It’s a strange fact: I often make choices that seem perfectly benign to me, and later find out that others tie specific thoughts, feelings, values and politics to the very same type of decision.
For example. (Well, I hadn’t intended to use hair to make a point about hair, but it works.)
Last year I was contemplating cutting off all my hair. I was working out regularly, and the sweat was wreaking havoc on my relaxer. The upkeep was time-consuming and expensive. I’d worn my hair very short in the 90s, so I knew I could pull it off. I just needed to make a decision.
Then one day at the gym I glanced up at the television and saw Robin Roberts.
She looked amazing! Tell me she didn’t look amazing! I was intrigued by her courage–to be on mainstream network television and choose such a non-mainstream hairstyle! Seeing her was all I needed; I made an appointment and within two weeks, I was a new woman.
Now, I don’t watch the news or keep up with celebrities and television personalities. Even the ones I like. So even though I was familiar with Robin Roberts, I had no idea she was recovering from cancer; that she’d lost her hair during chemotherapy and had been wearing a wig throughout the ordeal; that her decision to take off the wig and let her hair grow back in front of the viewing world was difficult and scary. I didn’t learn these things until I went on the internet in search of a picture of her for my stylist. Robin had been courageous, but not the way I’d thought.
See? That happens all the time! Things seem straight-forward and simple, and it turns out they’re deep and complicated!
When I cut off my own hair, the decision was the perfect marriage between necessity and style. I’d save time and money, and I’d look nice. When I first got it cut, I also got it texturized. I later discovered I didn’t need to texturize, so I chose to stop. I went natural, but only because it was convenient to do so. I’d save even more time and money!
For black women, hair has always been a conversation starter. I didn’t know things were so serious until I visited a natural hair page on Facebook. Turns out there are all kinds of deep, value-based, political implications surrounding the decisions I’ve made about my hair! It’s this big octopus with tentacles tightly gripped around things like … my feelings about my race and other races; my acceptance (or lack thereof) of myself and my “roots” (no pun intended); my willingness to assuage or disregard the pressures of society to “fit in.” Oddly, outlandishly, the subject of child abuse was even raised!
Geez. It’s just hair!
Yesterday when I was getting ready for work, I spent more time than usual reflecting on my hair–which is now a few inches long and rather wilder than it was just a couple years ago. I wondered what my friends, peers, co-workers really think. I wondered if white people are frightened of me. I also wondered what’s on the minds of other black people–both men and women–when they see me. I wondered if I should purchase a pick with a fist. I actually felt a little self-conscious as I walked out the house and as I walked out my day.
I’ve always liked India Arie’s song, and I needed to hear it again today just to remind me! Why should I be intimidated by anyone’s opinions or politics on something so very personal and unique to me? (I knew I hated politics for a reason!)
Seriously, it’s just hair.