Wednesday, October 11, 2006

By request - That Hair Thang...

My beloved sister, C-Money, and this bitch were sharing a brief chat over coffee this morning and the subject of hair came up…as it often does…and C-Money called me out for not having done a “hair post”.

Black women and our hair is a topic infused with emotion and tons of product (wink). I swear a bitch did post briefly about hair after a sister-girl sassy bob tossing incident at Sweetie Pie’s.

Mercy!

Anyhoo…

For C-Money – That Hair Thang…
If this bitch had a dollar for every time someone has asked me why so and so did “that” to her hair…is it true that black women don’t wash their hair…can I touch your hair (for the record, NO)…and I wish I could do that with my hair, I’d be one rich bitch.

Black hair is a cultural representation…a political statement…a womanist, feminist, protest thang...defiant...obedient…and sometimes it’s just hair.

I can’t speak for everyone, but this bitch came into myself through a hair journey. My girlfriends sought a room of their own…I searched for hair of my own. Hair as the perfect unification of me…black womanblack woman….black and woman.

As a child my hair was not my own. My mother owned it. She washed it, greased it and “made it presentable” weekly by straightening it with a hot comb. The hot comb represented just how dedicated my mother was to straightening the black out of my hair. She turned on the gas range…put the metal comb in the fire…let it heat up until it was red with it…set it aside to cool slightly…sectioned out my freshly washed giant afro…applied grease…and then ran the comb through my hair sending up a distinctive stink known to anyone who has ever had their hair straightened that way.

The process was repeated until the entire head was straight.

I vividly recall being captivated by my hair immediately following.

“I’ve got white girl hair!” I thought. White girl hair being “good” and the hair I was born with being “bad”.

My mother then braided that shit, which I think is worthy of note. She could have braided the afro, but even in braid form my afro needed to be tamed.

Fascinating.

Anyhoo…

When I was 12 my mother gave me my first relaxer.

My best friend was preparing for her Bat Mitzvah and a bitch was jealous as hell. She went on and on about it and then asked me if my family had anything like a Bat Mitzvah. Desperately I searched for a good lie (fuck it) and came up with a fantastical description of the relaxer as a traditional black rite of passage.

Well, the first relaxer is an event. I think I described it along the lines of virgin Afro hair being transformed by the lye gods into diva-divine grown-up straightness.

Shit, a bitch had a hyper-developed imagination.

So, I received my first relaxer. As tears of pain ran down my face from the chemical burns this bitch was thrilled. Finally! Finally, my hair was liberated from the comb and that coveted white girl look was permanent…sort of. Every four weeks a bitch “touched up” the new growth and kept the afro contained.

When I was 16 years old, a bitch was accepted at Simon’s Rock College in the Berkshires. My first thought was Oh shit. The second thought that raced through my mind was where the fuck am I going to get my hair done? Simon’s Rock is an early college of 300 students nestled in a small New England town. True, DuBois was born there but Great Barrington is not known for having a large black population.

The black women found each other the first day.

“Where the fuck are we going to get our hair done?” was a fantabulous ice breaker. And so was the act itself. We took over a dorm room with relaxer kits everywhere and stank up the floor…laughing and talking trash…and bonding in a way our fellow students envied.

After my freshman year, a bitch transferred and was close enough to Boston to consider going to a shop for my relaxer but my ass was broke in that hand to mouth student way that simply didn’t allow for it. Again, the sisters found each other and the kits materialized.

But somewhere along the path something about my hair made me uncomfortable. I no longer wanted white girl hair, but was terrified by what MY hair meant. How would I wear it? What would I do to take care of it? Would I be able to get a job with it?

A bitch cut it all off instead. Pixified, a bitch was held captive to the relaxer even more than before! Shit, no one told my ass short hair was hard to maintain.

Sigh.

College came to an end…a job was obtained…and the pixie grew out into a sassy anchorish bob. You know what I mean, that black woman as news anchor bob?

Yeah, that shit!

Years passed by. A bitch found out I had fibroids and went on hormones that jacked my hair up and dried it out. My stylist (yeah, finally got one) and I fretted and worried as it broke off and shed. And the ladies in the shop, both customers and stylists, were fantabulous. Every four weeks I spent an evening with my emotional cheering squad of 5 sisters and it was exactly what a bitch needed when I needed it.

The shop was just like the dorm room. Sisters talking shit and giving advice while relaxer cream was applied…hair was rinsed and then neutralized…conditioners were handled to be followed by set and dry or dry and style.

It takes a couple of hours from start to finish…sometimes four hours depending on what you’re having done. Hours to bond...to cry…to rant and share and laugh…oh, and to eat dinner from that restaurant around the corner with the yummified wings.

I had surgery and Enid (my fibroids) was killed and everything shifted. A bitch shifted it…re-evaluated everything. Shit, signing a release that states in black ink on white paper that I may die during surgery was a life changing kind of thing.

A bitch moved back home…because I wanted to and needed to be near my family.

I got a job my ass wanted to go to Monday through Friday…because I wanted and needed to.

And this bitch cut out the relaxer and grew out the ‘fro…because it was time, it was right for me and it was what I both wanted and needed to do.

My hair…black hair…black woman…black and woman...me and mine.

Into the shop, a cut followed by a shape...followed by wash, conditioner and moisturization.

Done?

Done!

I like to think my hair thang is a coming of age 26 years in the making…

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

And a righteous fro it is! Thanks ABB.

-C Money

B. Kitty said...

Beautiful post, friend. I'm glad C-Money worked this one out of you.

Its nice on occasion to see a glimpse into the inner bitch.

You...and your fabulous hair...are and continue to be inspirations for us all.

pdxprofessor said...

i watched my sisters go through much the same process and even though as a boy i didn't feel the same pressure, i also grew up with very strange hair issues. my grandfather used to send me to the barber shop to get my hair cut when i started to "look like an african," and i was always a little puzzled by that statement. weren't we all at least part african, even though it was modified by the hyphenated "american?' before i got to college i contemplated getting extensions a la milli vanilli, and boy am i glad i got talked out of that. eventually i stopped cutting my hair altogether and for the last 15 years have sported increasingly long locks. i've never been happier with my hair, even though, like you, if i had a quarter for every white person who asked to touch, play with, smoke (i kid you not), or smell my hair, i'd be up there with bill gates.

love you, love your 'fro!

Geogrrl said...

Ironically, I've always hated my fine, dead-straight, "white girl" hair. It will not hold a curl or any kind of style, so I keep it short and out of my way. Growing up, I'd always wanted hair like yours.

Frances Liddell said...

I'm loving my hair whether hot combed or natural. Oh, it took me forever to love my curls. I still press every now and then, but I like the immediate impact that my natural hair makes.

kusala said...

Love the post.

Seriously, have you ever checked out Lisa Jones's book of essays, Bulletproof Diva? She does a fine rundown on the legacy of Madame CJ Walker and the quest for "good hair."

Also, there's a lengthy passage in Zadie Smith's White Teeth, where the protagonist deals with having her hair straightened for the first time in her late teens. One of the Caribbean stylists sums it up for her with the priceless line: "Girl, it's like da devil havin' a party on your scalp!"

Rileysdtr said...

My downstairs neighbors went to Simon's Rock! Great kids....

In college I worked at a large department store, and my coworker Barbara and I talked about all sorts of things when customers were not about. One night as we were folding sweaters admitted to a fascination with the thatch of thick Irish hair on my thick Irish head... and ended up running her hands through it. We were soon frankly discussing frequency of shampoos (mine at least every morning, more if I had sports practice; hers weekly plus scalp "touch-ups" as needed), styling issues, and just how much time, effort, and work she put in to maintain her sleek, professional bob. I was impressed, and remain grateful to this day for my wash-and-wear wavy short hair.

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely my hero, but your hair runs a very close second.

Emily in FL said...

Thank you thank you thank you THANK YOU for your beautiful essay. It needs to be hung up and posted over every little girl's mirror.

Emily in FL said...

Oh, and one other thing: "The Lord don't make ugly and the Lord don't like ugly."

Anonymous said...

It is funny how the hair thing is such an issue. I have the same memories as yours. I also remember people burning me while they tried to press my hair and instead of taking responsibility and apologizing they instead told me the burn happened because my hair was so short. This was so hurtful, that years later, when I wanted to lock my hair(it had grown since childhood via perms) I could not get myself to cut it off and start over. It took me ten years and a really supportive friend saying it will grow back to cut the perm out of my hair. I sported a short fro and never felt more femimine in my life. I eventually locked my hair and love it. Cutting all my hair off really made me face some issues. It was good, I am now free.

LBellatrix said...

Hair posts! I love 'em...especially when they talk about the drama of childhood and college-hood and adulthood and then OVERCOMING all that shit by giving up the lye. lol

Your story is almost exactly the same as mine except I went to college at home (so no searching for a stylist) and I already natural when my fibroids were removed (they didn't get names). And I'm completely self-styling...too many bad salon/stylist experiences to count. 11 years nappy and happy!

JO said...

What a wonderful post. I am a white woman who learned about AA hair care while working in a shelter. I had never spent the collective "hair time" I observed. I have envied AA women their bonding and close relationships.

Anonymous said...

Sorry C-Money I recall the Sweetie Pie’s hair post as it is one of my favorites. Along with the sassy grandma at the pharmacy “There is a special place in hell for you people”

Beautiful post, I absolutely adore you Bitch.

Congrats on The Advocate honor

Jules in Cairo

The Part Time Instructor said...

Reading your article about your hair made me realize that being male and white truly limited my life experiences. In the 60’s and 70’s, the only thing I worried about was that it was long (the longer the better). During the 80’s and 90’s my biggest concern was that it didn’t affect me economically (can’t stop people from judging the book by the cover). Now I’m an old fart, I get it cut three times a year so I won’t end up being a bald guy with a pony tail (parish the thought). And therein lie my life’s “Hair Experiences”. I feel I’ve missed something.

storm said...

Bless your heart. It has been a long struggle from the days when we would run onto the porch at the slightest drizzle, my grandmother used to press the stew out of our hair, and we did not want to sit in front of the stove hold our ears, so rain was a 4 letter word back then.
Now, when it rains I turn my face to the sky and smile. I love rainy days. I love my long, nappy locks. It has been a journey. And, it makes me sad to see little girls so worried about their hair that they cannot enjoy themselves.

Peace
storm_indigo

Anonymous said...

I know that it's got quite a lot less cultural baggage, but I have recently come to terms with my JewFro (my Isro, if you prefer).
I am what I am, and if I have to look like a WASP to please you, well then, I don't want to please you.
And I'll never forget the girl in seventh grade (with carefully straightened hair of her own, natch) who turned to me and said, horrified, "oh my god, you have BLACK PERSON HAIR!"