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A Hair Peace (Broadcast on CBC Montreal)

In Beauty, Culture, Education, Health, Media Writing, Opinion, Writing (all kinds) on July 25, 2016 at 3:00 AM

My first hobby was playing hairdresser to my Barbie dolls. I had my childhood in the 1970s and 1980s but I was not much different from Black children in the 1940s who chose White dolls over Black dolls in a landmark study that lead to the desegregation of American schools.

It was not that I liked chocolate skin over the cream of white colour; it really came down to the hair. I wanted straight, long, blonde, brunette or red hair, hair that blew in the wind and that I could toss over my shoulder. And when I could not wish it on my head, I used a towel instead.

Get a group of Black women together and the conversation usually turns to hair. If I had an American dollar for every time I’ve heard a Black woman’s hair story, talked about my own hair, seen a hair reference in a movie or read about hair in a book, well I could buy a lot of hair, I could pay to have my own live-in hairdresser. I thought I was the only one who changed my hair just about every week. But I have found that many other women have permed, straightened, coloured, cut, lengthened and shortened their hair as often as I have. My hairstyles have been a sign of the times inside and outside of my head.

Over the past few years I have come to stop wanting Barbie doll hair. I spent many years in hair salons stretching out my super curly hair to dead straight and walking out of the salon with the wind blowing through my hair, and being able to toss it over my shoulder. Who says wishes do not come true – for a price. Although straightening Black hair is known as perming, there was never anything permanent about it for me. There was a war happening on my head, if my hair represented a people, straight strands with the use of chemical warfare were ethnically cleansing the curly strands.

Despite the chemicals, I have always loved the atmosphere of a salon. In this predominantly White country, Black hair salons create a Black world. During the civil rights movement, in North America barber shops and hair salons became town halls for discussions on race relations. Even now, a hair salon in South Carolina is used to educate about AIDS. Places for hair are no strangers to political activity. And it is in a salon where I came at peace with the politics happening on my own head. Hairdressers looking at my natural hair and not ready to open up a jar of Bone Strait has made me rejoice in the hair God gave me.

Professor and author Gloria Wade-Gayles once said, “my hair would be a badge, a symbol of my pride, a statement of self-affirmation. “It has taken me a long time, but I finally agree.

  1. I have never wanted to straighten or cut my hair until now…natural hair was just how things went..it was me. Now that Im older, I want to start expressing myself differently, but it is really had to find information and acceptance for wanting the chemicals…
    I just feel as though people will look down on me, and say that
    i no longer take pride in my heritage.
    Personally I believe that how I act is more important than how natural my hair is! Pride comes from within, your hair and clothing have nothing to do with it.

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