13 January 2014

I am (still) my hair.

The (half) black girl hair dialogue. I have to be honest.  I've been avoiding it.  As a college educated, socially aware, usually vocal woman, I have made a sociological textbook mistake.

I convinced myself that if I did not politicize my transition to "natural" hair, it could not be political. This, coming from a woman who wrote an entire thesis entitled "Crowning Glory: The Politics of Black Women and Hair" for a feminist theory class. How did I get here?

It is all a matter of perspective. When I was in college, I had long, flowing, permed hair.  I could curl it with an iron, whip it back and forth in the club, and withstand hours in the Central Texas humidity without so much as a flyaway. I was a part of the status quo in this sense, more or less. I recognized the very complex relationship that black women have with their hair, but I had never truly felt marginalized because of my mane.

Me with long, relaxed hair

But, about 2 years ago, I decided I wanted to try something different.  That's it. I was tired of straight and I wanted the versatility of experimenting with my natural texture. I wanted to channel Corrine Bailey Rae. I wasn't trying to stick it to societal expectations. I wasn't trying to get back to my African roots. I was not out to prove that I Am Not My Hair. I was not even terribly concerned about the salon chemicals leeching into my bloodstream (although, whoa, kinda scary).

Not that any of these reasons for going natural are invalid. They just were not my reasons, and I was frustrated when my curly, kinky roots started showing and people asked me what my motivations were. Nobody asked me what compelled me when I decided to dye my hair black in high school, or when I had that botched Carrot Top dye job freshman year. Or even when I decided to chop it all of a la Rihanna.

Because cuts and colors are neutral ground and my hair as it grows out of my head is a freaking agenda.

Still, I avoided the hair politics discussion right down to my "big chop" a few months ago. Now, there are people in my life that have never known me with any other hair but what I have now. And it's kind of a relief. Because, geez...the explanations are exhausting.

I have tried to separate myself from the wave of women calling natural hair a lifestyle change because it felt like that framing was giving hair more power than it deserves. What I know now is that hair is still a part of our social identities and Black hair is still a journey, no matter which way you wear it.

Personally, my hair now means learning to handle something ever-changing and essentially foreign to me.  It is dealing with frustratingly clueless hairdressers and watching hours of YouTube tutorials. It is feeling a little awkward when the TSA agent pats down your afro puff looking for God-knows-what. It is nearing tears when a rude beauty store clerk tells you that "When the ad said the sale was on ALL hair products, they didn't mean those ones."

It's also about trying new 'dos, feeling more confident than ever, and being free to walk in the rain without a plastic bag on my head. Small victories.

Various stages of curly

I have many more thoughts to share on this topic, but the bottom line is this:  Whether I agree to it or not, I am still my hair.

Avoiding the topic doesn't make it go away.  The only way to upend these social constructs is to give my experiences a voice. Let's keep talking about it until it's no longer up for discussion. Because, seriously, don't we have more important matters to address?

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