Maybe I am my hair

This post first appeared at The Liming House on July 16 2008

(Pace India.Arie)

I started growing my locs five years ago. Since then, I’ve fielded a host of questions from friendsfamilyclassmatescolleaguesrandomstrangers, including but not limited to:

– Do you wash it?

– How do you wash it?

– Can I touch it?

– Does it itch?

– Is it real?

– Does it hurt?

– Don’t you miss your real hair?

– Are you a Rasta?

– Why did you do it?

This last question, now as then, is the hardest to answer. My responses have varied, depending on the questioner, the context of our relationship and how I felt that day. I lacked a substantive, definite, “because.” I didn’t have “the answer” that the questioner – and I – was looking for.

Then I read this response to a column by Steven “Freakanomics” Levitt on the economic disadvantagesof “sounding black” and of having a “black” or “Asian” name:

But if you’re intelligent and hard working, shouldn’t your resume get you in the door no matter what name is at the top? No, you’re saying. The world doesn’t work like that. But couldn’t it be said that the more HR people who encounter intelligent, hardworking people with names like Shaniqua Keisha Jones, the more people will stop pre-judging people with names like Shaniqua Keisha Jones.

Ditto “sounding black,” having a southern accent or a clearly Asian name. Deleting these things could be construed as self-hate, denial or disingenuousness. Is it better to be sneaky, calculating and take a “by any means necessary” approach in the workforce? Is “sounding black” something people need to apologize for? Do the people who “sound black” need to “invest in” the ability to sound more white? How best to bust a stereotype? By playing into it? Or defying it?

My hair is about defying stereotypes. To plagiarize myself,

I’m a twenty-something overachieving chick with dreadlocks and a predilection for wearing Converse to work

So there it is. I am my hair. I am challenging, I am defiant, I do not apologize.

And the next time some Wall Street multimillionaire or Oxbridge-educated middle-aged perpetually entitled white British editor encounters a twenty-somethingwoman from the Caribbean, or someone with locs, he will pause.

He will pause because he will remember someone else who was more than the stereotype.

Someone who was more than just her hair, or her ancestry, or her age, or her gender, or her accent, or her taste in shoes.

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