Whether one cares to admit it or not, our hair is a big deal. We enhance our beauty with it, get artistic with it, spend hundreds of dollars to maintain it, thousands to keep it, tens of thousands to implant it. We make political and controversial statements with it. Whether we obsess over it or neglect it, hair is a big deal.
My hair story is simple.
My natural state of hair is coarse. An afro; you know, like the Black Panther Movement? Michael Jackson of The Jackson 5? That’s me. I discovered my afro appears too tribal and intimidates some suburban blue collar workers, like any minute I’m going to rush into work followed by a band of black people with spears and painted faces and…well…get them! Then there is the petting. I’m not an animal, so I don’t feel like having a bunch of people petting my hair.
My coarse hair is a chore to maintain anyway sooo…I perm it.
I use chemicals to relax my kinky hair from looking like “Jackson 5” Michael Jackson to Janet Jackson. Now I’m blending in with the melting pot. Now I’m dealing with damaged hair. Now I have split ends and brittle and dry hair that’s immensely shedding. Now, I’ve gone from looking like Janet Jackson, to Sonic the Hedgehog! You know what I’m talking about! Now…I need to master the art of treating severely damaged hair to look healthy. I’d like to just go back to my natural hair but they tell me in Michiana, I might not land my dream job that way. Whenever I do choose to go “that way,” I must defend my kinky hair with a militant stance declaring that an individual with kinky hair is a person too! This often gets misinterpreted as a “Black Power” thing. So now, I’ve become the black girl with an attitude.
There are these new types of wigs you can weave into your hair. If done right, it looks like the real thing. In a few hours I’ve gone from Sonic the Hedgehog to Beyonce! FINALLY, a solution…with consequences. My hair looks so good, I’m constantly asked whether or not my hair is my own. If I’m not on guard, I’ll be at the petting zoo again! Stop. Touching. My. Hair!!! Geez! I just want to be normal but my kind of normal isn’t accepted without having a militant mind and a minor in Black History to educate the curious about why I choose to wear my hair the way I do.
Once slaves were no longer slaves and declared African Americans, they like other minorities were expected to assimilate into the American culture. That meant doing away with anything that represented their ethnicity and in black people’s case, hair.
Although some African Americans might straighten their nappy hair or add extensions does not necessarily mean they’re playing the Uncle Tom role. If some wear their hair naturally coarse, it does not mean they’re trying to overthrow the government either. Some women are just tired of the whole thing and shave their heads! But, that makes an even bolder statement!
You just can’t get away from it!
So the next time you ask a black woman about her hair regimen and she appears a tad irritated, maybe it is because of the historical implications and the social stance she’s forced to take in order to be herself.
It isn’t a big deal, but then again, it is.
(Originally published in the 2011 Michiana Monologues’ Band of Sisters book.)