Everything you wanted to know about black hair but were too afraid to ask

'But how's does her hair stay up like that?' I DON'T KNOW. I've been trying to figure that out so I can do that to my own hair...

People are funny. And by people I mean people who aren’t black. Every time I walk into a place where I’m the only black person, rocking a fresh new ‘do, I mentally prepare myself for the various reactions.

There’s always the stare. They think they’re being subtle, but you’ll notice them looking slightly above your forehead as you talk to them. Secretly marveling. Wondering how the hair stays up like that. Whether it’s real. How long it takes to braid. How often you wash it. What it feels like.

Then there’s the “Oh!” It’s a very ambiguous expression. You don’t know whether they’re surprised or freaked out or sad. Then they say, “You got a haircut!” Even when you didn’t.Or there’s that sweet older white woman on the 171 bus, all bright scarves and East coast accent. She likes to eat out at exotic restaurants with her second husband. She wears lots of bracelets.  She comes up to you and tells you how beautiful your hair is, and she beams and you’re supposed to be so pleased. She’ll ask you how you do it. And then you have to patiently explain the process and she sounds so amazed. “Seven hours? Sixty dollars!”

You’re crazy, you see. You’re the freak who does that stuff to your hair.

Or there’s your good white friend who tells you that you’re so lucky that ‘you can do things with your hair.’ You look at her, slightly bewildered.  “Yeah, you know, there’s so many different styles you can choose from; my hair’s just straight. It’s so boring.” It’s supposed to be a compliment, you see. Your hair is interesting; it’s entertainment. What crazy things will the black girl do with her hair today?

At some point, when you know a non-black person well enough, they will find the courage within themselves to ask you questions about your hair. And they won’t assume that anyone else has ever asked those questions because they’re not really thinking about you. They are simply trying to assuage their longheld curiosity, and they’ve finally met a black person friendly enough to satiate that desire. They ask you why you don’t wash it everyday, how it stays up like that, whether they can touch it. They want you to know that they think it’s really beautiful. Really, really beautiful.

I’m done. I’m SO done being that black hair expert, catering to the whim of every non-black person that doesn’t know any better. It’s over. Go read an issue of Black Hair Magazine available at every South Side Walgreens.

Oh and STOP asking to touch my hair. The answer is no. It will ALWAYS BE no. I am not a museum exhibit. It doesn’t grow that way for your own sad, little curiosity.


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