I remember learning about the scientific black burden hierarchy in my college anthropology class. The notion that having one single drop of black blood in your heritage tilted your class assignment in the world wasn’t extremely brand new to me. My mom was a post-revolutionary Black Panther and having raised me as a single child in multicultural Seattle, she wanted me to understand the nuances of black culture and adopt a mentality that my culture was beautiful despite the world around me. Even though the rest of the world thought that black was “bad” my mom assured me that all cultures were unique, beautiful and God-created. Too bad my reality was completely contrary to what I was learning at home.
Hailing from the Pacific North West I was raised in the heart of a biracial boomtown. Most of my friends growing up were Caucasian-Black, Asian-Black and Caucasian-Indian mixed races. A new America if you will where hybrid couples produced offspring that made my childhood a constant identity battle. When it was time to play house in kindergarten, the boys took the biracial chicks to be their brides and I was left with the other “all-black” girls to trade off as each other’s husbands. The boys and girls (including myself) took pleasure in playing in Brittney and Andrea’s long, curly and super-soft tresses. There was no playing with my cornrows or the 60 plus barrettes my mom used to decorate my hair. It wasn’t until my mom performed the Just For Me ritual on my hair that I was invited into the “good hair” circle.
While I understand why so many are pissed off about recent singer Melanie Fiona’s comments about her “good mix” for hair growth – which she attributes to being of Black, Portuguese and Indian decent — her statement reflects a very real reality of how we have viewed beauty for centuries. Before “natural” hair was popular most of us were part of the relaxer generation and proud to be able to whip our hair as hard as the “others”. This conversation didn’t start with and it certainly won’t end with Fiona. Let’s be real.
Walking into high school, I was labeled as the rebel black girl that was down with the cause all because I refused to go to battle with another relaxer and traded in my time with a weave for two-strand twists. For four years my peers called me a Jamaican princess. Let me be clear, I am not nor have I ever been Jamaican. I really got hip to the game my sophomore year when I walked into class with a mean flat iron hair do’ and cut that gave me an Aaliyah-esque look sans the over-the-eye swoop. I was fly and I knew it. Everyone knew it. Even my Caucasian boyfriend boldly stated, “I like your hair like that.” I admit that it felt good to feel validated. Secretly I know that most of us hate to admit how much we wanted the equal opportunity to taste even a little bit of what the biracial chicks experienced growing up. It’s that same power that made Zoe Saldana the pick to play Nina Simone.
Why isn’t Fiona entitled to her opinion about her own damn hair? My biracial friends never had the issues with hair growth that I’ve had. Their ability to grow their hair super long, cut it off and not worry about it not growing back was a little annoying as I struggled to recover from a bad perm that left me with a bald spot, but I wasn’t going to outwardly hate on them. My hair is work. It’s a full-time job and a relationship that’s been dysfunctional since I could remember. We love each other because we have no choice. I’m proud of my hair but many of us are always looking to trade in our tresses regardless of the curl pattern. Hair itself is simply exhausting.
Melanie Fiona’s statement should not retract from our own personal belief in the power of our own beauty. I don’t believe what she said was politically correct but she’s free to love her mane the same way we’re free to love ours. Though we’re all very sensitive in our own experiences in dealing with race and hair, I don’t believe that Fiona’s statement was necessarily egregious or intentional geared towards being disrespectful to non-mixed raced individuals. Let the girl love her hair. It’s hers. We can celebrate OURS at the next natural hair meetup.