Hairstories

So here is my inaugural blog. Initially I thought about calling my ruminations “constructive commess” but I decided against it. While I cannot promise to always be constructive (in fact, many times I am not), I am however frequently creative minded. Now commess is a popular Trinbagonian colloquialism or trini-ism as I like to say. The word commess struck me as totally apt because of the way in which I imagined a space where I could dig into a variety of sometimes random and poignant observations or thoughts on things in my life, all through a Trini-esque lens of course. Sometimes it’s confusion cause I am totally random and that’s the way that my mind works. The following thoughts deal with black women’s hair. This blog really grew out of me writing a response to a friend’s myspace blog about her thoughts and concerns with wearing her hair natural. She explored the response from men (specifically black men) and their inability to accept that her hair is beautiful. She was constantly being plagued with assertions like, “you’re really pretty BUT…(insert appropriate criticism of Afro-textured unpermed hair here). Now seeing that she epitomizes the look of the stereotypical mixed race sister, faced framed with a mass of soft, fuzzy curls. And yes, I used the word “soft” there strategically cause you know, REAL black hair supposedly isn’t.

All this got me thinking about the ways in which black women’s hair functions as this politicized space. Hair can be political, it totally can and it really doesn’t matter what “type” of black girl you are either. Decisions, decisions. Fraught with so much meaning and imbued symbolism. To straighten or not to straighten? A conscious sister has got to rock dreads or an afro right? It also made me think about how growing up West Indian doesn’t mean that we don’t deal with all this either. I grew up in the West Indies and I’ve never had a perm in my life, which is really not an anomaly where I come from. Part of this stemmed from my parents and the way I was raised, it just wasn’t something we were swayed to do. My mother wears her hair natural as well and she never indoctrinated me into the world of relaxers and whatnot. Of course women perm there all the time and there are enough people still existing in some post-colonial fog about what constitutes beauty and “good hair” (more on that later). We have all of that. But despite that, it’s still not all that uncommon to see plenty women rocking their natural hair. So when I came to the states for school, it was amazing the numbers of people on any given week who were befuddled by my hair enough to ask questions and/or touch.

First and foremost, people are always amazed that I never had a perm. Especially black people. Most significantly black people. People are always amazed that I am a dark skinned female with natural hair that supposedly has some “length” allegedly. This is really what makes it a kind of “good hair” for some people. It’s good because it’s been know to graze the tops of the shoulder blades. That in and of itself apparently boggles the mind. People of African descent have some ill conceived notion that black hair “does not grow.” It’s hair! It grows! This obsession with length and what constitutes length. This obsession with movement and what constitutes movement as if natural hair does not “move.” Oddly enough, these are the same people who don’t seem to connect the use of chemicals with unhealthy hair. If one is so inclined to think obsessively about length and all, then leaving your hair chemical free and natural would probably benefit it tremendously. More mind-boggling are the people who grab a fistful of my hair strands and proclaim something like, “wow, it’s so–soft,” many times in an awe filled voice tinged with surprise. Again, usually but not always limited to people of color. What do they expect? It’s hair. Sigh.

As for the popular rationale behind this supposed need for relaxers, as my mother once said to me, something is seriously wrong with a people saying that they cannot deal with their own hair. The psyche must be in crisis. I mean it’s YOUR hair. If you can’t “deal” with it, then who can? Added to which, there seems to be this social construction of black women out there revolving around the beauty industry. It’s true, there is a versatility in black hair that is reflected in the products and possibly the buying power of black women when it comes to hair care products. We can relax, texturize, color, braid, perm, weave etc. and apparently we do so with enough regularity to support a thriving hair and beauty industry. The array of possibilities and the way in which it is presumed that all black women are predisposed to indulge in this market is everywhere. In my life, it is always other women of color saying, “girl, when you going to do something different?”

There is this presupposition that I must somehow eventually get bored with my kind of hair. With MY hair. With my being. I am frequently running into yet another young black woman trying to entice me to change something hair-wise. Straighten it and get some versatility even though it is versatile already in its own way. And to be different. Different as opposed to what though? Me? First of all I don’t have the desire, time, energy or disposable income to be running around changing weaves and refreshing micros and touching up relaxers on the regular. Second of all no one ever asks my white friends who have had their hair exactly the same for as long as I have known them (a lil trim here and there notwithstanding), just straight and natural all their life to switch it up.

So, hair is complicated. It’s just always been a part of me, like the color of my eyes or the hue of my skin. I didn’t choose one day to cut off a perm and find myself. And it’s okay if someone chooses to go that route or not. It’s always just been, me and this hair. I just think it’s very important to contextualize why we think the way we do and understand where this all comes from. Your hair is not difficult but if someone tells you that long enough from every angle, then you might just think it is. It’s sometimes annoying having to consistently validate to random other black women why it’s okay for me and my hair to have the freedom to just be. According to India.Arie, even though “I am not my hair,” if I was though, I’d be cool with that. Though that is not all that I am, personally I’d prefer that than people trying to make a concerted effort to separate me from well, me.

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