I recently took down my braids. I usually schedule an appointment to get them redone right away. While I’m certain the beautiful ladies at Sunu Hair are doing all they can to keep themselves and their customers safe, I decided now might be a good time to take a break and to let my hair breathe.
Of course, now that people are living in a mostly virtual space and Zoom is where it’s at, it dawned on me: most people have never seen what I look like without braids. This shouldn’t be a big deal. It’s just hair, right?
Well, yes… and no.
You see, during slavery it was standard practice for slave-owners to use every possible tactic to censor and dehumanize Black bodies. Our hair was cut and we were often mandated to cover our heads (though we took agency in that process as a continuation of cultural and spiritual practices – but that’s another story for another post).
We were made to feel ashamed of our bodies as God created them.
Once slavery ended, the shaming of intrinsically Black features ramped up. Propaganda images and characters like Buckwheat of the Little Rascals emerged in an attempt to perpetuate Blackness as less-than-human, with subpar attractiveness.
In response, many Black folks began to chemically straighten their hair in an attempt to assimilate to the White standard of smooth, sleek hair. In the 1960s, on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, Black Americans decided to reclaim their God-given identity and began wearing afros. By the late 70s and 80s, as the afro fell out of fashion, the relaxer returned and the jheri curl gained popularity.
When I was about 10, I received my first relaxer. I was thrilled. This meant that my hair would finally swing freely like that of my White classmates, my dolls, and the popular images I saw on TV. I was so excited.
In 2009, after decades of damaging my hair, I chose to wear my hair natural. I was nervous because I wasn’t sure if I would be accepted in the workplace or attractive to guys. But I needed to do what was best for my physical and financial health.
A decade later, after struggling and failing to get my hair to look “pretty” like natural girls in commercials (whose hair texture is often curly and elongated, while my hair is coarse and tight), I decided to make what I thought was a compromise: braids. I figured I could have the best of both worlds: embrace Black culture and do a hair flip hen I walk by an attractive guy.
These most recent times have caused a lot of people – myself included – to do a lot of introspective contemplation and reflection. As I began to worry about what people might think of me and my natural ‘do, I finally gave in and refused to be ashamed of what God has given me.
For far too long, Black folx – Black womxn – have received direct and subliminal messages about what makes us acceptable. The way we speak, the way we dress, and the foods we eat are under constant scrutiny and judgement by the systems and collective persons that seek to suppress and oppress everything that makes us beautiful.
Now, this post is not meant to shame anyone who chooses to relax their hair, wear a weave, or do absolutely anything they want with your own hair. Our hair texture does not define our Blackness. However you do your Black, I encourage you to embrace it with everything in you.
Let no one make you feel less than the royalty you were created to be!