The talk, Part II

I actually had an entire paragraph written out yesterday that preceded the post I shared from another site, but WordPress ate it. Here is yesterday’s post.

That post really hit a nerve because 35 years ago, I was that child. A child who was reared in a predominantly white neighborhood and was envious of the long, straight hair that her white classmates possessed. A child who felt that her kinks and coils were ugly. A child who dreaded having to explain why her twists and braids were able to stay in her hair without unraveling while the braids and twists her white classmates attempted to put in their hair unraveled within seconds. And so on. All these years later, I realize that I dreaded having to explain my hair to people who didn’t look like me because at the time, I actually didn’t really understand it. No one in my family understood it either. Neither did friends of the family. Basically, many of us were taught that it wasn’t acceptable and that it needed to be hidden with wigs or weaves or “fixed” with chemical or thermal straighteners. When I begged my mother for a relaxer at the age of 9 or 10, all she said at the time was that I was too young. She didn’t have the tools nor the self esteem to instill the kind of pride in my hair that the mother in that post did and by the time I was in high school, I was allowed to get the perm. I’d love to say that what that little girl experienced was an isolated incident, but I can’t. Unfortunately, similar incidents like that are played out among numerous little black girls all the time.

That post also segues into a major pet peeve that I have. Now, what grown women do to their hair is their business. However, when I first started posting on hair boards, I soon discovered that my first perm at 14 was at a fairly late age. I was shocked to see a number of people admitting that they had gotten their first relaxers at the age of 3 or 4. Those caustic chemicals can damage the hair of grown women, resulting in burns, scabs and hair loss. You can imagine how much more damage they can do to a small child. I personally don’t remember girls getting perms before around the age of 10 when I was growing up and a number of them weren’t allowed to get them until puberty, like me. Perms were a rite of passage in my day. Now mothers are slapping chemicals into their daughters’ heads before they even reach kindergarten. The reasons go beyond the mainstream media. They’ve brainwashed black women into accepting the European standard of long, straight hair for decades. It’s partly due to the fact that we live in a faster paced world where people want instant gratification. Today’s mothers don’t have the patience or the time to care for their daughters’ natural hair in the way that it needs to. So their solution is to slap a relaxer, regardless of the damage they can do, because they think straight hair is easier to care for. However, a lot of women don’t have the knowledge to care for relaxed hair properly and are unaware that it needs protein treatments, deep conditioning and the like just as much as natural hair. If anything, relaxed hair needs those treatments a lot more frequently than natural hair. Besides laziness though, the message the mothers are sending to their daughters’ is damning by perpetuating the belief that their hair is ugly and that in order to be accepted or even loved, it needs to be straight. They should accept the burns and scabs as a badge of honor because”beauty is pain.” I wish we could banish that phrase from the language. Being beautiful shouldn’t have to be painful by doing things to your body that it was never meant to tolerate. I also think the push to perms our girls’ hair at younger ages is partly due to our society sexualizing our children at younger ages. It’s not uncommon for parents to go to Children’s Place to find clothes more suitable for a prostitute than for an 8 year old. Straight hair is regarded as sexy in our culture. Black girls in general aren’t regarded as beautiful but we can easily change their hair so that they won’t be ignored in the very least. It’s kind of sad, really.

The mother and daughter in yesterday’s post are the epitome of strength and confidence, something more people in our community need. Will we ever get to a point where “the talk” won’t be necessary, because our hair would have been fully accepted as normal and not a curiosity? I hope the answer is yes, but who knows.

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