Several people have asked me if there was a reason why I did the big chop. The answer is yes and it’s a long one. I want to use this post to share part of my life story, and I hope others who have had similar experiences will know they’re not alone and may be encouraged to fully embrace the person God has created them to be.
I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, school system, and church. I was the only black person in my accelerated and Advanced Placement classes, and I was constantly deemed as “the white black girl”. The oreo.
To be fair, I very much bought into this jargon and these beliefs. Often times it was I who was calling myself the “oreo” and feeling proud as my jokes about being the only smart black person produced laughter and acceptance.
For a majority of my life, I didn’t see people who looked like me. I’m not just talking about not seeing a black person in a position of authority or leadership (save a few high school teachers–shout out to Mr. Harris and Dr. Kennedy). I’m talking about not being surrounded by any peers who looked like me. When I looked around my classes I saw White, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Pakistani, but not Black. When I looked around, I did not see anyone with hair like mine. Thus, it was only natural that when my mom started chemically straightening my hair with a relaxer, I had no qualms. As a 10-year-old, I wanted to fit in and have long, straight hair like the rest of my friends; I wanted my hair to be “normal” and my kinky hair with curls and coils galore most assuredly did not fit that mold.
For the next 4 years, I used a relaxer to chemically straighten my hair until my scalp became too sensitive and the relaxer began leaving burns and scabs on my head. My hairdresser suggested I switch to Keratin, a protein treatment that loosened my natural curl pattern, but there was one catch–I had to wait 2 years to grow my hair out because using the Keratin on previously relaxed hair would completely break off my hair. Those two years I spent growing out my natural hair caused me to resent my hair like you wouldn’t believe.
Though I look happy in the picture, those two years of growing out my hair were THE WORST. Those two years were my freshman and sophomore years of high school–crucial years, y’all. To make matters worse, freshman year at my high school was the year swimming was required every week for gym class. EVERY. WEEK. I will never forget that class. Fit For Life. Week after week I struggled fitting swimming caps over my ever growing fro, and week after week, my hair always managed to get wet and messed up. I remember trying to fit my hair into a nice bun or ponytail like all my other friends with the tiny elastic bands, but my hair ties were so quick to break, and even if they didn’t, my hair never looked right. It was too thick. Too curly. Too frizzy. Too nappy.
As soon as year two hit, I was in my hairdresser’s chair ready to do whatever I needed to do to get my hair back to “normal”. After she did my first Keratin treatment, I remember seeing my silky soft, smooth hair return and feeling a wave of relief pass through my body. Those two years on the wild side had made me terrified, and never again would I think of unleashing my mane in its natural state.
The next 6 years I spent in utter bliss with my Keratin treatments that loosened my curls, but transformation slowly began to creep in.
It started at Brown University when my perception of myself as the “exceptional black girl” was challenged. My experiences in high school had made believe I was the exception to the rule that blacks belonged behind bars or entrenched in poverty. Brown forced me to confront the fact that I had spent 18 years defining black as synonymous with adjectives like ignorant, violent, and poor.
As I enrolled in Africana courses and Ethnic Studies classes at Brown, I began to scratch the surface of what it looked like to embrace the melanin that ran through my veins. I wasn’t perfect and still had (have) a long way to go, but little by little, I began to see how my world had been inundated with things (media, people, images, classes) telling me black was inherently less than. Looking back, I believe it wasn’t so much as what I was taught in highschool and middle school, but what I wasn’t taught. I wasn’t taught about redlining–the systematic discrimination of refusing blacks housing loans/mortgages/insurance in specific areas up that still affects communities of color today . I wasn’t taught about food deserts–the lack of nutritional markets and non-fast-food restaurants existing in lower-income, minority neighborhoods.The list is endless.
After graduating from Brown, I served a year in ministry as a campus pastor for undergraduates at Yale. And that’s when things got real.
As a campus pastor, one of my responsibilities is to lead core group/Bible study. Tell me why last year every single girl in my core group was an incredibly beautiful black woman #ClassicGod.
As we shared tears and hugs when historical racial wounds flared to the forefront of campus, I saw their strength and resilience. As we laughed and joked, I saw their beauty, and it inspired me to see my own beauty in my blackness. For the first time, I began stepping into the realization that God made me black for a reason.
I am not black because God left me out in the sun too long and I got a bit too crispy. I am black because I have a powerful purpose that God desires to use in a way that is unique to my ethnicity. My blackness is a gift, not a burden. As a dear friend once told me, “You have the ability to affect change and to draw others into the body of christ because your story is unlike anyone else’s. It’s not black girl magic, it is the God-given gift to be the representation of Christ as you are. You will always be and have always been black, and it will always be a part how God uses you in community.” Powerful words yo, powerful words.
And so that’s what brought me here. To the big chop. I realized I wanted to fully embrace all that God has created me to be. When God said I was created in his image, he didn’t mean every part EXCEPT my hair. Shoot, for all we know, God could be rocking a fro up there in Heaven. That would be LIT #justsayin.
So, I’m learning to embrace my curls. Though I have been entering into this deeper realization of and appreciation for the intersection between my faith and my ethnicity, I do not doubt I will have to keep coming back to this post. It’s taken me nearly a week to write this and already I’ve gone from feeling on top of the world with my hair to feeling as though I look like a 12 year-old boy. I already know as my hair grows it’s going to be a constant tug-of-war between love and hate as I struggle to understand it and learn best how to take care of my hair in it’s natural state. But I’m excited, ya’ll, and I’m going to do my best to document this process. May I continue to remember that I am beautiful not because of my hair, but because the joy of the Lord is my strength and God’s glorious light shines through me!