Hair Politics: Vignettes
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Someone asked me the other day why I think about being Black.
It was an ignorant question, but it made me think about all the “extra” mental work I do each day regarding how I interact with concepts and the physicality of space and place.
I think it is important to deconstruct the ways Blackness defines and locates experiences both in larger historical narratives and systemic structures. And, for me, sometimes the best ways in which to do this is by telling personal stories. Too often our segregated lives (be it in race, politics, wealth, sexual orientation or ability) inform our ability to empathize and humanize one another.
When we don’t know each other, it is easy to dehumanize one another.
And, hair politics is often a vehicle used to examine the various struggles black women face.
As I think about my recent move to the southwest, I found myself rethinking a few scenarios in which hair politics informed and informs my daily experiences.
Shortly after we move, I decide to schedule a hair appointment. I need a trim and I’m not familiar enough with the local salons to know where to start.
I do my regular search on Google, Instagram and Facebook and gather a list of six salons. I sit down, pick up my phone and start making calls.
“Hi…I was wondering if your salon does Black hair?”
Learning how to ask if a salon does Black hair didn’t come easily to me. I will never forget going to a salon once where I forgot to specify and they told me, to my face, that they didn’t do my kind of hair.
Now, I always make sure I remember to ask. Every time. At the beginning.
Each salon has their own way of saying ‘whites only.’
“Thank you for calling but we don’t do afro hair.
“…We don’t do natural hair…”
“…We only do relaxed hair…”
“…We don’t do kinky hair…”
“…We don’t do virgin hair…”
“…We don’t do African hair…”
The chair is cold that I’m sitting on. I clutch my binder and will myself not to think about the fact that my hair is pulled back in a Teeny-Weeny Afro (TWA).
Corporate jobs often ‘require’ relaxed hair.
Will my hair disqualify me?
It’s been a few weeks and I still haven’t been able to find a local hair stylist. Beside the fact that the chemicals required to relax black hair can cause horrible burns and make your hair fall out.
I squeeze my eyes shut and send out an SOS prayer. I open my eyes and breathe.
The supervisor comes out. A black woman. She has hair pulled back in a TWA.
I catch the laugh building in my throat and smile.
On the second time visiting our new church, someone comes to give me hug.
She puts her hands in my hair and pulls the braids. “Lovely.”
I know she is probably “just curious.” But curiosity by white folks often feels like entitlement.
When my white husband pulls a fuzzy off one of my braids, I can hear the Black couple next to gasp.
I turn and smile.
“It’s okay.” I manage. “He is my husband.”
They laugh and say a version of, “we got you, sista!”
There is a young Black woman standing behind the counter at the cash register. Her hair is pulled back into a small, tight ponytail. Her edges look on point, and I tell her so. She smiles and returns the favor.
We gab for a few minutes about hair and I ask her if she has any hair stylists she recommends. She does but says that for the most part it is best to do your own hair out here unless you want to travel an hour and a half to Phoenix.
We both roll our eyes and laugh knowingly.