PROFILES IN NAP PART 1: Born to be adorned or born to be shorn?
Among the myriad of issues that one will confront in life being a Black person living in the Western world is the struggle regarding one’s hair, the aesthetics of one’s hair–styling, grooming, and real or imagined assumptions about statements that one makes wearing one style or the other. Only persons without eyes and ears is exempt from experiencing some kind of pressure, praise, or pushback regarding their hair in a society that is image and consumption-driven, and this problem is greatly aggravated if you have noticeably dominant African DNA in a world that is shaped by the Eurocentric standards of beauty legitimacy. As an African-American Indian person, I have endured a lifetime of neither pleasing the Eurocentric standard of having “good hair” or pleasing schizophrenic, contradictory, and self-loathing Black American standards of having “suitable” hair. Ironically, most of the hostility that I have faced has come from mostly Black American people who, as a result of being awash in a sea of hostile white beauty standards, are the most inverted hair bigots in the world. In the following paragraphs, I will share with you the first of many Nap Profiles that examine the obsessions of those who hate their hair and themselves.
This is my first effort at a hair autobiography. I was born in 1965 in Washington, D.C. to a Mr. Stephen and Betty Short, and they were both also born in Washington, D.C. Both of my grandmothers were born in Georgia, and my maternal grandmother was a descendent of Jews, Seminoles, and Blacks. My paternal grandmother was a descendent of Jews, Blacks, Indians too. However, my grandfathers were from Maryland and Virginia, and they unlike the women they married came from Blacks who were free long before the Civil War, my maternal grandfather was the son of a Piscataway-Black Indian woman. My paternal grandfather was born to two Black parents. I am emphasizing the Black and Indian mixture here to highlight that the Black Hair discussion is equal parts stupid and narrow-minded. Many people go through life trying to copy hair styles that require thick and curly African hair textures they lack. Black Indian hair is not identical to Black African American hair, and the denial of our own diversity makes life unnecessarily frustrating and sometimes psychically painful. Please bare with me.
Growing up in the late 1960s, I was blessed with two loving parents and and older brother, and a very loving Ukrainian godmother Mrs. Vera Nour. In as much as my parents broke a color bar moving into an all-white neighborhood in 1964, my brother and I grew up in a sea of white people. Ironically, despite the intense hatred I encountered from some white children and adults at an early age regarding my skin color and facial features, most people either accepted my hair or loved it. I inherited mixed hair traits from both of my parents, and I had long, straight, fine, wavy-curly, and jet black hair that seemed to fascinate Mrs. Nour and even other people. People would ask my mother “Betty how did your baby get this kind of hair so straight, so soft…”. People would touch my hair and praise it, but some would remark, “too bad that is is pretty now but it won’t stay like this, because it has to nap-up”. My hair did change slowly, but Mrs. Nour always loved it. However, my dad was hating it. He was anxious to cut my hair, and it could have been petty jealousy. Yes, we have Black folks hating on kith and kin alike over who God blessed with which kind of hair or complexion. The hairism and colorism among Blacks is a disgusting and ugly stain on us, and we expect others to love us when we hate one another–even our own blood–over what nature decided.
My mother loved my hair and was caught in a battle between Mrs. Nour who argued repeatedly that my hair should not be cut and my father who wanted my all my hair removed. It came to blows in 1967 when Mrs. Nour came to the house to argue with my father about my inevitable haircut and my mother trapped between her best friend and her beloved husband. I recall my father grabbing me and shearing off all my hair as Mrs. Nour cried and screamed that this was a an atrocity. I never liked barbers or my dad cutting my hair for years. It did not feel like I received an honorable haircut but like a sheep being shorn or a shrub being pruned. My shearing was like my induction into the Black hair hatred matrix. My dad was a victim of Jim Crow and I was a Black Power baby. He got it wrong and it was terrible for years afterwards because I associated getting my hair cut as a punishment not as a part of grooming. My hair was not nappy, but is a Black Indian blend of lots of textures on one scalp.
It took me 16 years to fully feel positive about my hair, and this was largely due to a trip to Niger in Sahelian part of Africa where I saw lots of Hausa, Fulani, Tuareg, and Djerma people. They did not have the once very coveted Afro-Bush hairstyles. Their hair was like mine a panache of textures from straight to very curly hair like mine. I wasn’t the first person to struggle with the African Supremacist hair Apartheid in the Black community. My grandfather used to cut off his straight hair to escape rage and jealousy of Black men who wore conks and processes (wherein they used lye or hot combs to straighten their hair). What I realized is we have spent centuries trying to make white people accept us, but we have not spent a nanosecond to embrace and love ourselves for the beautiful mosaic that we are. I was not born to be shorn neither was anyone reading this story. Love your hair and be proud of what adornment God blessed you with to cover your head. No hair is bad hair. Just ask anyone who is bald, balding, or suffering from hair loss.
You were born to be adorned with the hair the omniscient creator gave you. Stop and take time to value the hair that you have and never let anyone make you feel strange or odd by the unique adornment you were blessed to have.
Dr. Randy Lancaster Short
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