Happy To Be Nappy
As most people who identify within the African Diaspora, I have had an interesting journey with my hair. I’ve worn it short and long, had a box, almost had braids, picked it out, matted it down, relaxed it once, stuck up for it, and let it grow freely in an attempt to show pride in my African-ness.
Growing up, I remember describing my hair as “confused.” It wouldn’t move and curl up neatly, but it wasn’t “bad," either. Because of my mother and father, and those who came before them, my hair was and still is a direct reflection of my African and Puerto Rican roots.
Looking back, all of these experiences have given me insight into what it is that I truly want my hair to represent. Or have they?
Because I identify as Afro-Latino, does it mean that my hair has to represent something?
Furthermore, if this is the case, then how does one’s hair properly represent blackness (if that is even what it’s supposed to represent)? Does this hair have to be locked? Does it have to be in an afro or braids? Can it be short? Should it be natural or can it be fake?
My oldest brother, who is darker skinned than I am, has hair that is straighter than mine. My middle brother is lighter than I am, but his hair is coarser than mine - so much for the “dark skin, nappy hair, light skin, good hair” thing that we do, right? But this is not to say that it doesn’t exist, because of course it does. We know this goes on.
Here are a few other things that we know for sure. We know that thanks to long overdue advancements in fashion and art, what is considered to be “black hair” is becoming more and more popular and accepted by the day. But we also know that as with math, science, fashion, and religion, schools of thought and trends that are associated with Blackness are often criticized and even demonized. They are put down and considered less than only to then be consumed, mass produced, and celebrated by a group who is more dominant. Colored hair extensions, large hoop earrings, cornrows, Bantu knots, piercings, and rap music are all examples of this. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
But the purpose of this article isn’t to point fingers at who should or should not be wearing a particular hairstyle.
What I’ve learned from my own hair journey is that our hair is just that - our hair. It owes no explanations. It should not have to assimilate, but if it does want to assimilate, then that’s between us and our hair. It can be fake or relaxed if we want it to be, because it doesn’t now, nor will it ever, have the authority or privilege to negate or solidify Blackness.
My hair owes my Blackness no explanation, and my blackness need not look to my hair for its approval. That is not how blackness works, although some would have us to believe otherwise. Without a doubt, our hair is a reflection of our African roots, but what it cannot be is the end all be all to our experience as Black people. It shouldn’t have that much power. And if it does, how can this power be reduced and put back into its proper place, considering all of the more pressing issues going on in the world?
But wait - let me play devil’s advocate for a minute. The fact of the matter is, my hair does have power that is deemed both good and bad. If I let it grow out, it is a mane unmatched; it can greet and leave a room even before I do. Like magic, it can stand on its own without help from anyone. But this power doesn’t always work for my good. As unfortunate as it is, I may one day go into a job interview and not be considered fairly because of my hair. I may be pulled over by the police more rapidly and thought of as less intelligent because of it. I might still have an African American friend with locs tell me that I no longer look “authentic” when my hair is cut short, and Latinos in my life who’d themselves rather go bald than have my “black hair.”
Despite all of this, every hair on my head has my permission to be exactly what I want it to be and nothing more, because my hair and hair that looks like mine has been through enough already. The fact of the matter is, in 2019, my hair is still being recognized as the most hated, copied, and now celebrated strands of all time - as “nappy” as they may or may not be. And I don’t know about you, but I’m happy with that.