By Tenisha Mercer
Sometimes the limits that we put on Black hair are just amazing ... and not in a good way.
Went to a cosmetology school in Metro Atlanta to get my hair and my daughters' hair straightened. My hair was breaking off something bad (I've lost inches) due to stress and God knows what else (I am on thyroid meds).
Anywho, the stylist (who was Black) who did my daughter's hair asked her, "What she was mixed with?"
My daughter told me about the exchange in the car and I told her that people think that Black folks can't grow any hair (this particular daughter is constantly weave checked by other Black folks).
A few hours later, the same stylist asked me the same question, as another stylist did my hair: "What are you?"
I told her, with a confused look on my face -- Black, just plain ole Black! Nothing else, just black. Then she said, 'Well, you must have some Indian in your family.' I told her I do, but I'm overwhelmingly Black and I don't play the Indian up.
You don't see Indian when you look at me (I may have the high cheekbones and a crazy curl pattern), you see Black; that is what you see first, that's what I am. Then she proceeded to tell ne we had that 'good' hair.
This convo was about as stereotypical as it gets:
1. Black folks expect that other Black folks can't grow hair when we all know that's not true. We can grow hair, the issue is retaining it with healthy hair practices.
2. Black folks automatically think that whenever hair is wavy, curly or fine that you have to be mixed with something.
Can we just eliminate 'good' hair from our vocabulary when it refers to hair texture, thickness, etc. once and for all? As someone whose hair seems to be breaking off at every turn, 'good' hair, to me, is healthy hair that doesn't break or shed unnecessarily.
Why I hate 'good hair'
I abhor the term 'good hair' and the next person that tells me that is going to get a mouthful.
It's not a compliment, because it makes everyone else feel that they have 'bad' hair or something is wrong with their hair. Any hair that's on your head is 'good' as long as it's healthy -- and that's what I'm going to tell the next person who says it to me.
Usually, the convo is usually, 'Oh, your hair is good so you can go natural. I can't.'
It makes me feel really uncomfortable and I get tongue tied (which doesn't happen a lot). I think, more than anything, I don't want to express my frustration or anger because I really want folks who use the term to actually listen and think about what they say and not just get angry with me (you usually don't learn when you're angry) based on my response.
But this is has gotta end because all we're doing is raising kids who think the same thing because that's what they're taught. I told the stylist who did my hair that my hair is fine and I wish it was as thick as it used to be. And we talked about how Black folks CAN grow hair; about how many little girls had thick, lush ponytails growing up.
The exchange bordered on comedic because most African Americans ARE mixed with something. If you search back far enough, you'll find it as our history in this country will attest (usually Native American ancestry by choice or Caucasian ancestry often by force).
And even if you aren't "mixed," there are lots of Africans with long hair that defy the stereotype that those with presumably just African genes can't grow their hair. It's a myth, a stereotype that needs to be buried.
There are many different things that comprise "Blackness" -- from the kinkiest, coarsest of hair to the straightest. Let's take the limits -- hair, skin or otherwise -- off what it means to be "Black."
How do you handle the term 'good hair'?