As a little girl, getting my hair washed, conditioned, blow dried, and styled was like living a mini nightmare. A tender scalp full of thick hair, a trip to the kitchen counter top, and a bunch of warm water mixed with shampoo still finding a way to seep into my tightly shut eyes was never my idea of a good afternoon. I would cry, my mother would fuss, and in the end, I would look what I considered to be pretty then easily fall into a coma-like sleep exhausted from all my tantrum antics. It sounds awful, but it was part of my childhood and still a part of my adult reality. During those hours between the kitchen and the living room floor between my mother’s knees waiting for her to carefully part, braid, and barrette each section of hair, I got my first experiences with beautification. My mother wasn’t just providing basic baby maintenance, she was showing me how to care for my hair, how to take pride in my appearance, and how to find my beauty. Sure, I cried myself sleepy, but when it was over, I felt pretty. Now, it seems like there is some sort of ongoing effort to take away that experience little girls and women who look like me end up feeling as if there is something wrong with their pretty and that is something I just cannot accept.
Over the past year or so, I have read several articles, seen a few television news stories, and heard first hand accounts from black women who are suddenly being made to feel as if their hair in its natural state isn’t acceptable in the workplace or school. Too kinky, too colorful, too ethnic, too….black? I mean, blackness does seem to be the real problem at the base of everything. It is as if we cannot win unless we are weaved out , permed up, or wiggin’. To the masses who disparage us for our hair, we should strive to look more mainstream, which really just means less black and way more white. Recently, I have seen stories about a little black girl who was expelled because she had locs (http://www.fox23.com/news/local/story/Tulsa-school-sends-girl-home-over-hair/sGcEwBSrm02W8ZSBNnGoXQ.cspx), a hairstyle against school policy, a young black woman who was terminated from Hooters, a place riddled with fake body parts, double stick tape, pushup bras, and body padding, for having blonde highlights her superiors deemed “unnatural” for a black woman (http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-african-american-hooters-blond-hair-20131024,0,7218061.story?page=1#axzz2jDjCWRJq), a woman who was told she should cut her locs or find somewhere else to work (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/24/new-company-policy-forces-woman-to-cut-dreadlocks_n_4159369.html), and heard a story from my loctician who sent her little girl to daycare with a perfectly lovely afro only to be admonished by the daycare provider to “comb her daughter’s hair.”
To me, this isn’t just a variety of unconnected stories, but an implication of a school of thought that continues to question beauty as it applies to black women and girls. Despite the various fabricated stigmas attached to locs and other natural hairstyles, people have to be able to see past it at some point and give reality a good look instead. An applicant or employee who has the professional experience, educational background, proper workplace decorum, and references to support being hired for a position or to warrant her educational pursuits in a school should be a shew in for employment, not a target for discriminatory practices.
And just what did natural hair ever do to anyone? Is its beauty too intimidating? Is the strength that accompanies a head of unapologetically kinky hair just too much for the office and the schoolhouse? Are folks afraid all the natural hair folks will form one big army and go around picking, twisting, and braiding everyone against his or her will? Why must we always be made to feel inadequate about the amazing way we were born?
I suppose there really is no way around this clear racial discrimination outside straightening our hair and avoiding any sort of hair color white folks deem unnatural for us, but where is the honor in that? We could provide ongoing education about our hair and how we care for it, but really, why must we explain ourselves, particularly to those who probably do not care anyway? Sometimes, this whole being black thing is some really hard work.
I realize I do not live in the kind of decent world that sees every woman’s beauty instead of creating one standard of it to which all women are to adhere, but that does not mean I will stop trying to create one. I will continue to share images and ideas about black women and our beauty that knock the traditional views of what pretty is and I will get up every day, look in the mirror at my full lips, round nose, brown skin, and five year old locs, and remind myself of a truth I already know; I am just as good for the workplace and the schoolhouse as any woman has ever been. I will never apologize for being natural me. No woman or girl should.