What Is It With Black People and Hair Done-ness?

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When I was a kid, all I wanted was to look like one of the little girls in the Just For Me commercials. Their hair was silky straight, and styled perfectly, either worn down, or in twisted sections with colorful barrettes. They looked so happy and so cute.

Well, let’s just say I did not look a damn thing like a girl on a Just For Me box. Besides me wearing football t-shirts and soccer shorts all the time, having horrible teeth, and thick monstrous glasses, my hair was never done. And it damn sure wasn’t silky smooth. This is for a couple of reasons. First, the task of hair styling is most often left to moms. I have an awesome, attentive mom who happens to be white, with super straight hair. There is a steep learning curve for styling thick curly hair. Combing means “ouch,” and no mother likes to hurt her child, especially when that mom is not used to the concept of hairstyling being a painful thing. She eventually learned the deal, and got pretty good at doing hair after watching a neighbor do it and seeing that tears were to expected, and that if a kid cried it was only because she was “tender headed” and not because they’re snatching kids’ hair out by the root. Another reason I did not look like those Just For Me girls? I was not allowed to have a perm. How can you look like the girl on the perm box with no perm? My parents were very opposed to me slathering burn-inducing chemicals on myself, at least as a small child. I hated the fact that I was forced to contend with my natural hair when every other black girl that I knew had straight, relaxed hair. I got made fun of by everyone. Why was my hair so weird? Why did I have an afro? It made me feel like a freak, and I did everything in my power to conceal the fact that I had curls. Mostly, this involved brushing my hair into an excruciatingly tight ponytail, which I braided, and stuffed into a large scrunchie, or having my mom braid my hair when she could. Obviously, I would never wear my hair loose unless I really had a hankering for ridicule. 

Fast forward to today, I have learned to accept my hair for what it is and what it isn’t. I have been to perm land and back to natural, and on most days I do not spend more than 15 minutes styling my hair. As an adult, I have learned that being confident enough to do whatever it is that you want with your hair (perm or no perm) is a million times better than trying desperately to emulate what you see in a commercial or on a box in a drug store.

Given my past hair struggles, and my current status as a General in the DGAF* Army, I am sort of baffled by the obsession with hair done-ness, and the lengths that we will go to in order to shame people who to not conform to our hair expectations. Notably among those we have subjected to shame is Blue Ivy, a toddler, who is the daughter of Beyonce and Jay-Z who has become the subject of a change.org petition for someone to comb her hair.

Why it is that black people are so obsessed with hair done-ness? I say black people specifically, because as someone who has spent a considerable time with people of a variety of races, I have never heard any group talk about hair, and the necessity of it being done, more than black people have. This is not to say that other races don’t have their own something that they’re obsessed about, but I think that we can agree that for black people, hair is a thing.

Form many black people, the worst thing you can do is to insult their hair. Your braids aren’t fresh enough. Perm ain’t new enough. Dude needs a lineup. Her baby hair don’t lay right, shoulda used the toothbrush and the brown gel. And so on. The fear of ridicule alone is enough to keep us up at night. Pressing. Curling. Wrapping. To the tune of a HALF TRILLION DOLLARS PER YEAR. God forbid our edges are not laid. 

What we do to reign in and control our hair as adults is one thing. But our hunger for control over wayward hair is so great that it has driven people to ridicule a child. Which is pretty gross. To be clear, the Carter family has enough money to employ traveling hair stylists to ensure that baby Blue never has a single strand left behind. But why should they have to? And why should a baby have to have her hair done?

Think for a moment on why you care what her hair looks like. Are you sincerely worried that she is not being cared for, or that her well-being is at stake? Are you worried that she won’t be able to find a job at her tender age? Are you worried that monsters live in her hair? Surely, you can’t possibly believe any of that to be true or relevant to this child’s life.

So what is the real reason why you’re mad about Blue Ivy’s hair? It isn’t rocket science. It’s because you’re a hater. What’s more simple than that? The concept of this child living her life, soiling cloth diapers made out of Versace silk, all the while not giving even a single damn about what her hair looks like just sickens you. How dare her be so care free?

To be clear, you don’t have to like everyone else’s hair. You don’t have to date someone whose hair you think is ugly, and you don’t have to grow out a curly fro if you love your relaxed hair. But can other people live the way they want to? More specifically, can we teach children that it is ok to have hair that does not look like everyone else’s?

Isn’t it enough that larger society will judge us for being too black, or too “white,” or for having locs or naps or for perming our hair? Do we need to also project that judgement on children, who God willing, do not yet know anything about the prejudices that make us afraid to wear our natural curls to work, or force our people to shave their natural styles in order to comply with racially biased military standards? If we can recognize that it is wrong for the rest of the universe to judge us according to our ability to conform to their standard of beauty, or by their traditional haircare norms, perhaps we should also recognize that it is wrong to ridicule those within the race who do not conform. I would argue that we have enough negativity and pressure to conform thrown at us our entire lives, and maybe we should just let Blue Ivy wear her hair how the fuck she wants. Or you can stay mad. Doubt it makes much difference to that toddler anyway.

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