Happy Black History Month!
In addition to celebrating the contributions of great men and women that have contributed not only to our culture, but to the world as a whole, Black History Month is a time of reflection for ourselves. Though hard to imagine, everything we are doing in this generation is influencing future generations.
From the mass exodus of black women ditching relaxers to exercising our right to vote in record numbers, we have so much power in our voices and experiences. We are making history! And unlike generations before us, we have the technology and privilege to share our voices and experiences in the most raw, personal, honest ways. That brings us to today’s feature!
If you’re doing something outside of dominant culture,
there’s not an easy place for you.
You will have to do it yourself.
While there is no greater truth and testament than the supernatural ability to overcome insurmountable adversity, I wanted to blog about something real today- something human. Beyond the bruised and bronzed exteriors that protect black people are vulnerable truths that we are often not allowed to express freely in open spaces. I wanted to create that space through a series of blog discussions this Black History Month titled “The Realities of Being Magical.”
For some reason, black people, black women especially, have the burden of being mystical creatures. There’s either a frustrating fascination over the most natural parts of us (*cough* our hair), or a devastating disregard of the most complex aspects of our community (our politics).
Like generations of black women before us, we have learned to turn lemons into lemonade. Instead of having to swallow the bitterness of being dismissively misunderstood, we became purposefully mysterious. Thus, #BlackGirlMagic was born. When choosing a topic to begin this month’s discussion series, I settled upon one of the most defining, basic, political, and relative topics in our community: Hair.
“I am a bit of a fundamentalist when it comes to black women’s hair.
Hair is hair – yet also about larger questions:
self-acceptance, insecurity and what the world tells you is beautiful.
For many black women, the idea of wearing their hair naturally is unbearable.”
-Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
IT’S JUST HAIR.
(OR IS IT?)
Today marks one year since the last time I flat ironed my natural hair. Although I’ve been natural for 15-16 years, I haven’t been the most accepting of it. I’ve been abusive towards and ashamed of my natural hair, never thinking it was quite good enough or that I was pretty enough with it. I still love my braids and wigs, which I credit with protecting my natural hair when I honestly just don’t want to deal with it. But I have become much more loving and accepting of the crown I was chosen to wear.
So much so, that I wanted to share this story:
When I was around nine years old, my mother stopped allowing me to get relaxers in the bathtub at my grandmother’s house. I actually hated relaxers; I hated the smell, the long process, the burning… I even player-hated the little brown girl on the Just For Me relaxer kit boxes LOL! Seriously, how did her hair get so shiny and long when each fresh relaxer made my hair shorter and more dull?!
I was heartbroken that I would never get a chance to see my permed hair flourish and get my chance to be on the side of a relaxer box when my mom broke the news to me. I was even skeptical because my mom still had relaxed hair after taking the creamy crack away from me!
Then one day, something magical happened:
My mom came home with all of her relaxed hair shaved off.
And then something real happened:
I thought her shaved natural hair was ugly.
I remember she sat down in the chair next to the door, took her hat off, and my brother and I began taunting the poor woman about her new hair-do. “You’re bald! You look like Michael Jordan!” I remember exclaiming. I couldn’t tell you where most of the anxiety over my mom’s haircut came from: embarrassment or fear that she might cut my transitioning hair off too.
But she never did force me to big chop my own hair (though I was wary every time she suggested a “trim” for the next eight years). She wasn’t too sure what to do with my transitioning natural hair, either, besides let my grandmother hot comb it from time to time. But as both my grandmother and I aged, I had to take the lead in doing my hair on a daily basis. Yeah… I quickly grew resentment towards my hair.
What exactly was the issue?
I don’t think that I ever had a clear definition of what it meant to be black growing up. As I grew older and began to understand who I was as a black person- a black woman- I understood why my mother thought it was important for me to stop getting relaxers. I also understood why she had to chop her own hair off: for my security. Although I felt ashamed of her big chop at first, it became a symbol of comfort and solidarity between us even when other parts of our relationship weren’t as solid. I began to accept her hair for the rock that it was, and in the process I began to accept my own hair, my own blackness, and my own self entirely.
Self-acceptance is a powerful thing that leads to the ultimate thing: self-love.
When I became an adult and could get a relaxer without my parents’ permission, I still didn’t. I doubt anyone would have put out an APB to every black salon in the area to try to stop me, but I felt a sense of responsibility to my natural hair. It was mine; my hair didn’t define me, but it was a part of who I was. It brought me one step closer to loving the whole me, and for that I am in love with my locks.
“It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself,
before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.”
What are your hair stories? What do you think the topic of hair politics in the past and present will have on our future generations?