Hair and Now
Originally published at Anti-Racist Parent:
A week before my five-year-old daughter's dance recital, her instructor, Miss Debbie, pulled me aside.
"We're asking that all the girls wear their hair in a bun."
I looked at Jasmin's golden-brown mane that was pulled neatly into a single puff on the top of her head. Each perfectly spiraled strand was infused with the genetic code of women who came before my child, myself and every other black woman in our family tree. These weren’t the girl next door’s curls. "A bun?"
The fitter-than-thou fifty-something in a black leotard, tights and pink leg warmers looked me squarely in the face. “Yes.”
"I'm not sure if it will do that." I knew I sounded kind of strange, sitting there talking about my daughter's hair as if it had a life of it's own. But it did.
“Try." Miss Debbie gave Jasmin a once-over before standing up to sashay down the hallway. I had no idea the woman was even half as narrow-minded as she had just revealed. I could have sworn I saw her do a pirouette before she went back into the classroom.
It wasn't the first time I'd had this type of discussion about the “proper” way a female of color should be coiffed for something. In high school, the captains of my cheerleading squad insisted that we all wore french braids. Never mind the needs of Tiffany Williams, who wore her hair in intricately designed cornrows, or Mia Kim who wore her jet-black hair in a chin length bob. I hated the idea that this incident was the first in a series that would drill a negative idea into Jasmin’s psyche that something about her “ethnic” hair is problematic. And I didn’t appreciate Miss Debbie for initiating the conversation.
Later that evening, I called to my mother for a second opinion. She calmly reassured me that yes, Jasmin's hair might be sort of "kinky", but I could surely get it into a bun if I wanted to badly enough. I just had to get Jasmin to sit still long enough so that I could blow dry it straight and then flat iron it with searing heat so it would be straight enough to twist into a bun (easier said than done). It wasn’t exactly what I’d wanted to hear. You’d think I never made my mom want to fling the comb at the ceiling in frustration (on countless occasions) as I ripped myself from her grasp – mid-braid, mind you – and ran to the bathroom complaining of “chest pains”. I wasn’t about to send her grandbaby on Miss Debbie’s stage looking like the African American understudy of Little Orphan Annie, but the bun wasn’t happening. Less because it couldn’t than because, at that point, I was pissed.
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