Ways my hair is an armor

Lavette Williams, Editor-in-Chief

Every night before I go to sleep, I tie up my hair … I section off my curls into two parts until I am left with two pigtails and I tie a satin scarf around my head. Sometimes, if I am lazy, I plop a bonnet on. It is what mom does every night. It is what granny has done. It is what her granny used to do. It is what my ancestors did. It is something that black women have been doing for ages to prevent their hair from getting tangled and to protect their hair from breakage.

At first, I sat back and I wondered what other traditions have been passed down to generations of black women … what other customs that have been put into effect to prevent and to protect.

I wondered what other things my mom has had me do for the sake of my safety. I wondered if the hot comb that once pressed my hair straight was a coping mechanism. I wondered if the perm was a way to camouflage. Did it make my hair easier to comb or easier
to fit in? I wondered if the colorful, plastic beads were a protective style or a way to weigh down my curls. Did it give her a break or did it distract my peers from what should have been a big, frizzy crown?

I wondered…

My mom used to spend hours on me and my sister’s hair – on washing, detangling and styling it to perfection.

As I have gotten older, I have come to realize that maybe she was preparing me for perhaps one of the biggest hurdles I would encounter as a black woman, which is other’s perception of me. I have come to realize that when I walk into a room – be it a classroom, a restaurant, a job interview, a store – that it is not just the color of my skin that people are looking at. They are also looking at how I am dressed and if my hair is “combed,” and this will play some role in how I am treated.

Maybe that is why every two weeks, after days of being worn out, I dedicate hours of my day to taming the beast that can sometimes be my hair. I oil, I butter, I loc my hair. Is it easier to maintain or is it easier to suppress? Is it making it easier to comb or easier to fit in? Is it giving myself a break or is it distracting my peers?

Maybe this is why I cringe when someone reaches up to pet my hair … because my curls have been crafted to keep others away. How dare they ask me why hair is so oily or why it looks the way it looks. My hair is not meant for strangers to poke at and probe. It’s to prevent others from thinking my hair is a museum for their hands to tour. It is to protect my personal space.