The following is a re-post of an article originally found here on the CCNY International Studies Program blog written by yours truly.
What’s In A Curl?
It’s been over a year since I did the “big chop” which is what the natural hair community refers to as a woman cutting off all of her processed and/or damaged hair. This is an amazing and trying process as anyone who has been through it will tell you. As my hair has grown, I have been blessed in the sense that I have found a routine and styling regime that works for me, and my hair is happy and healthy. If you are familiar with the typing system, or have never seen me, my hair is a mix of 3C and 4A, with it being fine, soft, and densely packed in. It is to the point where it is very much large and in charge, and is at my shoulders when pulled. However, I have discovered something this past week in particular when it comes to my curls and natural hair in general.
A version of self-policing has happened in the women of color community when it comes to hair. This is nothing new, as documented in Chris Rock’s film “Good Hair.”Yet somewhere down the line, being “natural” became something to be marveled at by those who look like us and have hair just like “ours.” Maybe this was just a bad week for me, or maybe this is a growing trend within a particular movement. I’ll give three concrete examples, as it happened to be that each occurrence was on each day of this week and leave it up to you to decide.
Monday. I’m minding my business on the escalators of the CCNY North Academic Center (NAC) Building, on my way to the International Studies office (shameless plug). An older woman, maybe in her 40-50s, of African-American, sees me, and immediately reaches out and grabs my hair,saying something to the effect of “I love the bush!” For those of you who know me very well that can attest to this, I am not good at keeping a “poker-face” or hiding how I really feel. I politely shot her a look, and said thank you, as a means of disengaging in the conversation. Didn’t work. She continued on by asking how long have I been a natural, and talked about her wig collection before she finally rejoined the conversation she was originally having.
Tuesday. Once again, I’m alone roaming CCNY in my Tuesday/Thursday routine of getting breakfast. A woman, again African-American and 40-50+ age range, clearly saw me and approached me just before I could get away and asks “Can I touch your hair?” You would think I would have been happy that she asked, but even when I shook my head no, she touched it anyways. I replied by saying that given that I was sick touching me wasn’t such a good idea (I didn’t know it then, but I would have a fever by the end of the night), to which she said “oh it’s not about that.” Then what is it really about?
Wednesday. In the NAC Building (surprise), in route to class with a friend who is a genuine fan of my afro. Another older, African-American woman, in the 40-50’s range (notice anything?) on the escalator stops me and asks me at least 5-7 questions in what felt like a field interview. She asked what made me go natural, to which I said that I forgot what my curl felt like (which is my actual reasoning), and then goes on to ask what my mother thought. Why? I gave an appropriate confused look and said that my mother was already a natural, so it was just a matter of learning how to take get my hair texture as hers was different. I thought she would be satisfied and would let me go to the class that I was now late for. Wrong again. That statement opened a can of worms that led to her asking where my mother was from, and where my dad was from. Once she learned that my father was from Guyana and St. Kitts – she reached her eureka moment, saying something like that’s why, West Indians have that fine, soft hair like yours.
The common theme of these three days is that, either my personal space or personal being was offended at some point. Sometimes at the same time! I don’t think this was done out of malice, but I do think that the types of conversation and the actions that came with them were dictated by the broken logic that since they are women of color as well, they can interact with me in any fashion. If you haven’t noticed by now, this is not the case. There is a clear distinction to be made between lack of knowledge and general curiosity, and just a flat-out lack of respect of people’s boundaries and beliefs. It is also a social construction issue as well, particular Ms. Wednesday’s rationale that because of my ethnicity, that has to be why my hair does what it does. West Indians are of a varied racial background, from Guyana, to the Dominican Republic, to Trinidad and Tobago. This doesn’t however mean that just because our journey to the Western Hemisphere was slightly different, we always have different hair patterns. If I could do these instances over, I would dodge Ms. Monday’s hair grab, firmly tell Ms. Tuesday no, and ignore Ms. Wednesday’s interview.
On a brighter note, in closing; after being approached by a classmate about my natural hair journey, she took the plunge and did a big chop of her own within the past two weeks. If I can continue to inspire others in a journey of personal self-discovery (on any level) – then I will be grateful and blessed to do so, while taking the Ms. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays of the world in stride.