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Friday, August 31, 2007

A Hair Story Revisited

“I am not my hair, I am not my skin, I am not your expectations…I am the soul that lives within.”— India Arie

Undoubtedly, hair is important to women. At my birthday social I posed the hypothetical question would you shave off all of your hair for millions of dollars? Instantly my girlfriends began to think about what having no hair would mean to them. Finally, one of my friends said yes. Of course I yelled out yes, after all it’s just hair and to receive a million dollars without having to work for it or do anything immoral seems too sweet of an offer to pass up. I remember the look on one of my girlfriend’s faces. It was like her hair’s life was flashing before her eyes. She is a very attractive woman with beautiful long golden hair. Finally, after I upped the amount of money she conceded. I guess she too came to the conclusion that at the end of the day its just hair. But women go through great lengths (no pun intended) to maintain/attain beautiful stylish hair. As I said in my post entitled Ugly, society exacts this harsh mandate on women to look beautiful, yet the beauty standard is always inflexible and ironically unattainable. That said, is it any wonder why women have such an attachment to their hair, even to the extent that they would sacrifice a higher quality of life (in my example, millions) for it?

This year my hair and extensions have received a lot of attention—jokes, commentary etc. To counter some of that I posted this on my facebook page:

“I am not my hair. Indie Arie said it best in her song “it’s not about your hair it’s what’s underneath.” In fact her whole song encapsulates my worldview. I change my hair and wigs and pieces more than most people change their socks. I don’t front! I’ll tell you straight up and unapologetically if it aint mine! I don’t wear hair to be fake or to pretend I am something I’m not. To the contrary, I’m just doing me. And I’m fine with that. I’ll be rockin the natural look soon (no chemicals), but I’ll still be the same person and I won’t love ya any less.”

I don’t really understand why so many people have become my personal hair critics. At the end of the day it’s MY hair. If I want to shave it off or weave it down to my toes, it’s my prerogative. And some people have been down right hostile about it! Take a recent conversation I had with a male family member.

“Girl I know you’re not going to go to work with that knotty, nappy head?”

“Sure am, there nothing wrong with my hair. My hair is beautiful”

He laughs sardonically, “Humph! If I was your employer I would send you straight home.”

“My employer has natural hair too. She has dreads”

“When are you going to get it done, [by done he means straightened] cuz you look just like one of those hood rats, wit yo hair all over ya head.

“This is the way God made my hair. Are you saying God made a mistake?”

“I’m just saying you need to get ya hair done.”

“I think its funny that when I wear wigs your always telling me to wear my real hair, yet when I wear my real hair you seem to have an issue with it.”

This buttresses my theory that when it comes to beauty women can’t win! Regardless of how I wear my hair, someone isn’t going to like it. That’s just life. Part of him recognizes his hypocrisy and smiles. I continue. “I’m not going to perm my hair. I don’t want my hair falling out nor do I want to have holes in my scalp!”

“You need to put a hot comb to it then.”

“Nope, I’m not burning out my fragile hair. Sides I don’t want it straight! There’s NOTHING WRONG with black hair. When are we going to learn this?”

Looks at me as if I started speaking Chinese. “Uh, I still think you look a mess! That s*** is nappy!” and with that he exited the conversation.*

This is a 40something year old man. I can’t re-educated him. He grew up with the same lies that I grew up with. I just decided to challenge what I had learned. What I don’t understand is WHY is matters. I am not my hair. Regardless of how my hair is styled, I am going to be the same person.

Furthermore, I find that the most malignant form of racism is racism that has been internalized by the oppressed group and then regurgitated generation after generation by the oppressed group to further subjugate their own people. The LIE that African people are ugly is a perverse and egregious one! Black people have been conditioned to believe that African features are unattractive and that we too should bow down before the altar that is European beauty. I feel like an idiot for even having to say this, but black people are not white. We are each different, yet divinely made with features that distinguish us and makes us beautiful. In other words, God made different types of beauty!

I have a girlfriend who is beautiful. One of the things that makes her beautiful is her rich African-textured hair, which she chooses to wear in lovely dreads. One day a fellow graduate student walked up to her and asked “Do you think wearing you hair that way is going to affect your career?.” There was no hi, how are you. No introduction. No segue. Just blunt audacious criticism. My girlfriend had never met this woman before and this woman knew absolutely NOTHING about my friend. Yet, this woman felt it was within her right to be both critical and prejudice. I feel the need to recapitulate my point of view. IT”S JUST HAIR. The disturbing truth is that we are a pitifully superficial society. (I am sighing in exasperation!)

I feel like I should add a little caveat here. I’m not praising natural hair at the expense of denouncing permed hair. There’s nothing wrong with permed hair. Perhaps I many go back and perm my hair again. I doubt it, but permed straight, or weaved long, or cut short I am the same person. I played a little trick with myself just to make sure. Since wearing my natural hair I asked myself if I were still as smart, kind, spiritual, and capable as when I had permed hair. WOW! Guess what?!! I haven’t changed!!! So although my outward appearance has evolved slightly, I have somehow managed to retain the same personality and worldview. SHOCKING! That’s almost scandalous. (I really hope you all are picking up on my sarcasm!)

At the end of the day “I am not my hair, I am not my skin, I am not your expectations…I am the soul that lives within!” I wish the world would adopt this stance, but I have a sneaky suspicion that we are too consumed with our shallow pursuits to pay any attention to the reverberating sound of truth.

*In his defense he really wasn’t trying to be cruel, he just has a blunt/untactful way of putting things.


"L is for Loquacious" said...

Boo! Gurl your hair is fabulous! In fact I give it two snaps in a "z" formation, lol! I can't tell you it will get any easier, or that people will get more understanding, but I can tell you to keep your head up sis.

Shannon Sparks said...

great post! i've noticed this before but have never heard the female perspective. it seems like this is a self-imposed trait of the black community. Hair is like a status symbol. It's really not like that in the saltine community.

we white folks prefer botox over lace fronts. ah, superficial beauty in all its stupid unattainable forms...gotta love it. and still everyone loves to pretend we're all into natural beauty.

girl, is my forehead moving...cuz i paid $600 to numb those wrinkles out!!??

Erucker said...

Whoops!! I posted my comment in the wrong section. Disregard that email. Ne way, this message inspired me a lot. I totally agree that your exterior indicates nada about you. I had to defend my character numerous time when I started wearing braids.