I’ve been living a double life when it comes to my hair. In early July I cut my hair off. All of it. After almost three decades of relaxing my hair into submission it was damaged, broken, uneven, and unsure of what its natural state was. My natural coils sprang from my roots only to be immediately gelled down, filled with chemicals and changed into something else. I told myself over the years that I was doing it because straighter hair was more manageable. It was easier to deal with. This is partially true. But the overwhelming truth was. I don’t know my own hair and i’m not sure I like it.
Few people actually know I cut my hair and this is because I’ve been sporting wigs. That’s right- I cut my hair off in an attempt to save my natural hair and embrace its coils, just to put a wig on. I believed that I was doing it just to get used to my short hair. Or I was wearing the wig until my hair gets a little longer. Or I was wearing the wig until I can have a consultation with a professional natural hair guru. Or I was wearing a wig until…The excuses really went on and on. But underlying all the excuses the truth hurt. I was uncomfortable. With my own hair.
As I write this I’m trying to be as blunt as possible and not hide behind poetic prose and metaphors. I think my natural hair looks unprofessional. Unkempt. Shocking. It’s so painful for me to say. I’ve gone on long diatribes about self acceptance. I’ve gone on about doing what’s best for your unique self. I rage against conformity. And yet I believe one of the biggest lies that have been told to my ancestors. I believe I won’t be taken seriously as an educated, professional, strong black woman. That no matter what I achieve I’ll still be a “nappy-headed” girl from pre-gentrified Brooklyn underneath it all. This short natural hair exposes me in ways I never thought hair could. It brings out the little girl in me who yanked on her pigtails wishing they’d be longer. It brings out the teenager in me standing in the hair shop trying to figure out which hair would make me look best. Because I knew it’d never be my own.
And yet here I am. Being pulled along by my beautiful black sisters that I see out every day. Sporting their crowns. Curls reaching out in every way. Different lengths and textures. They’re saying that it is enough. That it is ok. That “nappy” is not allowed.
I have a little one-and-a-half year old girl who’s hair I love. I love braiding it. Putting it in pigtails. Putting bows around her baby ‘fro and leaving it free. Trying different moisturizers to see which best brings out the features of her beautiful curls. My love of her hair is a direct correlation to how much I love her. Point blank. I love everything about that girl. So I love everything that comes along with her. That same complete and full love I have for her I don’t have with myself just yet.
This is my lesson. My realization. Athena. The girl who took Women’s Studies courses in College. Who wrote the papers on slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. I played Rosa Parks in my school play. I know the story and the issues all too well. Yet, oppression sneak attacked me. I was participating in a centuries long system of oppression while at the same time being all things feminist, liberal, equal rights and self love. As the chirrens would say, “I was low-key oppressed!”.
How many un-challenged social constructs are really affecting my seemingly elevated and inclusive world? What about you? What haven’t you challenged? Check it out. You may find that you are low-key oppressed.