Life: Good Hair, Bad Hair
Long, luxurious locks, bone straight and down my back…and when it gets wet it curls up into tight crisp ringlets that grow into soft cloud-like curls without the use of rollers or an iron.
I guess that’s good hair. But I never called it that. That’s my hair. I didn’t learn the term good hair until the first grade.
Standing in size order waiting to walk into class on the first day of school the girl behind me kept staring at me. I kept looking around and looking down at my uniform thinking that there was something wrong until finally she spoke: “Can I touch your hair?”
I was never asked that before. Growing up and playing with dolls, they all had hair like me. My mom had hair like me and so did my grandma. I never thought of my hair as something special or unique. Actually, since I was tender headed, most of the time I thought of it as a pain. My grandmother used to tell me, “if you look at your hair too hard it will tangle up.” And it was true, with naturally curly thick hair getting a comb through it was almost impossible without putting in at least three hours of work. Doing my hair was an all day affair. I longed to just be able to wear it straight like my mommy and have it swish and blow in the wind. But, it was a fleeting thought. I never thought my hair was bad, it was just annoying.
And so while walking up the stairs on the first day of class I was shocked, more than anything, that this little girl just wanted to touch my hair. I wanted to ask her why, but I was new to the school so I just said okay. And she took one of my pig tails and twisted it around like a jump rope. It was a little awkward and I did not know what to do. As I was standing there and I looked I her I noticed for the first time that her hair did not hang from her barrettes like mine. It did not look like mine either, it looked like if I touched it, it would be coarse. I guess that was bad hair, but I only knew it after she said, “I wish my hair was long like yours.” I wanted to say why again, but I didn’t.
After a while I got used to it. People saying things like: “never cut your hair” and “is that all yours?” The next question is always: “What are you?” I was never fully black to them. My hair could not just be from me but had to be the result of some exotic mix. Black girls were not supposed to have hair like me, and so I could not be just black.
And so growing up my hair defined me. I was never the loud girl, or the bad girl, or the funny girl. I was the nice girl with nice hair and good grades. I wasn’t even described darkskin girl or the brownskin girl, as kids often use in their descriptions, until much later. But for a while it seemed like my hair excused even the color of my skin, until we got older and more people had hair like mine, or at least appeared to.
Entering college all this changed, and again I asked myself: why? I attend a school where I am typically the only black girl in the classroom. Amongst a sea of blondes and brunettes my hair is usually the darkest, most textured, and most of the time still the longest. But no one looks at me twice or even makes a comment about my hair. I was not used to this happening and it made me think about it even more. Whenever I entered a new class or a new school I was always bombarded with questions about my background and “where my hair comes from.” But not here, not in this small college town where the thing that stands out the most is the color of my skin, not my hair. Actually, the only time I am ever asked about my hair in college is by other black students.
So, is this good hair, bad hair philosophy created by the black community? Maybe we did not create it but it is definitely sustained by us. We portray ourselves to be such victims of society and its ideals of beauty that prey down upon us but why do we make hair to be such a big thing? And why do we label it? A person of another race never told me I had nice hair, it was always another black girl.
Sure, I could answer my own question, I read “The Bluest Eye” and heard the stories my mom and grandma told about only being able to play with white dolls that did not look like them. Yet, I used to always wonder why they wanted to look like them. I played with dolls that looked like me, had hair like me, and I did not realize the significance.
To be honest, I never compared my hair to others, or thought my hair was better than others, or wished it to be like someone else’s until I started going to school and people made me feel like I was some type of spectacle because my hair was passed my shoulders.
This weekend two sororities on my campus are having an event about this very topic, and Chris Rock just debuted a documentary with the title “Good Hair.” So, I am looking forward to hearing about other people’s stories, struggles, and opinions on the issue.
What do you all think about it?