>”I am NOT my hair!”

>When I was younger, I didn’t think twice when people told me I had “nice hair.” I loved it. It was a badge of honor to have silky, smooth hair. It was a step up to have people to compliment a black woman on her hair.

I have been getting my hair relaxed since around the age of 8. My aunt, a cosmetologist, opted to relax my hair. I can’t remember if she got the consent of my mother or why she did it. As I look back, I’m wondering if she did it because relaxed hair is easier to handle or if she just accustomed to doing straight hair.

Since the arrival of slaves in America, the fascination with black hair has been never ending. Kinky, tightly coiled, nappy–it’s all been used to describe our locks. Nothing has been so scrutinized or frowned upon as much as black hair.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not regret having relaxed hair. I’m not embarrassed by my hair nor do I feel less black because my hair is “chemically altered.” I actually love my hair. It’s healthy, thick and full of body.

However, I resent being labeled “safe” because of my straight hair. I resent people telling me I have “good hair” because it’s silky and straight. I resent having white people telling me I have good hair based on some superficial standard of beauty.

I resent other blacks judging me by my relaxed hair. I resent being called unauthentic because my hair is relaxed. I resent other blacks holding me to a higher standard because my hair is relaxed.

I often wonder if these same people would give me props for my hair if it were in its natural state. I wonder if locks would be widely accepted if they were “tightly coiled” or “kinky.” I wonder if people judge me differently if I didn’t have straight hair.

When Neal Boortz called Cynthia McKinney a “ghetto slut” because of her hair style, I felt a little piece of me die inside. A member of the United States Congress was labeled a “ghetto slut” because of her hair.

When Don Imus collectively called the Rutgers’ women basketball team as a bunch of “nappy-headed hos, ” a little piece of me died inside because they were insulted because of their hair. A respectable group of women were singled out because their hair was “different.”

A woman’s hair is her identity. A black woman’s hair is at the heart of her feelings of self-worth and self-actualization. So, when a society judges a black woman by her locks, her subconscious opinions of herself are greatly affected by whether society accepts or rejects her based on her locks.

As a black woman in the working world, I am finding ways to accept the fact that my hair is the defining mark of whether or not I’m a “safe nigger.” I’m accepting the fact that black hair is the most misunderstood, yet most intriguing, defining aspect of blacks.

So, the next time I receive a compliment on my hair, I will always wonder if the true intent of the “admiration” was as authentic as my soul.