Sins of The Mother
This past Sunday was “Natural Hair Day” on Twitter which meant that each story told by women of color involving natural hair put the hashtag #naturalhair. It was exciting, inspiring and down right hilarious to hear women and some men talk about what natural hair meant (or didn’t mean) to them.
But it also got me to thinking, while I am truly happy to be nappy my journey here was a hard one and I am finding it just as difficult a struggle trying to instill pride into my daughters about their beautiful bouncy, thick, soft and nappy tresses.
Eight years ago I was un-be-weave-able! I regularly spent 2-500 bucks on hair and weaving. I wasn’t bald, my natural hair was shoulder length but that was not enough.
I have memories of my mother as a girl raking a large tooth comb through my hair as I clawed and screamed, as I begged and pleaded; all the while she berated me for having nappy hair.
“…you bet sit still with this nappy ass hair. So got’damn tender-headed.”
If I moved too much, I would get popped with the back of a brush or have my head snatched fiercly to the left and right resulting in what had to be an acute case of whiplash when we were finished. The result were cornrows so tight that I looked Japanese and a headache that I knew better than to complain about. Many of my girlfriends have similar stories and we joke about them know as if they are fond memories. But the truth is, for me they were traumatic.
I hated my hair. I watched family members and friends coo and fawn over my mixed cousins hair or comment about how the length of certain celebrities hair. I grew up with terms like good hair and whatever it was I knew I didn’t have it.
Take this and add it to fact that I was dark, with big lips, ordinary brown eyes and round and I just never really felt good about myself. I yearned to be lighter, to have that “good” hair, to be slimmer. I wanted to look like Lisa Bonet or Jasmine Guy. Not black ass Tanya. So as soon as I got old enough and had a steady job I bought me a pack of European Yaki and had my college friend Shonnie sew it in for me. I went to school down south at an all black college and there were serious colorism issues and hair fell right in there.
The first day I had my new hair, I remember other girls telling me how nice it looked, the boys kept their gaze on me a little longer and I suddenly felt a little more powerful. It was a temporary wound that I kept trying to heal and it wasn’t working.
Then I got pregnant at 21 and I started to think about what kind of woman I wanted to raise my little girl to be. I realized that I had to lead her by example, that I had to be the woman I wanted to mold her into. I wanted her to be powerful, dynamic, intelligent and secure. I was not secure by a long shot and there started my personal journey.
Now I have three daughters and a son. I have long reconciled with being a strong, black woman with powerful features, round frame and natural hair. But that was my journey. How do I lead my daughters so that they can have their own?
My eldest daughter’s first book was bell hooks Happy to be Nappy. I bought ethnic dolls with natural hair. I shared with her pictures of other powerful beautiful black women. I explained my locs to her and let her play in them anytime she wanted and I always told her she was beautiful. Yet she cries for me to perm her hair, she much prefers white dolls over black and she goes to a primarily Latino school where she often comes home crying that someone made fun of her hair. My second oldest has told me point blank the the white dolls are prettier and she hates her hair.
Our hair rituals consist of detanglers, sectioning and brushing. My begging her to stop crying and her screaming I am hurting her. The truth is while I love the textures of their hair I hate doing it. I don’t wash it, I send them to my stepmother for that because I can’t take the pain I see in their eyes. I don’t know how to reconcile with the fact that despite my playing in their beautiful, nappy tresses and my homemade mixtures of rosemary and coconut oils that I slather in their hair lovingly they still hate it. I feel as if they are rejecting me. That I am failing at instilling pride and security into them and that breaks my heart.
I do not want to repeat the sins of my mother or her mother or the mother before her. I want to break the cycle of hair-loathing that permeates many young girls of color. I don’t want my daughter, running out and buying a perm kit as soon as she gets her own little money but more importantly I want my daughters to know that they are beautiful just as God made them. And they are indeed beautiful. I also yearn that they think me beautiful too.