Identity?: A Black Girl's Hair Memoir
In this funny and 'real hair talk' memoir, Chanell J. Wilson revisits her black hair journey; in hopes of finding peace with her image in an American European Standard Society. More
Identity? The Poem
I look in the mirror I pause,
Turn my head:
right side, left side.
Bat my lashes, smile a bit, give myself the sexy eye....
Playing with my camera phone hoping, wishing, gawking,
My image amuses me
What am I looking for?
I think, I am looking for...
What am I searching for...
... My Dignity?
Through this mirror, through this terror I am lost,
trying to find my own
I just want to belong, I just want to belong!
Can’t you help me find my..... Identity?
© 2010 by Chanell J. Wilson
I had reached a fake hair wearing plateau. After seven months of wearing braids, weaves, and wig styles; I knew my scalp needed a break. As I touched my unprocessed new growth; I contemplated my next hair direction. First, the anxiety crept in my mind. Then, came the indecisive headache. My original goal was to wear my natural unprocessed hair and style it. However, the return of the 1980's asymmetrical Bob Hair cut peeked my interest so high; that I was leaning towards throwing my original goal out of the window.
Like a voyeur, I gawked at images of stacked hair bouncing into geometric shapes, layers and angles. It was all very fascinating. It was also all very perplexing. Thoughts of sitting in my hairdresser's chair; invoked a smile on my face. The poetic imagery of the Hair Salon process was all coming back to me. I could hear the snipping sounds of hair cut with scissors, the razor of the clippers tapering my neckline, and the singe from the curling iron when it came in contact with holding sprits. I once wore that Bob. And like a guitarist on a stage, I could rock that look. I was already in a Cold War; wrestling with two hair ideals. I had declared battle on the lye enemy and succeeded in getting the perm out of my hair. Now, I wanted to straighten it for style! "Well color me Blue? How do I do this?" , I wondered. The internal battle was on!
For my preference sake, my hair is happiest when it is natural. For identity's sake, I am happiest when I am stylistically free. I had to get to the bottom of this hair crisis before this hair crisis got to the bottom of me. As a black woman in America, I had this constant feeling that I needed to prove something. I never lived during Slavery; but I was born supposedly "free". I never faced Jim Crow lynch mobs or sat through The Mammy and Pica-ninny Minstrel shows; but I did grow up during turf wars amongst black and mexican youth, gold teeth wearing teens, and the Hot Boys telling women to "back that thing up". I never experienced Segregation or had to protest through a civil rights demonstration; but on a daily I struggled (and hustled) within my working class and tried to reinvent new ways to shift my placement on the American Totem Poll. I just want to be apart of this Technicolored American Dream and Advance to something with substance.
"Would I regret another perm?", "Would I let my people down or disrespect my ancestors if I give into my style?", "Would I be viewed as a sell out for going back to the lye?", "Would I be viewed as too militant by holding on to my afro?". "Who was my enemy; the lye or my mindset?". I internally screamed at all the schizophrenic questions. It was just hair! It could be here today or easily gone tomorrow. It could then grow back within months or sewn or glued onto my scalp for a quick extended effect. Keeping up was confusing.
I could not simply improvise this repair. I could not just wash my hair and hope for the best. I had to dismantle my ideals, troubleshoot the broken pieces of my past and fix them, so that I could work properly and stand confidentially. It was time to do some soul searching and face the mirror of Identity.