Black in America | The Dark Skin, Long Hair Paradox
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
When I went natural, one of my goals was to grow long hair. At first, my goal was bra step length, then mid-back length, and finally waist length. I attribute my length to a very intimate knowledge of my hair. I listen to it, as if it held the knowledge of the universe in each little strand. So I know when it's time to moisturize my hair, when I have to wash, and when I have to just leave it alone. So, the first time someone questioned my race in regards to my hair, I was a little miffed to say the least...especially because I spent 5 minutes explaining my natural hair regimen to her.
Since then, I've gotten that question both online and offline, as well as being accused of wearing weave. While the questions and accusations are frustrating, the reason behind it is hurtful and ignorant. Because of my darker complexion, I can't have long hair. It can't be soft. It has to be short, dry, and "nappy." And if I want long hair, I have to rely on weave.
I've always had my blackness questioned. To many people, regardless of race, black people are a monolith defined by their interests, education level, and vernacular, instead of geographical ancestral origin. So, I’ve never fit the standard definition of “black.” As a petite, highly educated, Inland Northern American English speaker, who was born and raised in suburbs, I don’t fit the archetypal standard of a black woman…add the length of my hair into the mix, and I’m an anomaly (though I know black woman like me are not rare or even uncommon). Add on my darker skin complexion, and I’m the only known species of my kind in the universe.
I’ve gotten many assumptions about my background, of which the most common is Ethiopian. I’ve also gotten Hispanic, Filipino, and Indian (both American and Southeast Asian). When I follow up with “no, black American,” the puzzled faces are endless. Because if I am black, I am obligated to embody the negative stereotypes constantly bombarded by the media, news, and most importantly, the perceptions within their mind. I have to be separate from their stereotypes, which is, to say the least, disappointing and depressing. My sheer existence, an indication that their perception needs to be, at the very least, challenged, is not strong enough to shatter their prejudice. So they keep asking, “are you mixed?”
There is a bittersweet lining to the gloomy cloud of stereotyping. At least once a month, I get a very humbling message in my inbox; a parent thanks me for helping their daughter love her hair. I know it’s not easy for a girl, let alone a black girl, to grow up in this world. So for me to give a young girl the inspiration and confidence to love her hair, is one of the best compliments of all.