My mom has had long, luscious, dark, voluminous mid-back length hair for as long as I can remember. I’d always ask her if I could brush it and she obliged me, allowing me to comb through it for hours on end. It was normal to me, until I got to grade school. I recall going to several school events alongside her, my mom holding my hand with her lovely locs flowing behind her.
My classmates would always whisper to me:
“Is that your mom’s real hair or is it weave?”
“Is your mom really Black? Black ladies don’t have long hair.”
And my all-time favorite: “Why don’t you have long pretty hair like your mom? Are you adopted?”
My 8-year-old brain could not fathom why my mom’s long beautiful hair meant she was not Black when I’ve seen various photos of my grandma and grandpa in all their Afro-American glory.
My response to these questions was usually an aversion of eye contact and a quick subject change, but as I grew older, I grew angrier as these same questions would be thrown at me.
But I also grew to realize that society has taught people to think Black women only have short and nappy hair. Society believes Black women’s hair is so undesirable that they should opt to wear wigs and weaves to disguise it. This notion is particularly interesting because most women wear these styles to protect their own hair and switch up their look without damaging it. It allows for freedom of creative expression without ruining their natural texture. Still, society believes our hair is unprofessional and unmanageable that we should straighten it. Society believes Black women don’t have the ability to grow long beautiful natural hair so if we do, we must be mixed.
I then realized who the “baldhead scally wag” jokes were referring to.
Before this realization, I was “whatever” about my hair. And when I say this, I mean I didn’t really care too much about how it looked. When I was younger, my mom would hot comb it to make it a bit more manageable when twisting it into plaits with bobbles on either side of my head. As I grew older, I would brush my a-little-below-shoulder-length hair into a ponytail in the same spot on the back of my head every day and kept it pushing. This was not ideal in the years to follow, because once I hit high school my hair was so severely damage and broken off that I had to cut my hair to the nape of my neck. It was then that I started associating my hair with my own attractiveness. As Cheryl Thompson states in her article “Black Women & Identity: What’s Hair Got to Do with It?”: “For young black girls, hair is not just something to play with, it is something that is laden with messages, and it has the power to dictate how others treat you, and in turn, how you feel about yourself.”
For years I’ve been traveling on this love hate hair journey of mine. I started wearing protective styles towards the end of high school into college while growing my hair back. At one point it was long and healthy again, and then it broke off terribly a year later. The ups and downs have helped me accept that Black women will always have a more difficult time accepting our hair if we let others dictate how it should look. My hair does not equal my beauty. It is just the cherry on top.