Friday, August 28, 2009

Malia's Hair is Off Limits! So is Sasha's!

I read a snippet of a New York Times article in which there was criticism of the hairstyle Malia Obama wore to Italy. Twists, to be precise. Said twists were criticized as not befitting someone representing the United States abroad.

Hold up. Slow your roll, America. You don't get a say in this. Neither Malia nor Sasha "chose" to represent the United States in any way, shape, or form. And their hair, and how they wear it, is off limits. Back the eff off.

I was hotter than a hornet reading this. The whole black woman's hair thing? That's personal with me. We black women have more than enough issues and neuroses about our hair and how we wear it. It is not open to debate within wider circles, especially when there's a child involved. The choices we have, other than wearing our hair in its natural state in twists, dreads, braids, cornrows or afros, are painful -- chemical relaxers, also called "creamy crack," and searing hot straightening combs. If Malia has chosen to forgo chemical or heat straightening for her natural locks, that's nobody's business but her's and her mama's.

As a child, I was what was (and probably still is) called "tender headed" -- I had an extremely sensitive scalp. And I don't have naturally straight hair like my mother and my maternal grandmother did. I have your average, nappy black hair. So imagine the terror my mother went through trying to comb the long, kinky hair of a crying, screaming child. She gave up. My first grade photo shows me with three huge lumps of uncombed hair on my head with a braid coming out of each. Making me scream just for vanity's sake was just too much for my mother to bear.

Finally, a friend of my mother's stepped up and straightened my hair with a hot comb, out of pity for me and my mother. After that, my mom would send me to her regularly, and then to another woman, because I would still cry and scream. As I got older, I took over the care of my hair, with one exception -- my mother would straighten my hair with a hot comb. Problem was, my mother had three other daughters who also had kinky hair. My mother ended up doing a lot of straightening until my older sisters got old enough and started going to their own hairdresser -- I assume that was because either they paid for it or my mom got to the point where she could afford to send them. My mom straightened my hair every other Sunday during my adolescence until I went off to college. And my hair was not short -- when washed and dried, it looked like a Chaka Khan 'fro. When straightened, it was down to my bra strap. It was a lot of work. And there was the occasional ear burn from a hot comb that slipped from my mother's tired hands. My mother should have won a place in heaven just for dealing with the kinky hair of four little black girls.

Ever since college, I have chemically straightened my hair with relaxers, and I hate it. I still have a sensitive scalp. Just last week, after avoiding my new stylist for six months, I went to get my hair "relaxed." There is absolutely nothing "relaxing" about getting your hair relaxed if you have a sensitive scalp. I always burn. Always. Given that chemical relaxers are a derivative of lye, the danger of a chemical burn is real. Ten seconds into the process, I knew my entire scalp would be engulfed in chemical pain, and it was. First, there was the unnatural coldness of the calcium hydroxide on my scalp, which then slowly turned to a searing chemical heat. None of this was my stylist's fault, since she's relatively new to me -- if you scratch your scalp or have a sensitive scalp, you are bound to burn unless you "base" your entire scalp first, and that's still no guarantee that you won't burn, at least not for me. It was a race to the sink to get that stuff of my scalp. Tears filled my eyes, and scabs later formed on my scalp where I burned, but my hair looked fly. Still does. But when I was getting it "relaxed," I swore at myself and to myself that I would put down the "creamy crack" forever. The daily ease of styling straightened hair, however, is addicting.

I would not ask any little black girl (or grown black woman, for that matter) to risk chemical burns or getting her ears burned with hot combs for vanity's sake. Straight hair for black girls should be a choice, not a dictate, and not some concession to national opinion as to the proper way for a young black girl to wear her hair. For anyone who hasn't endured chemical burns or heat burns to the scalp to pass judgment on Malia for wearing her hair in its natural state is plain and simply wrong. If I were her age, I wouldn't straighten my hair, either. I still have fantasies of getting dreads or just shaving it all off (it's now down to my bra strap yet again -- must have been the six months off without a relaxer), but BMNB has a thing for long hair and looks like a lost puppy every time I talk about changing it. Ah, the things we do for love.

So, America, you don't get a vote, a voice, or nary an opinion as to how Malia and Sasha wear their hair unless you're willing to take a straightening comb to your own hair or let some relaxer sit on your scalp until it burns. I hate to go there, but this black women's hair thing? As they used to say in the '90's, "It's a black thing, and you wouldn't understand."

Oh, and do NOT touch our hair without our permission. We HATE that.

2 comments:

Stacey Strickler said...

I could not have said it better myself...thank you for the post!

mr. nichols said...

wow. i didn't even hear about this. you really hit it on the head in this post.