Rhythmandwords

Banter on Tulips and a Tribe Called Quest, Jay-Z and John Coltrane, Outkast and Othello.

5.03.2005

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall


self-love: always a good look Posted by Hello

Listening to "I Can't Stop Loving You" by Kem, who admittedly is a broke Al Jarreau. *smile* But so I love this song...

I told myself I was going to fade "quietly into that good night" (A sista got a project to finish. Or to paraphrase another Kem song -- a deadline's "calling my name, gurl.") But a friend recently informed me that the blog powers that be were looking for me. So, being the law-abiding citizen that I am, I thought I'd nod to protocol and like the mighty O'Jays, "give the people what they want". That is, before ducking out again for a bit. (Gotta get this work done before I'm fired, then evicted and end up writing by the light of a skreet lamp and trashcan fire. That would be most unfortunate because to my knowledge, they don't air ANTM in Central Park...

So, getting back to the matter at hand, today, I watched with much appreciation as several bloggers, including my Soror X, Cee, Kajuana and Brown Sugar posted about the age-old question of color, hair, etc. *M. Elle sings* Talkin' bout good and bad hair / Whether you're dark or you're fair/ Go on and swear / See if I care / Good and bad hair. Being that I'm a relative neophyte to blogging (been at this for exactly five weeks), I don't know any of you personally. But, I was really, really moved by the fact that this whole issue has affected all of us to some degree. Regardless of what shade we say we are -- Mocha Almond, Caramel Frappe, or in my case, Choco Latte (LOL) this issue has got us all hemmed up. So while, I thought I was going to quietly dip out, this discussion has been one that has been so near to my heart, that I, well, had to chime in.

What you'll see below is a story on issues of self: color, hair texture, self-love from a friend that after 25 years, I'm proud to say I now know very well. The story is called "Majority of One" (you might have seen it in "Chicken Soup for the African American Soul"). It's only the voice of one woman, not intended as a treatise for anyone else to follow. But, I do hope it's fodder for the discussion. And, till we meet again, (soon I promise) peacables chulrens.

Majority of One
I wanted to do it for so long--throw out my chemically relaxed hair for a natural. I had long admired sisters who sported braids, afros or locks and tossed their heads in defiance of mainstream-endorsed beauty regimens. I want to be one of them, I often thought, but continually struggled with the idea of shedding the thick, dark brown, longer-than-shoulder length hair that I had been told I was blessed with.

It was so tied to my identity that I could not bear to part with it. From my wide-eyed childhood to long-legged adolescence, each trip to the beauty parlor was marked by a beautician's friendly question. "Chile where in the world did you get all that hair?"

Not knowing exactly how to reply to the question, I would look at the floor and whisper, "Thank You," while secretly harnessing the attention my hair brought. Those precious times were a marked contrast to how I often felt about myself as a darker-skinned black adolescent, when it seemed that lighter-skinned people were all the rage, in the suburb where I grew up.

I once asked my mother, who like the rest of my family has a caramel brown tone, if I was adopted. She pulled out ultrasound images from a scrapbook to assure me that I was not. And later, she created a poster of chocolate toned blacks, like Iman and others, to show me I was beautiful. As thankful as I was for her reassurance, I thought she was doing her motherly duty and still struggled to find something about me that was beautiful. I thought about those trips to the hairdresser, how special they made me feel, and so I turned to my hair for acceptance.

People had always made a big deal about my longer-than-average-black-girl hair. It was special when my mother allowed me to wear my hair "out" because on those days, I could truly swish and sway my hair with the best of my lighter-skinned peers.

[In college], I was glad I didn't have to wear a weave or extensions... But by my junior year, I realized how long I'd been buying into the mainstream-enforced black women accepted notions of beauty. The ruse was exposed and I was not, after all, like Samson. My hair just didn't hold that much power anymore.

Again I questioned, "What about me was beautiful?"

That summer, I wrote a poem celebrating African Americans who had the courage to make strides that included wearing their hair natural in the sixties and seventies. One line read, "I wasn't there but I heard about those who dared to put down the hot-comb for a minute, don a dashiki and look themselves in the mirror, exclaiming, "Beautiful." I longed to be like the people I felt so strongly about, people who found their beauty and acceptance in themselves. The excuse I made to myself was that natural hair was a statement of beauty for another time and plaece. But deep down inside, I was really unsure whether I could ever be beautiful if I discontinued my 14-year relationship with no-lye chemical relaxers. I knew I had long been afraid of finding out. So, after as false start my senior year, I thought I would give it another try.

I am going to go natural, I told myself.

The first three months were easy. I had gone longer without a perm before. The real test began in the spring, when my "waves" grew into full-fledged naps. April came, and my friends at church, who, like me, knew no lives without perms or presses, asked, "What are you planning to do with your hair again?"

I was confident in my decision, but at times felt like Thoreau's "majority of one." Weeks went by. I pressed on but not without doubt. Was I crazy? Was this reasonable? Would this allow me to live and work in mainstream America?

I felt like the world wanted me to just pick up an Optimum no lye and be done with it. But I had to fight, I had to do it...By May, I decided, for the first time, to get braided extensions so no one but me could witness the war being waged between my fragile, permed hair and the stronger natural roots that rose like defiant Zulu warriors month by month.

As the mercury rose, my roots encroached on the territory the relaxed hair had held unchallenged for years -- my heart. July came and it was time to take out the micro braids. Once they were completely out, I vacillated between going back to a perm and continuing my quest. I started to shield my roots from the public view with a scarf. Then on a Friday in August, I looked in the mirror, grabbed scissors from a drawer and snipped a little from the back. Just enough so I can change my mind and get away with it, I told myself.

I snipped some more.

When I was done, I knew it would be an adjustment. I could no longer toss my head to and fro and have my hair swish. But I could finally look myself in the mirror, and smile, exclaiming "Beautiful." And that was all right with me.

8 Comments:

At May 03, 2005 1:57 PM , Blogger nai' said...

I was wondering where the hell you were...LOL..You know, Kajuana's post really moved me because the issue is one that I never hear discussed from a dark skinned perspective. Many of us are still struggling with dealing with being dark in a society that deems it to be associated with all that is bad. For me, it was cathartic to be able to express those feelings. Now hair is a totally different story...lol..It's not a nappy/straight issue for me. But my hair happens to be processed. I do believe I've read that piece before and it truly is a moving thing, especially for those girls who won't do it because they question if natural is really beautiful. I always refer to this book and never get a chance to verify that it is the correct book and title, but Lisa Jones (daughter of Amiri Baraka, then Leroi Jones) wrote a book entitled Bulletproof Diva. I'll have to check that. The book deals with race (inter-race specifically) and hair issues. It is a must read. And I think it sheds tons of light on the condition that we face today with regards to those issues. Oh my God, I can imagine how long this is...LOL..My bad. By the way, in the 5 weeks that you've been here, you've been a pleasure to read...Let me get back to work before I too, am homeless.

cee
http://nai.typepad.com

 
At May 03, 2005 7:04 PM , Blogger Mahogany Elle said...

LOL...sorry about the incognegroness. I feel like I need to be looking for the North Star up in this piece!! I totally feel you on there being a need for variant perspectives with this color discussion. Was glad to read your post. Hit the nail on the head, I thought. Also, glad you liked the story. Here's a secret, I wrote it...but didn't want that to have any bearing on how it was incorporated into the discussion. Aight, thanks again for the shout out! And, more powah to the Mahoganys among us...and of course, everyone else too :)

 
At May 04, 2005 8:05 AM , Blogger Will said...

I was gonna say that this looked like you wrote it. Thank you for sharing that. This is definitely a hot topic.

I won't be long-winded. You've got a project to finish. LOL

Respect, M Dot. Check you soon!

 
At May 06, 2005 2:32 PM , Blogger rcknrobin said...

its awesome you went natural...i've decided to do it myself...but i must admit...since i don't really know how to deal with my relaxed hair..its like..what am i going to to with my natural hair?

 
At May 07, 2005 11:49 AM , Blogger Brother OMi said...

you truly pelo bueno..
keep doing your thing...

 
At May 10, 2005 6:01 AM , Blogger Harold M. Clemens said...

this is tight. needs airplay fa real.

 
At May 11, 2005 10:29 AM , Blogger mellow said...

great post. I experienced similar reactions once I decided to go natural (including a stranger asking why I would do THAT to my hair). It definitely takes a strong person to go against "normal" hair standards.

 
At May 24, 2005 2:04 PM , Blogger Slow Metamorphosis said...

Thank you so much for sharing this post... Right Now I am going throught that journey into being natural and today of all days I am rocking lile afro-ey thing on my haead because I haven't done the Big Chop as of yet. I am ok with it, but I do catch my nervous co-workers giving my sideways glances and it feels good in away but it's sad that I am still second guessing my decision. lovely post

 

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