Black Girl Hair
My life is like my hair story.
When I was 5 or so, my mom put a relaxer in my hair because this 4C thickness with length was too much for her to handle. I didn't have a say. And my heavy-handed aunties who usually managed to wrangle my head full with beads, bristle brushes, bobbles, and pink rollers, were equally pleased. Meanwhile, I was starting school on Long Island, and my guardianship was being figured out too. I didn't have a say in staying with Mom, or Dad, or Nanny. The decision had been made for me. It was going to be Grandma's for a while.
By the time middle school rolled around, I'd been given some autonomy and started trying new styles and new boyfriends. The lifespan of each was never more than a week. Before graduating high school, Houston's heat and the heat of the curling iron had burned me out. My hair and my teenage heart had endured various exaggerated states of well-being.
Atlanta changed everything! I was incubating in the Atlanta University Center, absorbing and unlearning all the most poignant influences to my cultural identity. The AUC was like a pilgrimage and emersion into black mecca. Here's an excerpt from a poem I wrote during that time:
I float on cocoa satin as the communion fills my temple with the recognition of my own queendom.
I walk among goddesses whose heads are adorned with the music of coily roots -
Dancing out and upwards in time with the rhythm of the heart's djembe
I eventually "big chopped" all of relaxed hair, rocked a coif of curly, coily deliciousness, and then gave it permission to grow into the most glorious long afro it could. Ahh. The Atlanta effect. Neither I nor my hair had ever been more healthy, more full of life, more expressive or more confident.
I moved to Los Angeles still with the possibility of a fro, but a fro rarely seen. I had learned by then that I was ahead of the times -- TV and film-wise; and this natural hair had become a stumbling block more than a stepping stool. At the time, LA passively-aggressively required the illusion of perfection--which was most certainly not defined by the righteous indignation these frizzy ends represented. So I would allow my hair to find heat again. High heat. But I refused to relax it. Just add water and I am reminded of my old knowing, my own queendom... Though it does bear the evidence of a little damage, the price of compromise, I suppose.
LA has certainly caught up a bit. You can't see a commercial with a black woman without her hair being in her full natural glory. And the most successful among us--our A-Listers--have managed to link with hairdressers who seem to know exactly how to care for, and style the hair that naturally occurs from our heads. Revolutionary. But I have found little middle ground. These days, I experience a range of emotions in waiting rooms with other black women the moment I realize that I am the only one without curly, coily, or big, natural hair. It's almost become my advantage.
I have accepted the chameleon nature of my hair, and the transformative power of my self. But more importantly, I am the sum total of all of my parts: laid, twisted, big, full, added to, or cut off.
Closing remarks to follow by Deacon Solange of the Knowles House of Realness:
I didn't think I cared about the Royal Wedding...
I am a bit like Prince Harry... an iconoclast. I have never been obsessed with the monarch, nor terribly impressed with their grand gestures of opulence and influence. Why should I have been? I am an American. An African American. A woman who knows her history. The history of colonialism, imperialism, neocolonialism, and the slave trade... propagated on the content of my ancestry, in large part by the generations upon generations of the royal family over there in Buckingham Palace. Like most of us, I have felt justifiably detached and instinctually unmotivated to join the bandwagon of wde-eyed dreamers looking up at the castle. The headlines were sufficient. The Netflix show, The Crown, offered a new interest. But again, I am compelled by my DNA to give no more than polite acknowledgment of the main events and keep it moving.
When the news of Prince Harry dating the bi-racial American actress Meghan Markle began rolling in, however, my polite acknowledgment was accompanied by a raise of the eyebrows and one of those cocked head nods. Oh okay, Prince Harry. I see you. He suddenly seemed to be the realization and expansion of Princess Diana's global, humanistic perspective. He was breaking tradition in a bold and modern way, simply by courting Meghan. He defended her and his choice to be with her against the inevitable bigotry and vitriol that lines the underbelly of the west. I was becoming a fan.
I don't remember when I found out they were engaged. I don't recall ever knowing the date of the wedding until it was less than a week away. The Friday before the big event, I laughed as my hairdresser responded to a client under the dryer, "Why would I wake up at 4 a.m. to watch their wedding? They're not going to wake up to watch mine." I agreed. No extra effort would be made on my part either. I was certain I'd see the highlights the next day without even trying.
So before leaving to go bring some value to my community, I scrolled my Instagram, saw the dress, the reception dress, the tiara and the image of her pageboys and bridesmaids following her up the steps. I paused for a while on the image of her and her mom waving through the window on their way to the chapel. But all in all I was satisfied. The two of them looked radiant. I was happy for them both.
After teaching my drama workshops and absorbing all of the benefits of having been of service to the enthusiastic teens who attended, I found myself on the couch, deciding whether or not to press "Watch" under the picture of the glowing Megan and Harry on my streaming service. I had already received giddy texts form my aunt, grandmother and mother who had obviously watched. Why not. We'll have something to talk about.
3 1/2 hours later I am typing hearts and flowers on twitter for the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex with stars in my eyes and a girlish grin.
It was Meghan, it was the Gospel Choir, it was Serena Williams and Oprah Winfrey, it was the cellist, Sheku Kanneh Mason. It was the passionate Bishop Curry quoting Dr. Martin Luther King that hooked me. And not just because they are American excellence, but let's just state the obvious. It was because they were black. And they were not bystanders, they were not wide-eyed dreamers. They were the story.
It was Doria Ragland. Gorgeous, proud, emotional mother of the bride, Doria. So familiar. She was my aunt, my mother, my professors from university, my mentors. She was me.
And let's just be real. The Royal Wedding was specular. I have a sense I am as feminist leaning as the Duchess herself, but what woman would deny such a grand affair for her day? None that I know personally. And as far as I am concerned, The Duchess of Sussex, like all women and especially all intersectional women, deserve to feel like a princess at least for a day.
Congratulations, Duke and Duchess! May your fairytale continue to bring the west ever closer to harmony.
enisha b jane
In my own words.