Sunday, May 30, 2010

"Good Hair" vs. "Bad Hair"

During my prep at work the other day, two students (for the sake of this post, I will reveal their races: one female was Dominican, the other was African American) were in my room finishing up some projects on the laptops. The students were seated close to my desk and were having a light conversation. As I was involved in my work at my desk, I couldn't help but listen to bits and pieces of their conversation. Even though I'm not quite 10 years older than most of my students, I often wonder what do teenagers talk about these days? One segment of their conversation particularly sparked my interest.

"Oh, but she has black hair"

I almost fell out of my chair when I heard that. If it is one thing that gets under my skin, it is when people classify a feature or characteristic by a race. (talking white, acting black...)

So of course I had to intervene and ask: "What is black hair?"

The student responded by saying: "Oh, you know, bad hair"

(So if I almost fell out of my seat the first time, I was surely on the floor by now)

I asked her: "Well, what is bad hair"

She said: "You know, nappy hair"


How is it that society has created the perception that "good hair" is white hair, and "bad hair" is black hair? And why is it that we are still using the degrading term: nappy hair? Instead of referring to the texture as being "coarse"?

My usual reaction would be showing and letting my student know that I am offended. Instead, I took a deep breath and calmly informed the student of the correct way to describe someone's hair. This led to us having a conversation surrounding the topic of "Good Hair" vs. "Bad Hair". I made it my mission to let my student know that coarse hair can be just as beautiful as fine hair, that even though we see Caucasian people as having "perfect hair", they face their own challenges with their hair, and that even more importantly, each type of hair is beautiful in it's own way.

I actually felt by the end of our conversation that I had accomplished something. And I realized something, that if more people were informed of the vast beauty that each type of hair has, then maybe African American people would feel more comfortable wearing their natural hair, as opposed to hair that is chemically processed and/or straightened at 450 degrees. I realized that I too have insecurities with my own hair. I feel more beautiful when my hair is bone straight and will spend over an hour in my bathroom Sunday night making sure that my hair is blow dried, straightened, and then curled. Even though I shouldn't care, I wonder if my students and co-workers will accept my natural hair, or if they will look at me like: "Oh, she didn't have enough time to do her hair this morning".

Maybe one day all of these insecurities will vanish, I will be able to put down the flat iron, and wear my natural hair with confidence. I'm working on day I will achieve these goals :)

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