I'll keep my nappy hair, thank you
Postcard writer bristles over columnist's 'terrible mess'
May 3, 2007
BY MARY MITCHELL Sun-Times Columnist
No doubt about it, I'm nappy-headed. I wear my hair without straightening its curl pattern -- which in my case is tight -- when I don't do anything to it my hair looks like a tumbleweed. But don't think I let my hair go. I may not use relaxers or a straightening comb, but I groom my hair. In fact, after work, I head to Gossip Salon and Day Spa in Oak Park, where Susan Jamieson will spend about two expensive hours pampering my hair.
So I was appalled to get a 24-cent post-card from Sam Watson telling me how much he doesn't like my hair:
"On Friday 20 April 2007, it was the Joel Weisman show, we believe. We were shocked to see what you had done to your hair which was beautifully coiffured the last time we saw you on TV. Of course, you have the right to mess up your locks any time in any manner you like, but we suggest you appear a terrible mess instead of the former beautiful lady that we recall seeing in the past. It's like night and day, only now you look like you belong in a Halloween scare movie," Watson wrote.
Watson went on to name the women he's seen with fabulous hairdos: Sandi Jackson, Hermene Hartman, Condi Rice and Oprah.
"Please get rid of that awful, messy-looking mop-like hairdo you now have and set the proper role model example for our young ladies with a neat, presentable hairdo that your fine facial features deserve. Bring out, don't hide, your innate beauty again," he said.
Looking like a Barbie doll
First, Watson obviously has gotten me mixed up with someone else. I don't think anyone would ever describe my parade of hairstyles -- locks, afro and finally twists -- as coiffured.
Still, his complaint about my hairstyle raises a universal issue.
Last week I was in St. Maartin, where I ran into a beautiful young black sister who had her long locks hidden underneath a tight head-wrap. She was working as a cashier in a casino and the wrap protected her hair from cigarette smoke, she said. Her boyfriend, a handsome young man with wavy hair that's common to black men in certain regions of the South, was badgering her about her hair.
"She's going to cut them off," he said, eyeing my nappy hair. "I'll pay for her to get her hair straightened," he said.
"He's only interested in me looking like a Barbie doll," she said.
That exchange really gets to the heart of the matter.
Despite the black power movement and Whoopi Goldberg, hair is still the impenetrable veil for black women. Even women who have worn natural hair for years are often seduced by the promises of straight hair. After all, most often it is the woman with the long, straight hair -- be it real or play -- that turns a man's head, while the sister with the short afro is barely noticed.
Secretly, there are days when I lust for the smooth, straight hair that once caressed my shoulders to the point that I'm that close to running off to an Egyptian hair salon.
But the distress I feel over longing for hair that makes me look more like a white woman and less like a black one is what keeps me from making an appointment. All women -- whether they are Caucasian or African-American, or Asian or Latino -- have physical features that are uniquely their own.
As Sojourner Truth once asked: "Ain't I a woman, too?"
Black women are the only women who are routinely characterized as being undesirable. And from the moment we are pronounced as having "bad hair" as opposed to "good hair," we are expected to alter our appearance by straightening out that bad hair.
Sorry, Watson. I came into this world under that cloud.
It's certainly not the way I intend to leave it.
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