I promise you at some point today, I was also shocked about my hair. It seems like enough women have shaved their heads that's its no longer a statement. Although, it's not the first time I shaved my head, I never thought I'd go bald again. Ironically what led me to cut it is, 2017 was my best hair year. Best meaning, I learned the most about my hair.
2012, Times Square. Photo by Olushola Bashorun
Earlier this year, I had an allergic reaction to too tight braids and unwashed weave. For 24 hours I cried my WORST cry. You know your ugly cry, the one you do alone, yeah that one. It wasn't until a very deep conversation with a friend that I understood why I'd let someone put me through that much pain.
Slavery *Issa Rae voice
No seriously, just follow me here.
I sat for more than 4 hours holding back tears while a hair stylist braided my hair in cornrows. I implied that I was in pain, but I was never explicit. There was no point that I told her that she was braiding too tight and that she needed to stop. We even chatted about her other clients being headaches because they moved around too much. The stylist went further to praise me for my lack of fuss. I even talked to my sister about the excruciating pain. I could hear and feel my edges snapping out of the braids. I didn't tell her to stop but she also wasn't paying attention. The pain continued.
You see, I'm not a shy person. My friends and family would not describe me as passive. It is unlike me to allow someone to hurt me and I not speak up about it. So you're probably wondering why the hell would I sit in a chair for hours while someone braided my hair so tight that I got sick?
Well, I wanted to prove that I can take it.
I've been trained to believe that if someone is doing my hair and it hurts, I'm wrong for being in pain and I need to correct my behavior. As a little girl, I cried tears from too tight braids, the hot comb heat, and the perm's burn. But I was made to feel bad, not only for feeling pain but for having a certain hair texture which needed to be tamed. If I squirmed from pain, I was hit on the head, my head was tugged on, or I got unkind words about being tender headed. Eventually, I began to cry silently, keep my complaints to a minimum, and be as still as possible, not being tender headed was an aspiration. I took pride in not being tender headed because I was rewarded for it. I learned to suppress my pain when family members did my hair and they happily praised me for it.
As a little black girl, I went through it because there was a lack of education on black hair and an intolerance for my hair texture. This led to unreasonable and ignorant ideas of "taming". We dived deeper into the psychological reasons on why I'd want to prove to someone that I was so tough, I could take the pain they inflicted on me. In addition to not wanting them to see how much pain I was in.
We related it to African slaves internalizing the pain inflicted onto them as a survival tactic. Black people continue to wear resiliency and strength as a badge of honor. And we are. But it also stems from this idea that we're some how unaffected by pain, and we feel it less than others. We've applied this super human complex to ourselves and torturous practices have been embedded into our culture.
The question, "are you tender headed" implies, "your pain is an inconvenience to me". If we are tender headed, their response implies, "you don't have the right to feel that pain"
After 24 hours of pain, a massive migraine, nonstop tears, and being sick, I finally took out the braids. A week or so after, I noticed my hair coming out in chunks. In the matter of days I had a bald spot in the center of my head. Over 4 months later, the spot hasn't grown much and is still sensitive to touch. I cut my hair to start fresh because I want it to be even, grow healthier, longer and stronger.
I didn't intend for this hair story to be this long but it feels good to share it. I do hope that it will continue the conversation about the nuance ways in which black people inflict pain onto one another as a result of chattle slavery.
If you have any thoughts, comments, insights, or just something to add, please share your peace below.