Wednesday, August 13, 2008

30 Days

That’s how long it is until my first blogiversary! My first post went up on Sept. 13, 2007. I’ll save the essay about how rewarding blogging has been for later, but I thought it might be nice to celebrate What Tami Said’s birthday over the coming month by re-running some of the posts that appeared back when I was the only one reading the blog. (Frankly, looking back at some of this stuff, I’m glad I was the only one reading the blog. What can I say, I was still finding my voice.)

The post below, which originally appeared on Sept. 15, 2007, remains one of my all-time favorites:

Nappy love: Or how I learned to stop worrying and embrace the kinks

My hair is nappy. It is coarse and thick. It grows in pencil-sized spirals and tiny crinkles. My hair grows out, not down. It springs from my head like a corona. My hair is like wool. You can’t run your fingers through it, nor a comb. It is impenetrable. My hair is rebellious. It resists being smoothed into a neat bun or pony tail. It puffs. Strands escape; they won’t be tamed. My hair is nappy. And I love it.

Growing up, I learned to covet silky, straight hair; “bouncing and behaving” hair; Cheryl Tiegs and Christie Brinkley hair. But as a young black girl, my appearance was far from the American ideal. Making my hair behave meant hours wriggling between my grandmother’s knees as she manipulated a hot comb through my thick, kinky mane. The process stretched my tight curls into hair I could toss and run my fingers through, something closer to the “white girl hair” that so many black girls admired and longed to possess.

My beautiful, straightened hair came at a price. It meant ears burned by slipped hot combs and scars from harsh chemicals. It meant avoiding active play and swimming pools, lest dreaded moisture make my hair “go back.” It meant having a relaxer eat away at the back of my long hair until barely an inch was left. It meant subtly learning that my natural physical attributes were unacceptable.

I was not alone in my pathology. Pressing combs, relaxers, weaves and the quest to hide the naps are part of the fabric of black beauty culture. It is estimated that more than 75 percent of black women straighten their hair. In the book “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America,” Ayanna Byrd and Lori Tharps write: “Before a black child is even born, relatives speculate over the texture of hair that will cover the baby’s head, and the loaded adjectives “good” and “bad” are already in the air.” In the same book, a New York City dancer named Joicelyn explains: “Good hair is that silky black shit that them Indian girls be havin’…Good hair is anything that’s not crazy-ass woolly, lookin’ like some pickaninny out the bush.”

Too often, black women find their hair hatred supported by media, men and the rest of the mainstream.Cultural and professional pressures kept me relaxing my curls for 20 years. In the late 90s, the neo-soul movement caught fire in R&B. Young, bohemian singers like Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and India Arie were rocking stylish natural looks, and I began seeing more natural heads strutting down Michigan Ave. in Chicago, where I lived. Two of my close friends took the plunge, shearing their permed hair to start anew. Suddenly natural black hair was fashionable—at least for a small group of people.

Seeing more women, however few, freed from the tyranny of constant straightening, inspired me.I began poring over books about the care and politics of black hair. I became a member of a popular Web site devoted to championing natural hair. I learned about the toxic ingredients in chemical relaxers and the lasting damage they do. I discovered the origins of negative myths about black hair. I learned how to properly care for natural locks and discovered the myriad styles that can be achieved. I met women of all ages who embraced “nappy” as a positive description. And I slowly came to realize the inherent foolishness of believing black women’s hair, apart from that of all other races, needs to be fixed—pressed, weaved and manipulated into something it isn’t.

In August 2006, after years spent admiring the growing number of nappy heads around me; fretting whether my husband would still find me attractive; worrying whether my unruly ‘fro would frighten my co-workers; I chopped my near shoulder-length hair off, leaving barely an inch of kinky curls. I was free!

My hair is nappy. It is soft and cottony, a mass of varying textures. My hair is fun to play with. I like to pull at the spiral curls and feel them snap back into place. My hair defies the laws of gravity. It reaches energetically toward the sky. My hair is unique. In a fashion culture that genuflects to relaxed, flat-ironed tresses and stick-straight weaves, my fluffy, puffy, kinky mane stands out. It is revolutionary. My hair is natural. It is the way God made it. My hair is nappy. And it is beautiful.

Tami’s Note and Update: I thought now would be a perfect time to re-run this post, because next week is my nappiversary—two years natural. (If ya’ll want to throw me a party for these upcoming celebrations, remember: I like butter cream icing; I hate chocolate cake; and clowns are disturbing.) My hair is healthy and it has grown so. Curly natural hair shows length more slowly than straight hair, but the twists I’m wearing today are brushing the bottom of my neck. The decision to accept and wear my hair in its natural state is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. That’s not hyberbole—it’s truth. “It’s just hair,” you say. But black hair has always meant something. That the vast majority of black women do not know their real hair texture…that we spend generous amounts of time and money to hide our natural hair texture with damaging heat and chemicals, and with weave hair from women of other races…that we think our natural hair is hard to manage and ugly…this is a problem. I’ve come to see the black community’s disdain for our natural physical appearance as symbolic of the self hatred that still plagues us.

If you want to listen to a great interview on this subject, check out the latest episode of New Demographic’s
Addicted to Race featuring an interview with Lori L. Tharps, co-author of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America and blogger at My American Melting Pot. You can enjoy a taste of the Tharps interview through iTunes or on the ATR Web site, but it you want to hear the whole thing, consider subscribing to ATR Premium. You’ll get in-depth interviews with people like Tharps, Tim Wise, Jae-Ran Kim and others. Check it out. (Before you decide that the price is too steep, consider how much you pay for cable with its “Flavor of Love,” Tila Tequila and BET bouncing booties. Isn’t some awesome brain food worth a fraction as much?)


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