I grew up in a sheltered one-parent home on Long Island. My mother was a first generation American who struggled with the desire to preserve her culture while also attempting to raise two strong-willed, young women. How does one teach her daughters to be proud Haitian-Americans in an American world when Haitians are naturally conservative and American ideals run the way of left thinking?
June 2012, I cut my hair. I didn’t just get a regular trim or bob cut, I completely took my hair off and started rocking nappy coils on my head. Up until this point, my head was always adorned in either Moesha-style, butt-grazing single braids or super shiny Japanese looking, shoulder length wigs and way back when I even rocked a jerry curl. You remember the jerry curl, right? That wet curly look made famous by Lionel Richie. I had done so much to my hair that when I look back at pictures now I can’t even believe I was brave enough to leave my house. I was the very definition of a train wreck.
Fast forward to the the summer of 2012, I had made the life changing decision of drastically altering how I would physically present myself to the world. This decision hadn’t come easily as if by the snap of two fingers. No, this was all thanks to the internet or should I say Al Gore, who invented the internet? The internet opened the door for me to experience the world of natural beauty as fashioned by black women. I discovered with a few clicks of my mouse that there were options for my hair other than miserably failing to mask the texture I had been blessed with. I spent hours scrolling through images of beautiful black women sporting beautiful nappy, kinky, curly, coily looks. And whenever I came across a picture of a black girl smiling proudly up at the camera with her chocolate coated crown of spirally kinks, I thought why not me? Why couldn’t I do the same? The thickness, the shape and the length, natural hair screamed health and encouraged me to take leap a faith. “Come on, do it brown girl!” said the queen with the beautiful sun kissed curls poking out freely from every angle on her head.
For as long as I can remember, I had felt ashamed of the texture of my hair. Every six weeks I headed to the Dominican salon to get my kitchen and edges straightened out so that the wig I wore looked natural. Yes that was me on a Saturday with $65 in hand waiting eagerly by the hair dryers for my name to be called for my scalp to be scratched, scraped and burned all for the sake of a straight ‘do. And this was tradition, a rite of passage for young Black American women. Was I really giving this up?
I’ll never forget the first time I went back to the Dominican salon after my big chop with my hair all nappy and short the stylist took one look at my head then closed her eyes in exasperation. She tried to coax me into getting a relaxer but I straightened my back and held on tightly to the armrests of my chair in defiance and replied: “No. This is how I’m wearing my hair now.” Elevated by my groundbreaking decision to choose the new alternative Black lifestyle showed in my attitude, walk and speech. I had refused to conform once and this somehow led to me refusing to conform in other areas too.
As a Haitian-American girl I was raised to believe that my having been born into an immigrant family gave me an irrefutable sense of culture not shared by those with a similar complexion. The girl on the uptown bound 1 train may be just the same color as I am but because she was American she was somehow different from me. She had no culture, no history and therefore no sense of self which was why she wasn’t like me. Because of this strict ideology I grew up trying to distance myself from Black American culture. I refused to “talk ghetto”, I refused to admit I liked fried chicken and most importantly of all I didn’t dress “Black” even if I really liked a particular dress. Dressing “Black” entailed tight clothing, loud jewelry and colorful hair. My mother never prescribed to the belief that a woman had to be flashy to get attention. But she didn’t have to, my mother always commanded attention because of her regality, beauty and poise.
Looking back I can’t believe I ever felt that way about the parts of Black American culture that make us beautiful. Now I adorn my hair with flashy colors and bold styles without hesitation. I dress as I please even if it may come off “ghetto” because it’s a look I have come to admire. Yes, I have come to admire the very style I felt obligated to isolate from myself. I guess everything does eventually come full circle.