four have had a conversation with a Black woman before, and two of those four did a terrible job navigating said conversations.
My husband and I were visiting with his grandmother post big chop, and, as I’m saying my hellos, I feel her concerned stare. I meet her gaze, to see bent brow and frantic eyes. This is the look of a White woman wondering where my long, straight hair went. I tried to quickly navigate myself out of the situation. I’m not explaining to this woman that this was, and is, my form of protest. I’m not standing in the middle of Texas and telling this woman that I used to swear up and down that my weaves were my hair, and cry any time I was clocked. I’m not going to explain to her that walking outside feeling like Florida Evans, in hopes of reclaiming my own standard of beauty was a personal and difficult decision, not just a “hair cut”.
“Did you cut your hair? No! Why?! It was so pretty!”
“They were extensions, Mom,” chimes in my father in law from behind me.
She accepted his answer, but I could feel her regretting my decision for me. I felt a disconnect between the pride of protest that I was supposed to feel, and the vulnerability that I was feeling. I felt betrayed by my husband. I felt, although he cannot empathize, he should have sympathized with my nakedness in the moment and brought some kind of comfort. I felt ostracized by the fact that there was no earth shattering display to accompany my moment of Black Militance, confused by the smallness of Grand Sue’s words while still delivering such a strong impact. I’d cut off my relaxed hair and gone into the world short and curly, in an attempt to constantly display my pride in my heritage, and in this moment of great aggrandizement, I was met with an less than emphatic “What?? Oh. Okay.”
Fast forward to current day and I no longer have a whole section of my body at the top of my head that I don’t know how to maintain. I can’t pretend that I don’t still have hang ups. But I recognize that I am, in my own way, giving permission to other Black women, to accept their hair and to work with it instead of fighting against it. People tend to live in their own small worlds, and even in the short amount of time I’ve been natural, I’ve heard how my hair has affected different people in different ways. I’ve had handfuls of conversations with women who were either natural themselves, or thinking about transitioning because of hair loss, and I love being a tool in reminding people that, yes, I am American. But I’m an African-American, and this is our hair, and we are a community, so lets show this love. Lets share this protest.
My form of protest is not only forcing the world to “see color”, to witness what makes me unique, but it also forces me to be vulnerable. I know my faux locs have lost me job opportunities. Old friends I went to school with call me “earthy” now. I’m perceived in a completely different light. It’s definitely a journey, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to grow, and to build love for the Blackness that is often met with hate.