Friday, July 9, 2010

Dispatches From Nappyville: I don't have "good" hair

This morning at the doctor's office, a friendly African American nurse became entranced by my hair. She patted it gently while measuring my height. "I love your hair!" She stole glances at my thick chunky 'fro/week-old twist out while taking my blood pressure. Then, peering closely at my head, she asked, "How did you get it that way?

Me: "I just put a few big twists in and took them loose."

Nurse: "Hmmm...What grade of hair do you have? Does it curl naturally? Do you have good hair?"

Me: (pause) "Well, my hair is natural. I don't have any chemicals in it."

Nurse: "Oh, yeah, then you've got that good hair. It's cute!"

Good hair. If there are two more loaded words in the black beauty lexicon, I don't know what they are.

Here is what I find curious every time I have had this discussion since deciding to go natural (and I have had it numerous times): I don't believe in the concept of "good hair," but I know exactly what type of hair black folks are referring to when they invoke that phrase...and it ain't mine.

My hair is not silky. I don't have big, uniform curls. My hair grows out and is thus slow to reveal its true length. It's super thick and not combable when not wet and well-conditioned. No one, back in my hair relaxing days, ever put the words "Tami" and "good hair" together in a sentence. In fact, my stylist used to make a big show of having to go in the back and get the strong stuff to tame my kinks. In its multiple textures, my hair reveals my racial heritage--most especially my African roots. I love my hair. It is great hair. But it is not good hair--not in the way my kindly nurse meant the words.

So, why do I (and so many of natural-headed friends) get accused of having "special" hair, when our manes are really unremarkable? I suspect it is because black women are taught that big, kinky curly, fluffy, non-combable hair can't be pretty--that hair that reveals its African roots isn't "good."

I have written often of my weariness at white people exoticizing my black hair. But what makes me sadder than having my looks marginalized by the majority culture is when my own people, convinced as they are of our hair's deficiency, communicate their conviction that only exceptional black hair can be pretty, when they marvel at my hair for doing precisely what theirs might do without chemicals or weave.

Now, I dig a compliment as much as the next person. If feels good to know someone else thinks my hair rocks as much as I do. But these encounters with other black women often leave me lamenting our collective lack of knowledge about our own natural tresses (this is what happens when you relax, weave and wig from the cradle to the grave) and how good they can look. I am left damning the the Eurocentric beauty standard and the hold the notion of "good hair" has on my people.

Photo credit: Nodlem


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