Wednesday, February 5, 2014

black hair

Black hair. I feel like I should stop this post right here as there is NO WAY I can do the beauty and complexity and culture of black hair justice. Whatsoever. I think its pretty safe to say that many (most?) white folks have never been introduced to the hair culture within the African American community. How many of those reading this have ever…

a) talked with an African American woman about hair and identity,
b) can recognize a weave when they see one
c) could participate in on a conversation about hair moisturizers or part fatigue
d) have seen the Chris Rock documentary Good Hair   (ps, not endorsing, just saying)

The reality is that most white women will never know anything about black American hair unless a black sister opens that door. If you are still scratching your head and wondering, what is the big deal?,… there’s too much to say in a simple blog post, and besides, its better heard from an actually black woman with actually black hair. Which is not me. I pray pray pray that my readers have a diverse enough friend group that learning about black hair is as simple as asking the friend you already have, while sitting together at the next lunch date you already have planned.


The thing that has always stood out to me about hair in this culture is that the braiding of hair EQUALS female bonding. After field work, in the post-lunch lull of the late afternoon, you’ll always find pods of women gathered under a tree braiding each other’s hair. The braider is usually sitting on the ground and the braid-ee rests her head in the braider’s lap with neck all crooked – but she’ll stay there for 1-3 hours until her hair is complete. As the women sit and braid, they chat, share gossip, laugh and enjoy each others’ company. Girls being girls, women being women. From time to time I crash a braiding sesh. I’ve tried to be a good sport and endure the yanking and pulling, and praise the good Lord my neighbor ladies decided for themselves that my hair is just not braidable. Instead I just sit and listen and make a really big fuss about how fabulous the girls look and make them laugh when I say that their husbands best come home and tell them they look mighty fine.

When Bronwyn was born, people commented on her hair more than anything else. Its color, texture, length. Even still, I frequently hear comments on how long her hair is getting, far more than comments on her clothes or skin or chub. I’ve wondered how she would feel when her girl friends all started braiding each other’s hair. Will she want me to corn-row hers too? Will she feel left out? Will she feel less girly if she sports "boring" braids and her friends have beads and colors and all kinds of pizzaz? Or will she merely learn to appreciate the differences of how God has made us? Kinky, straight, dark, light. I’m thankful that she seems to be getting in there just fine. 

This is Bronwyn with Beauty, whom Bronwyn calls Booty, bless her heart. Beauty might be the most patient six year old on the planet because she sat right there FOR-EV-ER and let Bronwyn flop her cotton braids around and look really intense and act like she totally knew what she was doing. It was precious. 

look that that face. love it.
It was also the first time I had seen Bronwyn really notice hair like that, and it gives me hope that she is heading down a path of enjoying the hair culture right along with her Zambian peers. There is a part of me that hopes that she will one day be an amazing bridge builder as she sits with Zambian - or American or Haitian or any other nationality black women, and in all her blonde-ness, can still dish about styles and products and hair issues. But most of all, I hope she uses the context of hair to learn to love herself and love her sisters well – braids, buns, bobs and all.

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