Usually I only share positive posts on Facebook because that is where I want my energy and attention to reside. But I saw this article today accompanied by a news clip from Fox News (another source I usually don’t share) and feel compelled to say something.
This news story is the third one I have read this year on this subject that has brought me to tears. The first was the story of Lmya Cammon , the seven year old black girl in Milwaukee (just 70 miles from where I grew up) who was playing with her braids when her white teacher physically cut one of her braids off of her head. Following that there was the Horizon Science Academy in Lorian, Ohio that tried to ban afro puffs. The school did issue an apology the next day after a community outcry but apparently, the Deborah Brown Academy in Tulsa, Oklahoma didn’t learn from their mistake. They told Tiana Parker that she couldn’t come to school with her hair in dreadlocks. Just watching the video of a young black girl in tears because not only do people not like her hair, but they have made a rule against it makes me ill.
I have an afro. I got one in the sixth grade against the advice of my family who come from a legacy of hairdressers. My Great Grandmother was Iowa’s equivalent of Madame CJ Walker. She got her license in the state of Illinois because Iowa didn’t have a black beauty school. Then she came back to Iowa and started both a school and a salon. When I graduated from college I decided that I didn’t want to have straightened hair anymore. I hated the hot comb, hated getting burns on my scalp from perms left on too long, and in general wondered what was so terrible about my hair as it grew out of my head. I decided to find out.
What I discovered is that I love my natural hair. It’s soft, it’s easy to maintain, and cute. The other thing I discovered is that everyone else hated it. Middle school was brutal anyway. We are talking about a time before Jill Scott and India Arie, before the neo soul movement of people with natural hair. And there I was in the sixth grade, the only 4th generation black feminist, political activist with a fro. I might as well have painted a target on my back and passed out darts. I don’t remember a day in the seventh grade when I wasn’t in a fight. But what really got to me, more than stupid boys calling me a chia pet and singing “Chi Chi Chi Chia” at me in the hallways were the girls, black girls like me, but with their long perfect Barbie hair telling me, “you would be so pretty if you just did something with your hair.”
I maybe lasted a year before I “finally did something with my hair.” Because I just couldn’t deal with the continuous negativity. I just wanted to be left alone. It wasn’t until I turned 21 that I finally had the courage to reclaim my natural hair. At the time I had that “good hair.” Straightened, my hair was down to my bra strap, but when I looked in the mirror, it just didn’t feel right. I felt like my hair was at odds with my beliefs. Moreover, I was just about to move to Japan where I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be able to find a hair dresser so I decided to shave it off and go from there.
Once again, while I was excited about my decision, nobody else was. In fact the woman who had been doing my hair for the past two years flat out refused to shave it. She was mad.
“You’ve been growing your hair all this time and now you want to what?! Uh uh. NO.”
So I actually had to ask a friend of mine to do it. And then once again the sister girl haterade began. I had black women, complete strangers to me, come up to me on the street to ask me if I had cancer because that was the only reason I should have a shaved head. My own mother and I got into a fight about it. Though I think she got my point in the end because six months later she went natural and has been ever since.
Let me be clear, I am not hating on sisters with processed hair. What you do with your hair is your business. If you wanna dye it blue (which I have done before) and make a mohawk, it’s your hair. Do you. All I am saying is that for me having natural hair has been an affirmation, an expression of self love and acceptance. My hair is finally in alignment with my beliefs that who I am is enough. I am beautiful exactly as I was created.
Perhaps that’s why it pisses me off so badly that these so called “educators” are out there telling black children that how their hair grows out of their heads is unacceptable, unruly, messy, sloppy, or not up to code. This is outrageous, hateful behavior and it needs to stop.
Reagan Jackson is a writer, artist, YA fiction aficionado, afro-punk, international educator, and community organizer based in Seattle, WA. You can find her most Tuesdays at the Seattle Poetry Slam or maybe just being nerdy at her favorite bookstores.