You Don't Have Mixed Girls Hair
Did you know that I have weird, frizzy, nappy hair and I shouldn't? Apparently, since one of my parents is white, it's supposed to be a different texture.
Last night was quite fab till I decided to slap on my dunce cap and make a late-night run to CVS to pick up a few things. (Note to self, stay away from CVS after 11:30 pm.)
Alas, while perusing some lipstick I didn't need, a pretty, twenty-something African-American woman asked, "Excuse me, is that your hair?"'
It got stapled it to my scalp this morning. It is.
I get all excited when I think I'm about to have a conversation with a young sista about ditching chemicals and rocking the natural hair that grows out of her head. I was ready to drop knowledge. Smiles all around.
She was skeptical and didn't believe I don't have any chemicals in my hair. Nope, I insisted. I'm chemical free. I don't even use chemical hair dye.
I wanted to stab myself in the eyeball when she said, "Well I guess I could get away with being natural if I had hair like you. You kinda got a good grade of hair."
First of all, who the heck still uses the word "grade" to describe hair? This isn't school and there's no A+ being handed out for hair textures. Secondly, a "good" grade automatically implies that there's a "bad" grade.
I'll spell out the code language: A bad grade =more highly textured, kinky hair. More African. A good grade of hair means your hair is straighter and more European.
Same crap, different day. Heard it before. Yawn.
However, I recognize the signs of internalized oppression so I patiently gave her my spiel on how healthy hair is good hair and how people of African descent with highly textured hair don't have to apologize for the way our hair looks, and we don't have to make it straighter or make it curl in a more socially acceptable manner.
"Well that's easy for you to say since you don't have that super-black hair."
She said it like "super-black" is something bad, but I tried to focus on what I thought she was trying to say, which was that to some people, my hair is more acceptable because it's not the most highly textured hair on the planet. No doubt that's true because unfortunately, that's the way racism in America intersects with our standard of beauty.
Then she asked me if both my parents are black.
No ma'am, they're not. My mom's black but she's the one with the Beatles and Rolling Stones records, she doesn't eat soul food and she speaks 100% Kings English. I'm sure in somebody's book, that doesn't make her "super black." As for my dad, he's white. He can also play the heck out of a Duke Ellington song on the piano and he refuses to eat tomatoes or mushrooms. Does that mean he's not "super white"? But I digress. Back to the tale at hand...
She replied, "You're half white? I thought you might be part Mexican or something." Um. Hmm. Really? That's a new one. And she continued. "No offense, but most mixed people I know have a better grade of hair than you do."
There are so many things wrong with that statement, but clearly, the message was that I've been cheated by genetics because I don't have Mariah Carey's or Alicia Keys' hair.
"It's just weird that your hair is so frizzy and nappy and your dad is white. ARE YOU SURE YOU'RE MIXED?"
Hold up! She asked ME about my hair. I was nice enough to explain it and answer her questions, and she says I'm weird, frizzy and nappy - all three clearly meant in a derogatory manner. Now I want to start a new blog called weird+frizzy+nappy= HOTNESS to combat the myth that any of those things are bad.
OK, maybe I'll just make it weird + nappy = HOTNESS because I can truly do without frizz.
But, as for questioning my parentage... sadly, this is not the first time that's been said to me. I've even been told that maybe the "problem" with my hair is that my mom's black instead of white. Yeah, my black mom ruined my chances of having a non "super-black", "good" grade of hair.
I was finished with the conversation and I was starting to think about how it is that people get beat up in public, so I told her that I had to go because I was in a hurry and to have a good night. Then I excused myself and left without getting any of the stuff I meant to. I came home, started writing down what happened, fell asleep and now, a few hours later, reflecting on the whole interaction just makes me feel incredibly sad.
Not only was she insulting a total stranger, her statements were just flat out ignorant. I've stopped and talked to strangers before and usually, as long as they don't try to pet me, I'm cool talking about my hair. I'm especially happy to talk to black women about my hair, because we need all the encouragement we can get to rock what grows out of our head.
There are people who I see every day who never compliment my hair and then the minute I straightened it a couple of months ago because my kid caught lice and I was trying to check my hair to see if I had it and it was really hard to do so when it was curly, THAT is when I heard for the first time in eons, "Wow, your hair looks amazing."
I expect that crap. I really do. This is America and people are trained to think straight hair is the most beautiful. But to be insulted in CVS and have my parentage questioned and be interrogated like I'm some circus freak when I'm just trying to buy lipstick... AAGH!
I ran into the owner of de Cielo Salon in Burbank a few weeks ago and he was promoting his Brazilian blowout. I told him I liked my curly hair, and asked if he had anyone who knew how to cut it. He recommended Tony, who would cut it, then STRAIGHTEN IT and it would stay like that for days, and wasn't that great?! I wanted to smack the man.
I shouldn't be offended that stylists aren't trained to deal with curly hair, but I am. It's not like I asked to be born with this hair. And it took me nearly 20 years to learn to (overcome the media bullshit and) love it.
So thanks for this post. :)
I just looked at him like he was crazy and walked off. I mean, he had natural hair issues and complexion issues! How do you even answer that kind of ignorance?
I've been natural for over 5 years now, and it never ceases to amaze me how people think they can say all kinds of shit about my hair. When I had a perm, no one said boo about my hair.
I like my hair straight, but not for any conscious attempt of meeting society expects - but because I like the sharp, strict aesthetic (I have asymmetrical razored layers that frame my face when cut and styled proper). I curl it for formal events or when I want to look cute rather than cool as a cucumber.
But I always thought that was just me - maybe I'm naive, but I am surprised there aren't more people who want beautiful and awesome hair like yours! I always hear girls with straight hair complain that they don't have curls and volume, and girls with curls want it to be straight. Grass is greener on the other side?
I just had a discussion on my blog about the "good hair = mixed hair" mindset after writing a post about a coworker who braided my hair last week and marveled over my "good hair". The implication was the opposite of that girl's though--my coworker seemed surprised that the "good hair" she was looking at was on a regular Black girl's head.
Most people have had nothing but good things to say about my transition, but it made me sad that when my hair is all natural there will still be some people who are on that "your hair's good enough to go natural" mess.
And no, the word "grade" hasn't gone out of style yet. I can think of 2 instances of Black girls (both around my age) asking about or commenting on my "grade" of hair.
I swear, I'm a magnet for this kind of stuff. It's like I have a sign flashing above my head that says, "Yo, come say crazy stuff to me!"
I think "no offense" should be banned from the English language!
Yep. It's really frustrating.
It has damaged the psyche of our entire community, male and female. The other day I was in Barnes and Noble and I stood there looking at all the fashion and women's magazines. As usual, where's the color? Pfft, thank God for Oprah putting herself on the cover every single month because otherwise, we'd be MIA. I will say I can imagine having the same conversation with a black man, except in those instances, they've actually grabbed my hair at the roots and said, "For reals? It's NOT a weave?"
Thanks for saying it's fab... I don't know if she was jealous or what. I hope she wasn't. There's no reason to be jealous.
Yep, we're supposed to be just dying searching for the perfect way to make our curls go away -and every dang makeover show on the planet transforms the curly-haired woman into some straight-haired "sleek" person. I hate it. I read those Brazilian's use FORMALDEHYDE!
Yep. Oy vey.
OH HECK NO! That's so ignorant. That's for dark girls? Yep, people do think they can say all sorts of insanity to you. They're happy to share and think you're crazy when you don't like it.
I wasn't confident at first. But I figured I had to just make a go for it and chop the straight stuff off. It takes backbone to have natural hair - I mean, even my husband has never once said my hair looks nice like this. It's ingrained in him to prefer the chemically straightened look, and that's true for a lot of Americans.
There's a great article on a natural hair site called Nappturality that addresses the argument that a black woman not straightening her hair is just like a white woman deciding not to color it. http://bit.ly/bOayiw - I've read it a couple times and appreciate the thought that went into writing it. It really breaks down why this thing with hair straightening is much more than a personal choice in the black community.
I usually curse only when I'm back in my car and I'm by myself. :)
Yep, they say your hair is nice for a regular black hair - which implies that it's nice because it's not as kinky - and then you're supposed to be grateful for the compliment! It's infuriating.
I wish the hair grading would go out of style - then again, someone was asking me if my hair type was 3C or 4A and I was like, yo, I have no idea. Sigh.
I'm sorry you had to deal with this misinformed bitch. "No offense, but..." she is a bitch.
What's really disheartening is how pervasive these kinds of comments/attitudes are - I'm so sorry your daughter has to hear comments like this. I'm an adult and it's hurtful, but it's so confusing for a child. We have to figure out how we nip these attitudes in the bud.
Yep. The couple of days my hair was straight this spring was awful because I 1) had forgotten how much more difficult straight hair is to take care of and 2) I missed the curls and 3) I didn't think the straight hair was as attractive. It's all about changing our mindset.
I think the real problem is that I don't have very good personal boundaries and so I think it makes people comfortable saying lots of things to me.
Thank you so much for sharing your comment. It made me tear up because how horrible that we're perpetuating this internalized hatred in our community. That poor fifth grade-girl. I'm so proud of her for keeping on her natural journey and I'm glad you've been put in her path to serve as a support.
I do have a lot of patience - I guess it comes from having been a teacher. ;)
HAHAHA! You have the super power of making me laugh. "No offense, but..." she is a bitch. ==>That's awesome.
An extra-hot cup. There's so much confusion in our culture and I don't think she had any idea that anything at all was wrong with her line of questioning/statements.
People think they can make insulting remarks because we live in an insanely selfish, individualistic society.
I forget as well. Hmm... I should sell "Super Black" t-shirts.
I didn't expect it either. Sometimes I'm not sure we're moving in a more positive direction, but I know we have to be. If I don't think that, there really is no hope.
Sadly, sometimes boys get it as well. I can't tell you how many times people have commented that my eldest has "good hair". It's annoying.
Of course you're gorgeous and your hair is fabulous...People who don't see it are looking through a lens distorted by social constructs they've been raised with.
Ignorance ends up causing a lot of pain. (Though I think anyone reasonable would know she was being nasty to say what that young woman said to you.)
I hate to think it, but I've probably said ignorant things to people when my last intention is to be hurtful. We can't know to avoid them if we don't even know there are landmines out there. Thanks so much for writing with such wit and compassion. There's no way to learn if people don't speak out. I honestly think that a lot of white people don't have a clue about this whole subject. I sure didn't before I started following your blog.
I've never commented before, but I love your blog and your hair. And also, I love the YMCA.
Like Jasmin mentioned in previous post. I had people talk to me about "grades" of hair. I've heard people say to me, "I could go natural if I had hair like yours but mine is too nappy. I have to keep it permed at all times."
My people. My people. I love my Black people but we still have some issues when it comes to our hair.
Anyway, she's young and maybe it will take her a few years (decades?) to figure out the beauty of natural hair. I've recently found some really nice natural hair blogs with so much information. If she started reading these, she might start thinking differently and see the beauty of the texture and curl in our hair.
LOL peoples foolishness is too silly
Curly! Nappy! Kinky! Yes!!!!!!
I found your blog through CNN's latest release "Can I touch it? The fascination with natural, African-American hair" posted today 7-25-11 on their website.
AND girl it struck a chord!I've got STORIES too lenghty to post here!
Again I HEAR you! It's sickening, infuriating, dehumanizing, debasing and depressing ALL at the SAME time!
My mom is Black with American Indian heritage on her mom's side. My dad is West Indian but you know how it is in America "certain people" see him as African-American and that's a whole other argument because of the African Diaspora. On a side note not EVERY person was taken from Africa during the slavery era for Black people. DO you see how BIG the continent of AFRICA is? Records show the slaves were taken from the West Coast like Ghana etc. AND the interesting note is that not only White Americans took slaves! Brazil, Spain and other Spanish countries were all in or the slave trade which brings you to another argument about why there's a great percentage of those who claim Spanish who look like their descendents are from Africa which brings me another point, Not all of Africa is made up of starving children that we see on TV here in America and they don't all live in primitive huts!! Much of Africa is very educated and civilized and they don't all look the same with the same color skin, features and hair! I have friends from Africa who come in all shades and types etc and no it's not because they were mixed somewhere down the line! Africa has a rich history and we have every skin shade, hair texture etc but you'd never see that here in American media!
But back to your post about hair.
My hair is naturally curly. When I wear it curly it's silky for like 1 day then it gets dried out and starts to be poofy and unmanageable. So I usually wear it straight. So I go to the salon, get my hair washed and blow-dry straight then flat-ironed. Now the reactions I get to my hair are very interesting. When it's curly and silkly for those first few hours people of all races rave about it saying how gorgeous it is and they OFTEN ask me "Why don't you wear it that way ALL the time?" UM...because it doesn't STAY that way and then I get called Aunt Jemima and worse. When my hair is straight people are equally amazed and that's when they start questioning my ethnicity. I've had people of ALL races ask me all sorts of craziness from "Are you mixed?" "You're not mixed and your hair is like this?! That's GOOD!" "You speak Spanish?" They think I'm East Indian (from India), Spanish (either from Brazil or Dominican Republic), half White, or Ethiopian. If I didn't already have an identity crisis, the world is sure trying to give me one!
I don't like being judged on my hair. I get treated like royalty when it's silky-curly or flowing and straiaght. But when my hair is dried out and poofy (I can rock a mean Bella Afro), I get ignored, made fun or asked questions even by extended family members who are Black "What did you do to your hair?! It's ALL over the place?"
It's all shades of WRONG. Why are we as Black women "graded" by our hair? It's not right!
And don't even get me to the relationships aspect of it all especially with movies like Chris Rock's "Good Hair". Do you know why he created that movie? I reaad it in EBONY magazine ...because his daughter admired her White friend's "good hair" and asked her dad (Chris Rock), "Daddy, why don't I have good hair?"
But I'm glad you're writing about it. Maybe the national conversation will help correct the worldwide miseducation about Black hair.