(All photos in this post are a part of The Coiffure Project, in which photographer Glenford Nunez displays the beauty of natural hair.)
Growing up, I believed the myth that racism was over.
We lived in a fairly new community, void of the historic social structures that create labels such as “old money,” “pedigree,” and “the right kind of family.” Our neighborhoods were too new to have been scarred by wounds from white flight. Our public schools excelled, so private schools were few and small. The rich, middle class, and less wealthy learned together, red and yellow black and white, all precious in the teacher’s sight.
College clarified my view of the world. There, I was struck by the systematic racism of Greek life, as well as the verbal racism of fraternity “good old boys”. The deep roots of racial hate thrive in settings built on tradition. In a university setting, we learned generations-old alma maters, football cheers, sports lore… and that whites are not entirely ready to accept blacks. My generation also was infected by the disease of hate.
In hindsight, it’s ludicrous that I thought black-white race relations were fine as a child. Yes, compared to the places I’ve lived as an adult, I grew up in a utopia for diversity. Still, I ignored countless clues as a child that something was off in the way blacks and whites interacted.
- At a fourth grade assembly, my friend LaDonna stroked my hair for an hour, mesmerized because she’d never touched a white girls’ hair. When we’d chat on the phone after school, her aunt would sometimes gush in gratitude because I talked to her niece.
- Entering middle school, I was devastated that my best friend Teresa stopped hanging out with me in favor of the black crowd. She thought the end of our friendship was clearly inevitable, as if colorblind friendship was baby stuff. I hadn’t seen it coming, nor did I find it odd that I’d never once been to my best friend’s house; she’d only been to mine.
- When I was 13, my friend Heather invited me to church camp. There I had a wild crush on a black boy named Tip. He was a precious gentleman. He held my hand at worship, bought us pizza after an inedible cafeteria meal, and asked for a single peck of a kiss at the end of the week. At church camp, I had no doubt my crush was pure. But Heather and I carried memories of Tip home like a scandalous rendezvous in Vegas. What happens at church camp stays at church camp. When Tip later called me at home, I was terrified someone would discern from his voice that he was black. I can’t remember what shameful attitude I gave him, but he read clearly between the lines and never called again. Until today, I doubt anyone but Heather knew I once kissed a black boy.
How in the world did I believe black-white relations were equitable?
As members of the white majority, it’s easy to trust all is well with the world. We’re proud that lynching ceased and that the only remaining KKK members are toothless rednecks. Our president is black, for heaven’s sake. The times, they are a’changing.
The boiling hatred of the 1960’s and earlier has calmed to a simmer. The white majority stands safely away from the cauldron, while minorities get burned by the steam. A subtle, constant stream of degradation fills the air. It took becoming the mother of a black child for me to see it.
Why do I tell you my personal history?
Because I want you to watch a video, and I want you to understand why I found it so moving.
It is a simple, five minute video about black women choosing to transition from the chemically straightened hair, which mimics a white ideal, into their natural, beautifully unique black curls.
I nearly cried watching this video, and then felt so puzzled about it. My own hair hasn't been natural (color-wise) since the seventh grade; why am I so proud of black women doing what I’m unwilling to do?
Sure, I should accept my own natural self more willingly, including my hair color. But there is an added incentive for Amelia to accept her natural hair: By accepting her natural curls, her dark skin, her thick and fluffy afro, Amelia is also accepting the attributes of her race. I can change my hair brown, black, red... I am still aiming at some sort of Caucasion ideal. And I can live with that, because I am Caucasion. But if Amelia some day relaxes her hair and attempts to turn it silky straight, and perhaps even adds Beyonce highlights of blonde... then she is also aiming at a Caucasion ideal. And I cannot live with that.
And so, this video about a movement towards natural hair for black women made me want to stand up and cheer.
Amelia is a girly-girl, and I'm certain she'll work hard towards beauty in life. I just hope she does so out of pride for who God made her. I pray she never believe the subtle lie culture tells that black looks less desirable. She was born Ugandan, and stunning. May she remain that way for life.
(click here for video)