Hair – A Brief Reflection
When I was in middle school, I decided I no longer wanted my mother to press my hair. All of those memorable afternoons, with the windows open, the hot comb on the stovetop, and a sharp, sometimes stern reminder to “sit still, hold my ear, turn this way, turn that way, and drop your head so I can get your kitchen…” I decided I was done. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my hair pressed, I just wanted a style that didn’t have to be touched up each day after sports practice or swimming. I wanted to wear my hair in its natural state. Finally I seemed to have accepted my kinks and curls, and no longer aspired to have the straight locks of my white friends, I no longer came home with the questions and concerns about my hair and why it didn’t do this and why it didn’t do that. Throughout the end of middle school and high school, I wore my hair in an afro or sometimes braided. I recall one out of town basketball game where I had my hair braided, and the opposing team’s student section shouted out “Coolio!” every time I shot a free throw. Nothing was ever said or done about that, I just shrugged it off and kept playing, and continued to wear my hair the way I wanted to. When I spoke to my mother about this incident, she remembered things a bit differently, from the memory and perspective of a mother in the stands. She remembered hearing comments about my hair, and the suggestion that I “get a perm, or a press”. She remembers being angry and upset hearing people talk about her child; she remembers wondering how I’d feel if I heard what some people were saying, and if I had been receiving similar comments. But the most important thing that she remembered was that I seemed to be unbothered, unfazed, and fine just doing what worked for me.
If you were to ask any Black person about their hair, I guarantee they will have very vivid stories; some which may bring a smile and some that may bring tears. During my adolescent years I can think back to countless times where people would touch my hair, with permission or without. Just like with the comments during my basketball game, I often shrugged it off and didn’t say much, maybe a “sure”, “no”, “stop” or “don’t touch me”, which likely always accompanied with an uncomfortable chuckle. Knowing that inside each time this happened it made me feel disrespected and like an animal being petted. It’s distressing to know that so many children, adolescents, and adults have been or continue to be treated this way or worse, simply due to their hair. Hair-based microaggressions and outright discrimination, is so deeply rooted in this nation and around the world; historically and present day, there are countless experiences and stories that paved the way for necessary action and change. The CROWN Act, which was introduced and first signed into law in CA in 2019, and is currently law in 7 total states, is ensuring that individuals cannot be discriminated against within the workplace, or public schools, due to race-based hairstyles, protective styles, and/or hair texture. I feel fortunate that I have never been asked to change my hair, not for school or for work; however, there are many individuals who have been harassed, ridiculed and dismissed due to their hair. According to TheCrownAct.com, “Black women are 1.5x more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair” and 80% of Black women feel as though they have to change their hair from its natural state in order to fit into their office setting. There are no excuses for the CROWN Act to not be law in all 50 States, if you would like to learn more about the CROWN Act, and get involved go to TheCrownAct.com. Lastly, I want to bring attention to World Afro Day, which is described as a “global day of change, education and celebration of Afro hair.” This campaign came to be in 2017, after it’s founder Michelle saw a desperate need for awareness and acceptance of Afro hair after her own struggles and wanting better for her child and other children. To learn more about World Afro Day and to get involved, go to WorldAfroDay.com. This was my first year learning about World Afro Day and I was so grateful I came across it when I did, and was able to share a bit of my story, but was also able to reflect and celebrate my hair, and all that it stands for: Resilience, strength and beauty. The more we share our stories, and confront and address hair-based discrimination, the better chance future generations will have to proudly wear their hair anyway they choose, with the protections in place to support and respect their choice without ridicule and shame.
– Tenia H. Skinner MS, ACSM cPT // tenia_bird2.0