Over the years, for as long as I can remember actually, I've had my own thoughts and feelings about my hair and black women's hair in general. Those thoughts resurfaced when I caught yesterday's Tyra Show, which I think was a rerun. I don't normally watch television at that time of day, but I was sharing a late lunch with my youngest daughter and decided to sit down and watch the tube for a minute.
Tyra Banks was sporting some cornrows. "Looks pretty good," I thought. Then I realized the topic was about hair and I came in on the part where five young black girls from the ages of about 3 to 8 were talking about their hair, what they liked about it and their perceptions of hairstyles.
I was livid from what I heard.
The 3-year-old's mother had been perming her daughter's hair for about four months because it was "easier." The 6 year old preferred wearing a Hanna Montana wig as opposed to her gorgeous thick ponytails that were adorned with barrettes and the little ball things. There was another 6 year old whose mother had purposefully never dated a black man because she didn't want to have a child with kinky, nappy hair. That type of hair, she said, indicated you were poor and low class. To make matters worse, the daughter - half Latina - now believed the same thing. The 8 year old black child, whose mother was white, was given a perm AND tracks (that's weave for those who don't know) because it was easier and faster "for the mother" to comb out the kid's wrap in the morning as opposed to spending time braiding or styling in ponytails.
Now I was livid and appalled.
I am amazed that still, nearing the end of 2009, we continue to teach our children that ethnic, coarse hair is bad. Those girls actually pointed out an Afro as ugly and bad and then said "white hair" is good and pretty.
While growing up I heard the term "good hair" somewhat frequently, but it wasn't necessarily used in a negative context. Either way, it didn't sit well with me. My paternal grandmother had naturally wavy, thick hair. You know the type you can wash and go or just run a straightening comb through real quick if the mood struck. My mother, although she chose to get a relaxer, had naturally straight black hair, which grew to her waist as a child. My father had naturally curly hair as did his father. (In case you're wondering, or think it's important, my mother and grandfather are dark brown.) And in between all of that, from one side of the family to the other, were all variations of ethnic hair with some being more coarse than others.
My family, however, made a point of ensuring that our hair was neatly groomed regardless of the texture. No one, back in the day, gave their daughter a relaxer. Our hair was straightened with a hot comb for special occasions. It was normally braided or styled in ponytails.
As we grew older we developed our own likes and dislikes regarding our hair. In middle school I got a Jerry Curl (don't you laugh), in high school I got a relaxer, which I started growing out sometime in my 20s mostly because I learned quite a bit about what the chemicals were doing to my hair and my body. I began wearing twists, which lasted for about six weeks, and then I let my hair lock.
For some in my mother's generation that's almost appalling.
I was about 7 years old when my family and I attended a wedding. I had never seen dreadlocks before and there was a man in the wedding party that wore them. I couldn't keep my eyes off of him. Finally, I whispered to my mother asking her what was in his hair. She said something I'll never forget, "That means he doesn't wash his hair."
Really? Even at that age the answer didn't seem right and although I remembered it, I never assumed it was true.
"Why did you put those things in your hair," my mother asked the first time she saw me. I was a little hurt, but it didn't change my mind about what I wanted to do with my hair - despite her continually bringing up the subject. Long story short, my locks over the course of about 10 years, grew to my waist. It's been about a year or two since I had them cut off, combed out and have worn my hair in its natural state.
My hair isn't as long as I would like it, the texture has changed a lot over the years and I'm not necessarily happy with it; however, I don't think I have bad hair.
When I had my first daughter, whose hair is naturally curly and fine, my mother would say she has "good hair." I would admonish her and say, "Please don't say that around her. I don't want her to think that someone else's hair that is kinky or thick has bad hair."
It took quite some time for that message to sink in, but she respected that and learned. My daughter grew up with a healthy appreciation for her hair and other's regardless of the texture. Of course she has her likes and dislikes, but she's diverse. She's worn classic children's ponytails, twists, dreadlocks, straightened and curly. She's colored it, but never permed it. As a matter of fact, she really doesn't need a relaxer.
She's 18 years old.
When I had my second daughter (who's hair is even longer than it is in this picture) my mother may have slipped up on the "good hair" comment once or twice, and I'm sure my little one has heard the term before but it's not something I teach her. To me her hair is long, thick and beautiful... it's all her. She's only 4 now and her hair seems to grow about a half an inch within two weeks. It's thick, curly, black, long ... and tiring! But I love it and I let her know it.
My third daughter's hair is more like her oldest sister's in color and texture, but so far it looks like it's going to be long like her second sister. But, so what?
The what is that black hair has always equaled status in our community. When our slave ancestors wanted favor they knew they were most likely to get it if their skin tone and hair texture was closer to that of the master than to that of their brothas and sistahs. It meant better food, better clothes, possibly education, favor and status.
No, this is not a racial thing. This is a history thing and it's part of our history that has brainwashed some of us in the present. (Unfortunately we can see this in other areas of our lives as well.) Now instead of teaching our children that our hair is better if it's long, straight, flowing, silky or any other variation of "good hair," we should teach them to love and accept themselves from the tip of their toenails to the ends of the hair.
I ask myself and my spirit for forgiveness for my recent thoughts of getting a relaxer. I also apologize to my oldest daughter for displaying that doubt about my appearance. That Tyra Show reminded me of why I started this quest in the beginning. I am proud to display my heritage and likes on my head, and I can't help if other people like it or not.
It's one thing to prefer or like one hairstyle over another, but it's an entirely different thing to hate a part of our features that links a lot of us. We need to embrace and respect each other... I may not like your hairstyle, but I think your hair is beautiful just like mine.
Check it out
- I found a link to that Tyra Show I mentioned above.
- There's Chris Rock's comedy (some are calling documentary) Good Hair
- "Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America" by Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps. I believe these ladies were on The Tyra Show that I watched. They eloquently spoke about how our good hair mentality is tied to slavery.
- "Good Hair: For Colored Girls Who've Considered Weaves When the Chemicals Became Too Ruff" by Lonnice Brittenum Bonner.
- I love the coffee table book "Dreads" by Francesco Mastalia and Alfonse Pagano with an introduction written by Alice Walker. It has amazing photography of all types of people with dreadlocks and their thoughts behind their hair.
This is me today. ----->