Black Beauty and Required Learning

photoIt’s been a rough few days for black hair. Either the way it grows out of our heads or how we wear it.

Please, don’t take my wrap, I prayed silently as I watched Rihanna walk on the American Music Awards stage to accept her first award.

Her hair was tightly wrapped in a doobie (for you Northerners and Dominicans) complete with the extra long bobby pins. She was stunning, and while I won’t comment on whether it was in order or not, I knew at that moment, just maybe, my wrap was stolen. I could see it. Women of all colors and cultures being photographed in mainstream magazines like Ok! Magazine sauntering down the streets of NYC and L.A. with their hair wrapped sans hair scarves. It would become the next big trend to be drained, along with bling, butt and twerking. I cringed at the thought.

That belongs to women of color. And it’s especially serious for black women.

I know it’s petty. It’s not even a real hairstyle (Did you hear that, people? You’re not really supposed to be in the public with a wrap). Why am I holding on to it, you ask?

I got my first wrap sometime around 1992 as a newly relaxed 12-year-old, and I never looked back. I, a creature of habit, have had pretty much the same hairstyle for 20 years, and they all have required me wrapping my hair every night and securing it with a scarf or a bonnet. It’s a ritual for black women with relaxed or natural hair. Our mothers know it. Our boyfriends and husbands know it. We (usually) don’t take a wrap down for any ol’ thing. It has to be something serious to remove that scarf and grab the comb. I guess that speaks volumes about the value of the AMAs to RiRi.

That’s why when she returned to the stage with studded pins, proving that she meant to keep her doobie up, and I knew that moment had come. They’d either snatch it up as a trend or overlook it because they’re not sure what it is exactly. referred to the wrap/doobie as a “faux pixie crop.” Some social media commenters asked if a doobie was a joint. Talk about clueless. Le sigh.

Then there’s Vanessa VanDyke.

This young girl had been given a choice to either cut her natural hair or be expelled from her school Christian Faith School in Orlando, and thankfully, she will choose the latter. She’s reported saying, “I’m depressed about leaving my friends and people that I’ve known for a while, but I’d rather have that than the principals and administrators picking on me and saying that I should change my hair.”

We’re still doing this? A young child who has a head full of unaltered beautiful hair is a problem, a distraction even? What a way to make a child feel loved and accepted.

White folks don’t know much about us, do they? I won’t raise hell over it, but there’s an annoyance there because minorities are forced to learn about whites, from school curriculum to what we see in the media for even entertainment purposes (a plethora of reality shows aside). Let’s go back a bit.

In elementary school until about sixth grade, my friends and I were obsessed with Teen Magazine even though we weren’t quite there yet in age. We’d scour our school library every month, going straight for the tear-out booklets that were included in every issue. Though we ripped through every page, even then I felt excluded in a way because I didn’t see or read anything that pertained to my friends and me. There were complete sections about how to tan properly, get sun-kissed, beach-blond hair, the perfect chignon or shave your legs with Nair.

There were no stories on how to take care of your hair at night because we didn’t (atleast then) have the luxury of washing our hair daily for a fresh look or how to achieve the perfect wrap, which was now my go-to regimen because I’d gotten a relaxer at age 12. Teen Magazine couldn’t help me on that front, but thank God for Mama and hairstylists.

My point is, at an early age I knew those things about white women without having grown up in a predominately white environment. They might not have known as many things about black folks outside what they heard on the radio or news. Honestly, why would they? When you set the agenda, you also set and control the standard of beauty and what is acceptable. You don’t dare bother to find out what others are doing because eventually, they will fall in line because they’re beat over their heads with constant imagery.  Or so you hope.

Generally, cultures do their own way of doing things and those outside of the culture are oblivious because we may not have or may not want access to others. Perhaps, it’s not so much racism or exclusion as it is human nature. Oprah once aired a show that exposed women of various races and cultures’ beauty secrets. Who knew that the white woman’s sole goal is achieve the perfect  shade of blond?? Or that some Asian women would give their right arms to have a crease in their eyes? Indian women, too, have colorism issues?

We pitched fits when Chris Rock unmasked our hair secrets for the world to see in his film, Good Hair. It seems as if one part of us wants to keep what’s ours close before it’s shelled out to mainstream America for mass production. We’re protective of our customs and what we do, but we also wonder why whites don’t know much about us—our daily lives, how we groom ourselves or connect with one another. Can you be that clueless? Maybe it’s not that we want our “stuff” to be given a thumbs up, or in some cases, taken. Atleast try to be aware of it, and know that it’s sometimes different, but beautiful and normal—not a novelty or distraction.


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