Monday, February 2, 2009

Black History Month and My Hair

Happy Black History Month!

I have always had mixed feelings about this month. On the one hand I am happy that it has been designated to give the rest of America a chance to learn what black people have always known. It is a time to remind little black boys and little black girls that our history extends beyond the days of slavery, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights. This year is even more special with the First Black President and his family squarely in the White House.

I was washing my hair, letting the Carol's Daughter Tui Shampoo infuse my mid-back dred locs, and thinking about the ritual of my hair. In my early days, my step-mother spared me the Saturday morning ritual of the hot comb. She kept saying I had "good hair" that just needed to be washed on Friday night, plaited into about six thick braids, and allowed to dry all night and into Saturday until it was ready for a few curls for Sunday morning. I never use that term for my own daughters, I think any hair on the head is good.

My hair washing and mixing of my olive-patchoulli-tea tree-rosewood oil took me back to the Bergamont and Afro-Sheen of my youth. I am glad my daughters are spared this identity crisis regarding their God-given crowns. One daughter has a finer texture of curls than me, I touch her hair and I touch my mother, the other daughter has a thicker texture of curls than me, I touch her hair and I touch my husband's ancestors. Each one looks great in the twists and locs that frame their chubby round faces. They have never had their hair "straightened" and have always known me to have two-strands twists or my now year-and-a-half old locs.

I thought of the images of beauty that have run rampant through my youth, through television, even through black history. We were always striving for that illusive bouncing and behaving hair like the Farrah Fawcett of my teen years. I remember watching my step-sisters succumb to the singhing of the hot comb, trapped in the kitchen for hours. I bore the wrath of their jealously as my braids bounced down my back as I gleefully and obviously ran around and played on Saturday. I never knew "hair envy" until I was a thirteen year old and got my first perm. My hair was really long and would've looked great in the straightened-beyond-recognition hairstyle, instead, the woman cut off about 8 inches of my hair and I ended up with a chin-length bob. My step-sisters were gleeful, my daddy was furious. I settled.

As I grew older, I vacillated between the perm and braids, settling on my natural hair when I was 16, wearing it in various corn-row styles with beads on the ends. I loved it! The older I grew, the more I loved my texture that carried the ancestors from the Caribbean, Africa, Cherokee Nation, France, Blackfoot Nation, and whatever other mixture made it into the gene pool. The hints of gold and brown bounce off the ends of my locs when I wash it or when it catches the sun. I think about my sister's dark gold brown or the many "reds" in my family.

My daughters hate getting their hair washed. The oldest one acts like I've declared World War III on her. She happily chose dred locs with the hopes of at least letting go of the parting and combing ritual that forced her to let out DADDY-COME-RUNNING-screams. She looks so cute with the tiny locs declaring her royal princess-ness. The other one has hair so curly it won't take tiny twists but sports a head full of bouncy two-strand twists. She jumps up and down with the curls cascading around her chubby face, completely in love with her natural self. And this year, they have images just-like-them in Malia and Sasha Obama. I love to see Malia's two-strand twists or cornrows or Sasha's pigtails announcing her joyful playfulness. To me, this is Black History Month celebration in strands of freedom.

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