You could be standing in a queue waiting to pay your bills and a curious someone will tap you on the shoulder…
Or you could be apprehending a dangerous criminal when an innocent bystander interrupts your karate chop…
You could even be sitting in a Metrorail train, having ‘forgotten’ to buy a ticket, when a ticket inspector with arms the size of a baobab trunk walks towards you, stops in front of you and just as you say your last prayers asks:
‘Eh, sorrysisi, can I just ask.
Do you prefer to have your hair like that or…?’
Invariably, ‘like that’ means not relaxed. ‘Like that’ means without Peruvian, Brazilian or whatever South American extension you prefer. ‘Like that’ means natural – no straightening, no braiding and no chemical processing.
If you’re a black woman, as sure as the sun rises every morning, you’ve had to field questions about your hair. In the right context and if done respectfully, I think it’s okay for people to be curious and to want to understand your hair better. I think it’s good to ask questions.
But after a recent encounter that my sister Shona had with a cashier at the supermarket, I’ve started to see this particular question differently.
The problem with ‘Do you prefer to have your hair like that or…?’
My friend Dudu is a tall woman. She is beautiful and statuesque. Her height gives her presence so when she walks into a room, people always notice her. Now imagine a curious stranger walking up to her and saying,
‘Ah, I’m just curious. Do you prefer to have long legs or…?’
In that moment Dudu has two choices. Option one is to remove her earrings, put on her sneakers and call a lawyer because she’s about to hurt somebody. Option two is the more civil (and less criminal) course of action where she calmly explains to the curious stranger that she doesn’t prefer to have long legs.
Dudu’s long legs are natural. Her legs aren’t something that she decides to put on in the morning or to leave at home. In fact, their length was written into her DNA. It is genetics.
Asking someone if they prefer to have natural hair is as bizarre as asking a tall person if they prefer to have long legs. It is their natural hair; that is how it grows out of their hair follicles. If a woman chooses to keep her hair as it grows out of her head, it should not be an event or a cause for concern.
People shouldn’t be ‘ooh-ing’, ‘ah-ing’ and staring when a black woman with an afro walks into a room and yet they often do. They ought not to be asking you if you’re sick or broke or depressed because your hair is unprocessed. They shouldn’t look perplexed and bewildered because you’ve had the ‘courage’ to show up at work with a natural hairdo.
Having said that, we shouldn’t be surprised that people are confused. You don’t often see tall people lengthening or fundamentally altering their legs. But we know that black women pay top dollar to make their hair look anything other than its naturally occurring state.
I’m not here to judge, I’m just came to clear up the confusion:
Weaves are a preference.
Box braids, twists and ‘carrot’ are a preference.
Chemical processing and straightening are a preference.
Natural hair is biological. You do not buy it in a box or take it out of a packet. It is given by God’s sovereignty, not human choice. It is NOT a preference.
Sisters, let’s stop this ridiculousness
The weird thing is that most of the people asking this question aren’t black brothers, or white people, or even alien invaders with voices like T-Pain and three fingers on each hand. This question is asked most often by black women. Women who should know better!
They know what it’s like to sit under a hairdresser’s hand as she painstakingly gives you the details of her relationship with her husband, fights the liberation struggle against the oppression of your knots and commits the worst war crimes on your hairline.
They know what it’s like to twist their necks in all kinds of crazy positions for ten hours and to not be able to lay your head down on anything without feeling like someone’s cutting through it with a hundred machetes that have been sharpened on both sides.
They KNOW. And yet they see nothing strange about the question:
‘Do you prefer to have your hair like that or…?’
I have a dream…
That one day you won’t have to sprint from the taxi into the salon in record breaking time for fear that the world will lay eyes on your hair in its natural state. I have a dream that one day we can all sit together sipping rooibos tea as we discuss the permanent exile of our hairlines and how if we could turn back the hands of time, we would’ve insisted that Sis’ Bea not pinch those baby hairs so tightly.
I have a dream that my daughter will one day not need to explain to her four year old friends that her momma would rather not process her hair with poisonous chemicals and is happy to contend with it every morning or just trim it shorter. These things are self-evident.
I have a dream, today, that you will wake up and see that the way that you were created is good and pleasing and ‘normal’; that you wouldn’t be pressured to make the natural you a political statement or a form of artistic expression.
Today, my hope is that you will come to accept yourself for who you are and your hair for what it is without feeling the need to justify it or explain it.
And when you hear that question (inevitably, you will), may you be like my sister Shona and answer,
‘I don’t prefer to have my hair like this any more than a tall person prefers to have long legs. It is what it is.’
©Zola Ndlovu 2015. No reblogging and no republishing without permission of the author.