Black Hair: Beautiful and Political

There are multifaceted ways in which we can examine our privilege. For example, we live in a racialized society where the standards of beauty are measured from the white perspective.  Anyone who does not fit into that standard of beauty is automatically perceived as undesirable, minimized, or fetishized. Now, let’s examine this theory from the context of African-American hair which is often described as kinky, tightly curled, and thick. Like everything else in life, there are always exceptions. For example, being black is not always synonymous with having that particular hair texture. In fact, many black people are mixed with different ethnicities because of slavery, interracial marriages, and geographical locations. I would argue that black hair is extremely diverse in its texture.

I’m speaking about this from a personal lens. I can look at my own experience and compare it to my daughter’s. Growing up, white people were never really fascinated with my hair or made comments. Contrarily, black people would often tell me that I had “that good hair,” because it was wavy and fine, and closer to the texture of white people’s hair. As someone who grew up in a diverse community, that stuff never bothered me, but as an adult, I now realize the impact of colonialism and how detrimental it can be when exploring our complex identities.

My daughter is Half Panamanian and Ethiopian. Her hair texture is nothing like mine or my twin sister’s, and my twin’s hair is not identical to mine either. My daughter’s hair texture has forced me to be more intentional and thoughtful about the care that goes into her beautiful mane. Her hair is thick and tighter curled; it requires more time and attention. So, I’ve had to adapt and make an effort in making sure that I educate myself about the products that work best for her. As I mentioned earlier, black hair is hugely diverse.

Some mornings, I find myself re-examining some of my own privilege. I can easily put my hair in a bun at night, wake up the next morning, add water and hair lotion, and I’m ready to go. However, Zariyah at night has to section her hair in 8-10 sections, braid it, and make sure it’s set for it to be styled in the morning. We have had blowups some nights, because it’s late, dance class was intense, and the work-life balance is overwhelming. We are both tired, and cave in and go to bed, but we pay for it the next morning. I’m yelling, she’s crying, and I’m feeling awful because my little beautiful black child is struggling with the feelings of frustration inadequacy.

And in these moments of hair frustration, she revisits those comments that white kids made calling her hair nappy, or “pretty for a black girl,” and violating her space by touching her hair as if she’s some petting zoo. Now mind you this, I’ve never had to go through this, because I had the privilege of living in a diverse community and having hair that is that’s considered “good hair.”

Z is a pretty confident child who has learned to navigate this racist society we live in, but that doesn’t mean these comments don’t sting. Hair and attendant racism also shapes those who have many racial mirrors in their lives, or are immersed in the awesomeness that is black girl magic. It can be a rough journey for those who grow up in racial isolation.

And that gets me thinking often about transracial adoptees who have very few mirrors in their lives, who live in isolated places where no one looks like them; how lonely they must feel. Here I am as a black mom who has built the fabric of activism into the way that I raise my child, yet I’m struggling to shield my child from this white supremacist society we live in. I want to acknowledge that Zariyah is an extremely resilient child who has learned to navigate white spaces with her assertiveness, clever responses, and a not totally calm attitude.

I express all this to say that black children, despite what the world says about them, are magic. When we compare them to other children, understand that they’ve had to grow up a little faster, experience battle scars early, and yet continue to rise above. Because in essence, being black in America–despite how happy, talented and successful one might be–is full of overcoming adversities and fixing your tilted crown, just to say I am worthy and enough.

Zariyah doing her hair before ballet class.

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