{October 3, 2012}   On the Campaign Trail: Really my Hair is Political?

Earlier this week I had my first day off in more than 30 days. I kid you not. I’m not complaining, I’ve understand that when you are in such a high stakes field as politics, days off are a luxury you can’t afford this close to Election Day. But that is neither here nor there. I used my day off as an opportunity to grocery shop, do some laundry, give my dog attention, and give myself attention. I did maintenance, girls you know what I mean. Rome was not built in a day. 😉 I also changed my hair. As an African American woman with natural hair, this was a significant chunk of the day. Anyway, I cut my hair pretty low, about six inches or more, so that it is a low Afro and the twisted it. Twisting my hair made it look even closer cropped. I love a cute and neat short hairstyle, especially when I have such a grueling schedule as the one I have right now. My hair kind of spirals at the end so it looks almost like I’m trying to grow short locks.

Anyway, the next day I go into the office. Now, maybe it’s because I’m a Black girl. Maybe it’s because as a Black girl, no matter how liberal your surroundings, I’ve realized that you never completely forget that you are the only Black person in the room. Either way, I am always interested to see people’s reactions when I change my hair. This probably has to do with being the only Black girl for so long in so many different places across the country; no matter where I go White people are fascinated by my hair (sometimes intrusively so, but that’s a different blog). Entering the office, it was intriguing to see who complimented my hair and who just simply starred.

The Mid-westerners starred, but said nothing. I attribute this to their ideal of beauty being long hair and the fact that when I cut my hair I cut out most of the remaining golden blonde remnants from my summer style. The kid from Utah, asked how long it would take to grow my hair back, I too attribute this to the Mormon-based culture of liking long hair on their women. The guy from California, seemed to like my hair, and talked about how cutting the hair is like a new start. The woman whose son where’s his blonde tresses is in locks himself, wanted to know the product I use to get the shine in my twists. But my most enthusiastic comments came from the international volunteers from Belgium and Denmark. They thought it was absolutely beautiful, as do I.

I’m probably over-analyzing this, but as a military brat, past experience has taught me that people from around the world are less shocked, more accepting, and even complimentary of natural Black hair. I always wonder what is it about their acculturation that makes this so? Is it because they find it to be anomaly, is it because the international community interacts with Africans on a more frequent basis, and thus are more accustomed to natural Black hair? As opposed to Americans who often see chemically processed hair on the Black people with which they interact? Second in the hierarchy of acceptance are Coastal folks and people who are exposed to the international community. Coastal folks are those from the West coast, mostly California, and the East coast, mostly New York. I think because they are exposed to a Black community that has always been known for embracing their “ethnic identity” that natural hairstyles aren’t such an oddity.

The funny thing is, besides the coloring in my hair, my hair was unprocessed. Maybe because it sort of spirals when it has length that made it more acceptable? Yet somehow in the last two days I have received comments about showing my “militant side,” and comments about how I will stand out in what is a largely red (conservative/ White) area. All of the comments are phrased in a manner that is supposed to be a good thing. Like I’m purposely making the White conservative community I work in uncomfortable, a thought that thrills the liberal Whites I work with. Yet, the thought really never crossed my mind. This isn’t the first time; I’ve cut my hair short. It won’t be the last (I seem to get the urge every few years). I also find irony in the fact that my coworkers take joy in the assumption that this change will make outsiders feel uncomfortable, yet I don’t think they are comfortable with the change themselves. As liberal and open minded as they think they are I can see in their faces that they found me more attractive when my hair was lightened and had length. They felt more comfortable when I had shared attributes with them, even if artificial. The immediate assumption is that as Black person “embracing my ethnicity” is somehow directly tied to Whites (I used quotations in the former sentence because I don’t think my hair defines my Blackness and don’t want to give the impression that blonde, straight, or curly hair has anything to do with my relationship to my heritage and ethnic reality). Yet, I think that is just another example of how unenlightened they are. They can like Black people, and vote for a Black president, but subconsciously Blackness is rebellion. It’s not a political statement when the other female coworker comes in with her hair straight and brunette; it’s just her natural hair. Yet mine, even in 2012, is a political middle finger to some group of arbitrary Whites who still fear Black empowerment.

Sorry to disappoint, but my hair is just that, my hair. It’s not meant to piss anyone off, it’s not meant to make a statement beyond, I like it styled this way. That is what I wish I could say, but honestly its not completely true. It is because of this white assumption of militancy mentality that I have been so committed to wearing my hair unprocessed for the last five years. It is because it is odd or revolutionary for me to leave my hair in its natural curl pattern that makes me do so, because why should I be expected to alter myself to make others comfortable? It is such a commentary on our culture and the damage our glorification on White beauty has done to such a diverse country. The paradox that when I wear my hair in its natural state it is in protest against the mindset that I wear my hair in its natural state as some sort of political statement. It’s ridiculous, sad, and true all at once.

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