Dear lecturer, next time, can you not call me out because of my natural hair?
I would very much appreciate it.
Today when I went to your module, nine-tenths through the semester, I was already fighting an unrelenting cold, stress from entertaining my parents who were in town from America and balancing the three upcoming papers I have due.
The last thing I needed was to be reminded I have different hair texture than most of the other students in your class. The last thing I needed you to do was to tell me that, yes, I had changed my hairstyle from the last time you saw me.
On Sunday night, I did something that for most of my life I have been afraid to do. I washed my own hair. And then I braided it (with the help of my mom of course). And, compared to what I usually do, I did not press my hair straight to resemble my other classmates. Instead I wore it out: big and curly and unapologetic.
Black women and their hair is a long, storied struggle that is not fully understood by people outside of our community. And how could you fully understand? Most of us keep our hair struggles so closeted and secret that I barely understand everything related to black hair. We have our perms, presses, weaves, twists, braids, blow outs, afros. We’ve had our traumatic experiences with chemicals in our hair, breakage, shrinkage and the “big cut.” My hair has been through nearly all of these incarnations, and since then I’ve wanted nothing more than to wear my natural hair, healthy and clean.
And during my study abroad experience I promised myself I would grow the confidence to do so. And I did.
But then I stepped inside your classroom. And you reminded me that the look of my natural hair is not, well, it’s not natural for you.
The class was already in session. The PowerPoint was up on the screen, all of my classmates were seated in their chairs and it was noon. It was time to learn.
But instead you looked at my curly, puffy hair and essentially asked who I was. Are you new to the class? You don’t look familiar. Where have you been?
When you first met me I had long black and blond box braids made possible by extensions. And that was natural to you. Ironically, however, when I do show you my natural hair, you can’t identify who I am.
Well, dear lecturer, I’ve been in your class for nine weeks straight. Granted I missed last week because I was in Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day, but then again so did three-fourths of your class. Why don’t you know me?
“I just missed one week,” I replied to you as you looked quizzically at me, still contemplating who I was, half accusing me for not being a participating student. You invited other students into guessing my identity, trying to figure out who I was or what set me apart from everyone else.
As all the other heads in the classroom turned my way to see who you were chastising I felt my cheeks grow red and my hair had never felt bigger before. Then you said: Oh, you changed your hair. Class, look at her hair, doesn’t it look great?
Yes it looks great. But it took me years to finally start believing it myself.
On Sunday night as I dosed my straight hair under the shower head and felt it curl up to a shoulder length afro, I knew I was going to get stares. Part of me regretted that I embarked on washing my own hair. I had always left that for my hair stylists.
In my 21 years of living, I have never felt quite comfortable with my hair. That’s why I religiously schedule appointments at a salon to get my hair “done.” (The fact that I need to get my hair “done” to feel comfortable, is a whole different struggle I — and society — am dealing with. But that’s for another blog.)
I’ve spent thousands of dollars on my hair to get it to look like my classmates who simply have to wash their hair once a day and they’re good to go.
So dear lecturer, as I sat in your class with everyone’s eyes on me — on my hair — I was almost not strong enough to respond to your ignorant inquiries.
Thank you for saying my hair looked great, but why did we just spend five minutes out of everyone’s day talking about it? Why don’t we do that for other students?
I’m still learning to accept my natural hair. I want to start seeing it as normal. And I would appreciate it if you did too.
My natural hair is not a political statement.
My natural hair isn’t something to gawk at. It is not a signal of my laziness to straighten my hair.
Or financial fatigue of paying someone to get it “done.”
My natural hair is not strange, wild or extraordinary. It’s simply the way my hair grows from its roots. I don’t marvel at how your hair grows from the roots.
So dear lecturer, please don’t stop class next time I decide to wear my hair the way it grows from my scalp. I appreciate the lesson that we inadvertently gave the class on black hair, but next time I’d like it not to be at my personal expense.