Emotional Hair

“Can you remove your hood in the store ma’am?”

That was the last I heard of the store clerk after removing the hood. I’d stepped once more into a sea of misplaced smiles, the check-out line occupied by a mixture of awe and wonder, of marvel and disgust alike. And it all started six years ago.

January 3, 2009

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My husband and I were in Norman Oklahoma for a documentary production to which we were preparing to premier that summer. Meanwhile, I’d become fed up with the perm and decided I was no longer going to be engaged in such a one sided relationship. I was tired of complaining about what to do with it and tired of it not growing much in return. What did this hair think it was anyway? I was supposed to spend money on perms and braids while it just sat there. Nope. I was not having it. And so while at my sister’s house, letting her husband and mine occupy the office while we did girl things, I decided right then and there to let her twist my hair.

It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. I had no idea how deeply I would fall for this new thing in my life, or how much emotion something as seemingly unimportant as hair, would garner.

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It was easy in the beginning. Like any other relationship the “newlywed” phase was going smoothly. While I mostly kept it covered with head wraps to which I had also fell for, my selfie game was tight. This was before Facebook though and I wasn’t really into MySpace, so most of these pictures were not published online. That was ok though because this was just the beginning. I couldn’t be sharing this new love of my life with everyone. It was like I had met myself for the first time. I felt alive, strong, and free.

Eventually, I could not keep my hair under wraps for too long. I loved the head wraps but they had become hot and uncomfortable. My hair was growing faster than it had in my life and was attempting to crawl down my back. In addition, I started to enjoy the look of myself without the head wrap even more. My hair was no longer just a combination of DNA strands emerging from the follicles of my scalp, but it was part of everything I did. I had to take into account the way my hair looked when I got dressed, and when I added accessories. “Does this hair go with these shoes? Hmmm”. Now, I was ready to hit the streets.

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No, not like that (get your minds out the gutter). I mean I was ready to take on the world. That is when I noticed it. This hair took on more attention than I did. It stopped people in the streets. Stopped them mid-sentence. It even momentarily stopped women from shopping (now that’s serious!) How could they risk going on without asking me how I got my hair like that? Men too marveled, “See I want my hair that thick”, they would say. It was really something and opened the door to deeper questions of identity. I often get questions concerning where I’m from. They think I’m going to reply:

Nigeria”.

Instead I say, “I’m originally from Chicago”.

“Oh”, they say and continue to stare. I smile because I get it. They are confused because I don’t look like an American. I like that.

Trouble in Paradise

Not all of the attention brought on by this hair is good. There are a lot of people who look at me like I disgust them. In truth it is because they’re curious about me. It is not just my hair that is different and they can sense it. This brings me to the beginning of this post.

“Can you remove your hood in the store ma’am?”

It was the last thing I heard before my feet was crossing the threshold out of Family Dollar. The few customers present bathed me in eyeballs and the employees spoke in whispers among themselves. After ringing me up the man didn’t bother to inform me on the final cost of my products. It was as if he thought I could read his mind. Good thing I can count. I peered over the computer screen and paid what was due. With that I walked out of the store. No one ever said a word.

First you get people all excited, then curious, angry, surprised, and even fearful. Look at you turning heads and opening minds, you emotional hair you!

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