I wish I was a song writer. I would write a love song about my hair. I would write about how long it took me to fall in love with it, how I wanted to change it into something it could never be, then how my hair became my one true love. Are there already too many stories about Black women’s hair? Black women’s hair is fascinating. And, it is a battleground. Black and Proud. Black is Beautiful. #BlackGirlMagic. They all require interaction with the wonder of Black women’s hair.
I’m thinking about my own journey with my hair today because the monsoon rains have come. One of the things I love most about New Mexico is how little I have to deal with the rain. My previous life was fraught with fears of what would happen to my hair when the rains came down. Even now, when I straighten my hair only to cut it, the rains stir up fear.
As a little girl I loved my hair. The braids that sometimes got beads that clicked together and made a theme song as I walked. The many different pretty barrettes and pom-poms that gave me designs on my head. I learned to hate my hair in 3rd grade when I stopped wearing my hair in braids and got to wear it out. We had a weekly ritual in our house. On Saturday nights my mom would sit us down, one of my sisters would take out my braids while my mom braided my other sister’s hair, then we would switch places. In 3rd grade I earned the choice, braids or straightened. Straightened, with my hair flowing, felt grown and beautiful, that is what I wanted. But, the rain, oh the rain, you evil, racist, water from the sky. You would ruin my hair dreams. The rain quickly turned my straightened hair into half frizzy curls, half frizzy straight—total hot mess.
The girls in my class would punish me for not being able to keep my style. They passed a note around the class saying they’d hate to have my hair. They told me they could help fix it and then combed it up with a small tooth comb so I looked like a troll doll. They told me my hair was like pubes. I learned to hate my hair. And, worked like crazy to avoid the rain that could bring that punishment. I had at least 15 raincoats and umbrellas, always carried a shower cap for any possible emergency and had a special ponytail hairstyle for rainy days.
I spent a long time, self love time, coming to appreciate my natural hair. It was my journey to ignore what others said about my hair. Now, those who punished me–you see musicians, actors and athletes with natural hairstyles and it is suddenly cool to you. Girls, now women, who look like those girls in my childhood, who have hair like those girls had, and even those actual girls, compliment my hair. You say my hair is so soft and you touch it how you would pet a dog. You say you just want to pull my perfect curls the way you’d play with a doll. You beg to know how I get my hair so exotically beautiful. Then you say, “just take the compliment.” Sorry, your compliment feels like punishment, the same punishment I had to self-love away from when I was a girl.