Objectification and Reconciliation

One month ago, I called up a local beautician and told her that I have decided to go natural but was afraid to do the “Big Chop”—that courageous move so many sisters of mine have done where all the chemically-altered hair is cut off, leaving only new growth in your natural curl pattern. It’s efficient. It’s potentially more cost effective. It’s dramatic and for this natural hair neophyte—it’s terrifying.

So I told Rochelle that I wanted to go natural and I needed her help because I didn’t want to spend my days crying over my hair. I wanted to walk out of her salon feeling beautiful and feminine and proud to be a black woman.

She ran her fingers through my hair, pulled out a few bags of crochet braid hair and said, “I think you’d rock a deep twist. I’ll cut your hair, condition it, braid it, and then crochet long sections of deep twist hair.  That way you can get used to seeing yourself with curls. I bet you’ve always worn your hair straight?”  My wide fear-filled eyes met hers in the mirror and I nodded.

“Don’t worry, sweetie. You’re going to love your hair when I’m done.”

Three hours later, I did. It took us a few tries to trim it and shape my hair to frame my face but eventually I loved it.  There was something so restorative about seeing my hair in braids and curls knowing that someday if I grew my natural hair out it could look like this. Looking at myself in the mirror I began to notice the warmth in my brown skin, the hospitality of my full smile, the fascinating almond shape of my eyes, and the audacity of my wide nose. I finally began to feel black girl magic tingle all around me. Like Harry Potter the moment he stepped into Hogwarts, I finally began to feel like I was coming home.

And it took a wise stylist, her skilled hands, three hours of patience, a four bags of kinky, curly hair.

“Baby! Your hair!” my husband exclaimed when he first saw me with my deep twist extensions, he reached out and played with the curls. A soft smile crept across his face and I knew he wouldn’t be the last white person eager to touch my new tresses.

That evening while I laid in bed, my new hair wrapped up in a scarf, I prayed to God for forgiveness for coveting the straight wash and go hair of my white sisters. I asked him to help give me confidence in the body he gave me. I entrusted this journey to him and told him that whatever he wanted me to learn, I was open.

This week at a predominantly white family camp in Northern California, I learned a surprising lesson—patience for white women who want to know all about my hair.

One of the reasons I think I loved wearing my hair straight was that it was a non-issue. White women were less interested in my hair because, for the most part, it was just like theirs. But with this hair, I’m noticeably different. It’s big and curly and refuses to be ignored! Take, for example, the elderly lady this morning in the breakfast line who reached out to touch my hair and announced, “I’ve been looking at this hair all week long and I just had to come up and talk to you. It’s beautiful…can I touch it?”

Now, I was holding a plate of scrambled eggs! The last thing I wanted to do was lean down for this octogenarian to touch my hair, but I sensed the Spirit say, “She’s simply trying to connect with you in the only way she knows how.  Give her grace.” So I leaned down and said, “Sure, I love how curly it is. Don’t you?”  She joyfully played with a section and said, “I love it so much. Thank you.” I thanked her for the compliment and she tottered off with her cup of tea in hand and I went to my table. Two different variations of this encounter happened throughout the day. That’s three different times a white person (or in one instance, a white couple) commented and wanted to touch my hair. I would be lying if I said, I wasn’t annoyed and even vented to my husband to which he said, “Babes, maybe this is a teaching moment, just in Zootopia when Judy Hopps tells Claw Hauser that non-bunnies cannot call bunnies cute. Only black women can touch your hair, babe!”

Maybe before my prayer to learn on this journey, I would have jumped right in with the lessons on racial micro-aggressions approach, but today it didn’t feel right. Today, I’m letting God teach me to put my assumptions of racism aside and see the humanity of my curious, fascinated sisters.

Yes, I get that touching our hair is a form of objectification. I feel this every single time someone wants to touch my biracial children’s hair—they are not oddities for other’s enjoyment. While I’ll quickly educate any person who wants to put their hand in my children’s hair, I’m not a child.

I’m a woman interested in reconciliation, devoted to Shalom, driven to humility. Is there a way I can celebrate my hair and invite white women on this journey with me? I think there is and for me, it begins with letting down my defensive posture whenever I’m asked, “Can I touch your hair?”

Eventually, I’ll craft a thought-provoking response to the question that’s kind and direct and maybe doesn’t give white women a blank check to touch any black woman’s hair just as long as she emotes enough curiosity and appreciation. But for now, the lesson I’m learning is to see the humanity in white women, to not put them all in the “ignorant, condescending” camp—which I have to admit, I’ve done more than a few times.

I get that this response is for this season. But for now, I’m so happy that God is stripping my own prejudices away every single time a white person is interested in my new hair.

I love it and it’s no wonder they do too.

It’s fantastic.

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