This year I have two little African-American girls who, sadly, I already see struggling with their hair. Society, and I fear, even family, are telling them ‘straight hair is beautiful, nappy hair is not.’ I tell them both everyday how much I love their hair – ‘It’s curly, like mine!’
It really saddens me to see any little girl, or boy for that matter, feel badly about the way they look. I know, because my hair isn’t just curly, it’s nappy as a Brillo Pad… in fact, as a child, I was called, usually in a fond way, ‘Brillo Head’.
I remember a conversation I had with my mom when I was young about my hair. My mother has curly hair, but it’s not nappy like mind. In fact, nobody in my family had the tight afro-like hair I did, so I’m not really sure where it came from.
“Mom, why is my hair so nappy and yours isn’t?” I asked.
“Well mine used to be like yours, but when I got pregnant with your brother it changed and never went back,” she offered.
Hmmm, that wasn’t ever going to happen to me. It was decided, I would be stuck with a nappy Brillo Pad head for the rest of my life.
Of course I tried straightening it, cutting it super short to lose all the curl, and even in high school went through a very unfortunate phase when I wore a bandana to pull it back and cover it up. Denial and rejection aren’t attractive, but I was too young to know.
Eventually, as I got older, I began to accept and even love my hair. It’s unique and most guys – well white guys – don’t have it. Yes, it’s sometimes called a ‘Jew-fro’ or even still, ‘Brillo Head’, but it’s mine and I actually enjoy the crazy, sometimes out of control, frantic curls because really, they reflect my personality.
So back to the girls in my class. It is clear to me they are not getting the message their nappy hair is gorgeous. I read a book called I Love My Hair about this very topic, all the time stopping to make connections to my own and their hair. We did a whole writing project around what on our bodies we loved (nose, mouth, eyes, etc.) and nobody, except me, chose their hair. We even watched this:
Everyday when they come in, hair braided, in neat rows, or wild and free, I tell them how much I love it, but they never seem to believe me. Apparently, their teacher, who, to them, knows all, clearly is wrong about hair. True when they come over to me with a beret or elastic that has managed to escape, although I try my best, never quite get it right. Hair is not my area of expertise and they know it.
So what’s a teacher to do? I’ll keep searching for ways to bolster their confidence and hope their families will too. I hope they don’t succumb to straightening – well at least not because they feel their natural hair isn’t beautiful.
So to all my non-teacher friends, kindergarten is more than macaroni necklaces, more than learning the alphabet, more than learning to read and write, it’s also about learning to accept, and hopefully, love ourselves just a little. I’ve got my work cut out for me.