In Ghana, where I grew up, school age girls were expected to have a hair cut with hair no longer than an inch or so. The only ones exempt were the one or two mixed girls in the school. This meant that during our senior year, all of us girls would start growing out our little ‘fros (but we’d tie them down overnight so as not to alert the teachers that it was longer than the 1 inch maximum allowed) in preparation for graduation because that’s when the magic happens! Many of us get to relax our hair for the first time! We get to have straight hair that swang in the wind.
So, as expected, I graduated and dove head first into the world of relaxers and braids and wigs and weaves and every iteration of it. It wasn’t until 2008, in the midst of the new natural hair movement that was sweeping the US did I stop to investigate what my hair as it grew out of my scalp looked like. I promptly did the “big chop” as it’s known. I.e., I cut off all my relaxed hair and went back to less than an inch of hair. I embarked on a journey of discovering curls I hadn’t known existed in my 23 years of life.
It was such and exciting time. I still can’t describe the shock I experienced when at 23, I discovered that my hair was naturally curly! I even started a YouTube channel where I documented my new hair journey and I also blogged about it for a time here, here, and here to name a few. Over the years, the excitement wore off and my natural hair became second nature. It was “normal” and no longer this phenomenon. I encouraged my mom, my best friend, my wife (who at the time was just a class mate in nursing school) and quite a few other people to all go natural.
My story isn’t unique though. Tens of thousands of black girls and women around the globe, for the first time, discovered for themselves that there was an alternative to having the bone straight hair we had been socialized to believe was the only attractive option. They went from seeing wigs and weaves as mandatory to seeing them as just fun alternatives. Sales of relaxers have dropped a whopping 36.6% between 2012 and 2017 according to studies.
Here’s the thing though, even with these great strides black women have made in accepting and loving their natural hair, there still remains the need to keep it “neat” or to straighten it for special occasions. Many natural hair products are marketed to help us “tame” our kinks and nappy hair.
Which is why black folks decide to loc their hair, it’s not a decision that’s made lightly. Because to make this decision is to make the leap from “taming” the naps to embracing and loving them wholeheartedly. The process of growing locs is likened to a spiritual process where you eschew all eurocentric ideals of beauty you’ve been imbued with from birth.
So, if you see a black person with a head full of locs, know that the journey there has not been an easy one. Being in the early stages of this journey myself, I can tell you first hand that it is a hard journey. I’m constantly fighting against the idea that frizz is ugly and that there’s some way yet to tame my hair as my locs go through the “ugly phase.” In fact, I resorted to a wig for NYE celebrations. While I’d like to think it was just me exercising my right to choice, I know that part of it was wanting to look “polished” for the special occasion that is NYE.
Which is why when I saw the story of Andrew Johnson, the high school wrestler whose locs were chopped off at the behest of the referee, I was I N C E N S E D! Every black person I knew in person and online was too. The outrage was palpable. I kept thinking, how could they dare do this to this young man?! How dare them!
That anger prompted me to write this blog as a means to educate white folks about what our hair means to us. How sacred it is to us. So, while many white people may not condone the cutting of Andrew’s hair, still too many of y’all are touching our hair without permission. In case you didn’t know or weren’t sure, know this: it is never OK to touch a black person’s hair. Ever. We are not an exhibition, we are not your pets, we are not your property.
As Solange aptly put it, “Don’t Touch My Hair.”