My Curls, My Race

While walking to my bus stop after attending a book launch, a girl stopped me on the street, saying

Can I ask you a hair question?

Normally I would shoot this girl a dirty look and keep moving, because usually this is followed by some inane question like “can I touch it?” or “do you ever wash your hair?” But I let this girl continue.

Do you have a secret for managing your curls and getting the frizz out?

At that moment, my feelings toward the situation changed completely.  I laughed and told her what I used, we commiserated on the humidity of DC’s effect on our poor curls, and we both went on our way.  It wasn’t until I was on the bus that I stopped to think about what had just happened.

I have been asked so many stupid, offensive questions about my hair, a few of which are mentioned above.  As a mix of races (Latina/Black/White), my hair has been the part of me that truly made me feel like an outsider.  When you grow up in a small, predominately white town, where people have beautiful straight hair or gentle curls, and are surrounded by media images of curls being the token of the ‘ugly’ girl, my tightly curled hair made me feel like the ugly duckling sticking out like a sore thumb.  It wasn’t until college when I cut them all off into a stylish mini ‘fro that I learned to embrace my curls.

Now this is not a blog about my love/hate relationship with my curls.

This is a post about the fact that 1) my curls are a marker of my identity, 2) my curls are a part of what makes me beautiful, despite what movies tell me and 3) even though I embrace my curls, I still fall into the trap of finding ways to make them ‘fit’.

My curls (along with other features but this post is about curls!) mark me as having some kind of African heritage.  [Truth be told, my African heritage is generations past generations ago. I’m half Puerto Rican]. Perhaps this is why the girl on the street, who was Black, with hair curlier than mine, felt she could approach me about it. Perhaps this is why I didn’t dismiss her question/approach as idiotic.  Perhaps this is why, I immediately felt a sense of thrill at the thought of being praised for my curls and that praise coming from someone who also fit outside of that standard norm of beauty.

This moment on the street, this fleeting connection between two non-white girls sharing the hardships about having non-standard hair, made an impression on me.  Not because I felt flattered (although I did!), but because in this moment of two women reaching out to each other, it wasn’t to celebrate our natural curls.  It was to find the best ways to ‘tame’ it, to make it fit some other standard.   Even though we were two women who fit outside that beauty norm, which darker skin and unruly curls, we still bonded (even for that moment) over ways to make our hair fit into that perfect mold of curls that are acceptable.

I have no doubt that my curls mark me as both an outsider, as a player in the beauty game.  I dye my hair red, I rake all sorts of chemicals through it to make it less frizzy. I also have no doubt that this moment happened because of my race and her race.  Similar race eliminated that potential offensive barrier — her questions can’t be offensive because she has the same problems as me — and allowed us to have a conversation about our curls that didn’t leave me feeling like I was explaining my freakishness to someone.

I also have no doubt that this moment will not make me stop dying my hair or putting different products in it to tame my curls.  But I hope that sharing this moment helps someone else out there to embrace their curls, and embrace the fact that they make us beautiful, and they can be a moment that bonds us together. Let those curls fly!

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4 Responses to My Curls, My Race

  1. Stephanie says:

    This is a fantastic post.

    Um…forgive my ignorance/shock but do people REALLY ask you if you wash your hair? I mean in any other context would this question be acceptable? How often can perfect strangers ask one another about personal hygiene? OK that is all.

    seriously, great post!

    • lisachristina says:

      I have been asked that a couple of times! the qualifying statement after that is always something like “cuz I know that some Black people don’t” or “cuz I know that with Black hair you can’t wash it all the time.” I have never been asked this by a complete stranger thankfully, but that only makes it slightly better in my opinion.

      I’m glad you liked it!

  2. Titi Sarita says:

    Beautiful. Thanks God for our curls and all the history of wonderful people of different races and places they represent. Hurray for colors!!!!!!!

  3. Pingback: My Curl, My Race UPDATE | Silence is complicit

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