Is my hair too ethnic for you? Too distracting? Too Black?
I’d be lying if I said those thoughts haven’t crossed my mind from time to time as I styled my hair. Even this morning, when I tried out a puff-ponytail faux hawk for the first time. Today was my son’s very first day of soccer practice and as I was getting ready to do my hair, for the slightest second I thought, “Will the other parents look at me strangely?” Last year when I was starting a new job, I contemplated if getting crochet twists would be “too much.” On numerous occasions, I’ve wondered if the environment in which I was going to be in was “Bantu knot friendly.” In nearly every single instance in which I’ve doubted the appropriateness of my hairstyle, I’ve always gone through with it. It’s usually just a quick reassurance or pep talk I have with myself that usually goes something like this:
“What the hell are you talking about? This is your hair and you can style it whatever way you want! You don’t have crazy, unnatural colors. It’s not obstructing anybody’s view. It’s just hair. Your hair! And if they got a problem with it, too bad!”
But it’s still a bit unsettling to realize that I have those initial, uneasy thoughts to begin with. Why am I still self-conscious about my hair? Why are many of us still self-conscious about our hair? I know I’m not alone. I’ve had friends admit that they still feel the need to straighten their hair for special occasions. Even outside of the pressures and stigma of natural hair being unprofessional in the workplace, many of us still struggle with how others will perceive our appearance, no matter what the environment.
This issue appears to be two-fold:
- As a collective, the Black community struggles with self-acceptance and an innate desire to assimilate due to the hundreds of years in which our very being was hated upon and branded as “ugly.”
- The reclaiming of our identity, rooted in the African diaspora that impacts the way in which we educate ourselves and thus, style our hair, among a plethora of other things, causes white people discomfort.
Why are we made to feel as though we have to accommodate others in regards to how we style ourselves? Is that my problem or should it be yours? When do we, as a country and as a people, reach an understanding that there is immense beauty in our differences? Our aesthetics can be completely different, and yet equally beautiful and appropriate. The standard of beauty in mainstream a.k.a. white society has historically been one note. All other cultures have been expected to dance the same dance to the tune of that note. And although us Black folk have ingeniously created our own music, our own dance parties, and our own note — we seem to clam up a bit when we have to venture across campus to the “other party.” And if I’m honest, I don’t know how we change that.
In regards to our two-fold issue, I don’t have the answers to how we can combat the first problem. I’d love to leave that discourse open to you guys — to provide insight and/or your own experience of how you fight the urge to assimilate. But as for the second part, I’d like to address any and all people who feel uncomfortable with my natural hairstyles and feel the obnoxious need to say something about it with this:
Title photo: "The Woman" by Bazil Ngode.