Rachel's Follicle Chronicles: My Family, My Hair
I don’t think my family appreciates how I remind them that they’re black, especially since we come in so many varying shades of brown to cinnamon red and even ambiguous popcorn yellow. There is this funny reaction to my hair and how it curls in tight, tight balls of soft puffs, crowning my head like a halo; I notice the awkward glances and huffy sighs. My father’s initial response to my big chop really sums it up quite well; “What did you do to your head?” he said, eyeing me from the driver’s side of the car like I was Freddy Kruger.
“Oh dad, it’s just a haircut!” I replied. And after a year, I have become an expert in answering such questions from family members. “What happened to your hair?” they say, when in actuality nothing’s happened to my hair, nothing painful, nothing harmful. I just let it grow naturally, which is apparently a problem.
See, me and my hair are complicating the myth that my cousins and aunts like to propagate; the one that says that grandma is part Native American (look at her hair!) and that we have some French in us (rapists welcomed in this family) and some Dominican blood (even though our friendly neighbors on the island are currently lynching Haitian plantation workers as I type). All of these “facts” are proudly exclaimed in bubbly font and various capital and lower case letters on my cousins’ MySpace and Facebook pages. Even more disturbingly, they are being whispered into the ears of my maturing cousins, reverberating in their minds until the “facts” plant themselves securely into their brains, making them say things like “I love Justin Timberlake. He’s so fine and you know our babies will have that good hair!”
However, no one discusses how these undisputed “facts” are actually urban myths, fibs, damn near lies and my frizzy, full head of nappy hair is, quite consciously, infringing on the perpetration of these multicultural myths.
So how do they rectify the problem growing fast and thick out of my scalp? They blame it on afro-centrism, a phase that some angry black people go through or a style that I’m hopefully just trying for a few months.
Any given weekend, my cousin Anna tucks a honey blond, freshly permed piece of hair behind her ear and upon seeing me exclaims loudly, “Awww. You look so cute. You’ve got that afro-centric look going.”
In my head I calmly reply by saying, “Thanks, but you my dear are not looking so cute. Sorry but that Beyonce, blond, Euro-centric look is so played out. Everybody’s been doing that since slavery” .
In reality, I mumble thanks and shake my head in disappointment wondering why my look is considered afro-centric. I would understand if I were wearing a dashiki, but my hair is just natural, without chemicals. This is how it comes out of my head. Every time someone comments on my afro-centricity, which is too often, I hear them telling me that it is normal for black women to chemically alter their hair to achieve a look that has been deemed beautiful through euro-centric aesthetics and western imperialism.
Apparently a black woman’s natural hair is not normal or natural. It’s been allotted some unnecessary significance that would seem ridiculous if we applied it to some other natural feature. For example, no one ever says, “I like your brown skin; it’s so afro-centric!”
Whether I like it or not, my hair is a protest. Its gravity defying texture and uncontrollable tufts springing from behind my ears and hovering above my forehead must be shouting, “I’m black and I’m proud” to passerbies when all I really want it to say is “aren’t I just as beautiful?”
However change takes time and my family is slowly coming around. I could see a change at a wedding we attended this past December where a lot of my cousins commented on how nice all of me looked, even my hair. It was a triumphant moment, I was Rockie running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, beaming with pride until dessert was served and someone commented on how the white bride and black groom will have the cutest little mixed babies with cute nappy, loose curly hair and I nearly choked on my red velvet cake. Baby steps, I suppose, baby steps.