Feature image by: Shalom Mwenesi on Unsplash
My boss infrequently walks around the office to say ‘hello’ to everyone. He’s a white man who dresses in cotton polos and tan slacks every day of the week. Sporadically, we’re invited to play five minutes of put-put with him to win snacks from the break room. His attempts at interacting with us are nice in theory but tainted by the reality that he’s not hoping for a genuine connection. Instead, feigning familiarity serves as a cop out to actually cultivating relationships with employees.
On one of his rounds, he paused briefly by one of my co-workers who recently removed box braids from her hair. From behind her, he reached out to touch her intentional placed puff. Her 4C kinks poked out underneath and clean, white visor.
“I had to make sure it was real. I thought it was one of those hats you buy during Halloween.”
His teasing made everyone around her laugh. She joined in and I couldn’t tell if she was laughing because his sense of humor aligned with her own or because voicing a disagreeing retort would result in her “not being able to take a joke.” He continued teasing her for a few more seconds, making it seem as if they had a growing friendship because of the small number of interactions they’ve had doing his roundabouts. I bit my inner lip as he walked passed me, ruefully thankful I hadn’t worn my hair in a way that would cause an extra amount of attention.
Being big meant being seen by someone who wanted to touch and make jokes out of a part of my body I’ve been learning to love.
I wanted no part of being big that day because it felt like it’d be a tiring battle between keeping quiet and wanting to scream.
The girl that sits next to me is Colombian. She’s trying to get her hair back to the curls she once had as a child. Right now, it’s wavy and limp due to years of dedicated flat-iron usage. Quite recently, I shared the hair typing chart with her. The chart was her first introduction to the natural hair community. And now, she attempts to offer me advice on my own kinky texture. Two days in a row I wore a headscarf to work in an attempt to spend less time untwisting my hair because our shift starts at 5:45 AM. Naturally, I want to stay in bed for as long as possible.
“Why have you been covering your hair?”
She asked me the question with eyebrows pulled downward and eyes trained on my head. “People with our hair shouldn’t hide it. I know it’s hard some days, but even on the bad ones, we have to embrace our curls.”
I tugged my scarf over my ears, suddenly conscious about being seen as someone who was ashamed. My reasoning was given to her in a polite tone, “It takes too much time. I’d rather do something else.” What originally felt like a logical solution to managing my time to fit my mood, morphed into guilt.
Being covered meant I was being seen as not loving myself entirely. To argue and advocate for rest meant I wasn’t willing to put in the time necessary to wholeheartedly embrace my kinks.
I simply wanted extra sleep and break from putting my fingers in my hair daily.
A guy in my training class said he liked my hair more when they’re in Marley twists. Except he didn’t know the word for them. Instead, he told me,
“I prefer your hair when it looks like ropes. It’s nice that way.”
My twists are tight, sleek, and neat. They’re easier to put in a bun and don’t attract too much attention since they fall below my shoulders in contrast to how my afro stretches upward and outward. In no way does Marley twists make me seem more white. But, undoubtedly, the preference for this style roots itself in the idea that hair should be tamed in order for it to look attractive.
I wish I had the courage to challenge him with the question: “Why doesn’t my hair usually seem “nice.” But, it’s too aggressive. Too bold. Too argumentative for the workplace. Though I honestly would like to understand. I’m curious if his preference can be attributed to a conscious or unconscious association to Euro-centric beauty standards. Or was it simply because without an afro there was nothing else for him to comment on about my appearance.
I put my hair in Marley twists to minimize my day-to-day drama. Surprisingly, it became the source of attention that left me annoyed because once again, I was forced to think about my appearance by a stranger who saw nothing but an end result in a complicated process.
For years I’ve managed and studied exactly what my hair loves, likes, and hates. I’ve ignored it in anger because it didn’t respond to how I wanted. I’ve de-prioritized its needs in favor of things like mental health. I’ve coddled it when it’s going through a new, difficult stage of growth. I don’t always want to be big, embrace the kinks, or twist it up so it falls towards the floor.
My hair and I don’t need outside opinions. Our relationship is and will always be strictly monogamous. My decisions on how I present it to the world don’t need comments. I know wearing natural hair is powerful. My hair speaks to people, but here’s the thing: It’s giving a lecture. So, sit back and learn. Commentary is not necessary.