Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hair-Raising Behavior

Didn't I tell you the black community has issues with hair? Clearly not everyone is heeding my warning about where not to tread. If you are not under a rock, you have most likely heard about the teacher who cut a 1st-grader's braid because she would not - breathe deep, Monica - stop twirling it. The CHILD. was TWIRLING. her hair. And that warranted scissors, it seems.

I was trying really hard to push this to the back of my mind, but it's everywhere and even Essence jumped on it, which is akin to Oprah calling a special meeting of the sistahs. (Note the url that calls the place "crazytown.") Nordette wrote about this with a little more depth than anything I first read so take a look at her story here:

I knew the little girl was black. What I did not know at first and honestly tried so very hard not to think about was whether or not this teacher was white. Dang it, she was. Seems to me she was either looking for a racial incident or she's the most sheltered teacher in America. Now before I go on, I've been reading what people have to say about this and one person who agreed this woman was nuts also wanted to stress that this is not a color issue, wishing that black Americans didn't have such knee-jerk reactions. The statement was made by a black woman, but I am guessing not a native American and that does make a difference. If you have never been abused (or lived in the midst of it), you cannot judge the self-preservation actions taken by the one who has. So let me clear this up now. No one wants it to be a color issue. But our race as a whole has PTSD (or maybe PSSD would be better) and it's not going away any time soon. When bad incidents happen, Black Americans in general pray every time that color isn't involved or that it's not a black person having an issue with a white one. We collectively hold our breaths. We are let down most of the time. So when it is a black and white person involved, we hope against hope it's not racially motivated. We don't all choose to have a knee-jerk reaction. It is the PTSD and it can't be helped. Please don't be so naive and stop trying to dismiss it.

Back to the teacher, I'm sure there have been blacks who have also maliciously cut some kid's hair who is not their own (Nordette mentions one case), but I am also sure any black person who does this knows precisely the implication of their action. It's a form of feminine castration for many black women.

I told you - the hair is sacred.

It's ingrained in us like the urge to fly is in a baby bird. No one is immune. Not even me. Reading this story got me PISSED big time and it happened so fast I didn't know what hit me. I immediately thought of all the teachers surrounding my children and the couple of times I have had to tell a teacher that my son, for instance, is not perfect at all times and his "change in behavior" after 6 months in school from quiet and obedient to a little talkative is not a sign of trouble at home. Instead it is a sign of them not knowing him like they thought they did. And how could they? They don't stay with him past that one grade.

Cutting that girl's braid is a sign of that teacher either not knowing the children she teaches - mainly black children, it is said - or just not caring. But if my daughter came home telling me that story, I can't promise I wouldn't get in that teacher's face. I would insist my husband come with me as we talk in front of the principal not because it's the adult way to handle the situation but because even now I can just feel myself choking the person who dared to lay a hand on my hair-twirling child in this most brazen way. I tell you, I was truly livid for this girl whom I don't know. How up in arms do you think I would get to find out it happened to my own?

You can take probably every culturally psychological issue we have as a people and lay it at the feet of slavery. That is likely the start of the self-esteem getting entwined in our hair and we simply have not dealt with it or refuse to believe there is a connection there. But even if you don't think the root of the hair problem is slavery, one thing is for sure - while we don't go looking for this, the majority of us do wrestle with a hair issue.

Maybe we want it straight because we want to be like white women. Maybe we are determined to be natural in order to spit in the face of that other thought. Maybe we want to braid our hair but there are still companies and careers where natural African-American hairstyles are considered bad form. (Oh yes. Those places do exist.) We have challenging hair, it's no lie, so we do what we can to make it easier to handle. I like braids and twists not because it's cultural but because it's just easier - get up and go! Plus, my hair grows better when I simply leave it alone. Thankfully, I am black and no one looks at me twice if I braid my hair. (Well, they do, but usually because they like it and it might even mean me going into teaching mode about my hair. Sigh. It does get a little tired.)

For some of us, those natural curls of ours are less a source of pride and more an embarrassment. But these and many other issues are owned by us, whether we want to own them or not and we go into defense mode when someone touches our issue - just like anyone of any other culture would. If a non-black person says a word about our hair or touches it or tries to just ask why we do what we do, it's like a sonar going off among nearby black women and every one of them will run to your defense, even if you personally aren't offended. "Its NONE of YOUR business! We can do what we want with our hair!" Don't tell your hairdresser there was talk, either. There will be consequences. And please, don't be a non-black parent with a black or mixed race child and not take care of their hair. There is a special prison where we lock you up for that offense. If that is you, just ASK FOR HELP. You won't find a black mother unwilling to help you beautify that child because, as as I said, our hair is sacred and so is the hair of every big and little sistah (or brotha) we see. There is no excuse for letting a child go wild.

It's a sensitive issue. You can't wish it away or joke it away or try to make black people feel badly for reacting the way we do. It is what it is. This teacher was foolish to do what she did. I don't necessarily think anyone should be required to learn the culture of another, but if you are going to work heavily with a population, it would behoove you to get a clue about the things they value and the things they take issue with. That teacher is naive to think people should not be upset (if she indeed thinks that). I still want her fired but I can't tell you yet if my logical, fair side is even in the conversation. A $175 fine for a teacher in Chicago probably does hit the wallet (good) but it's not enough. I'd even accept cultural sensitivity training (on top of the fine AND firing) and that to me is usually a lame thing to do.

I'm still angry. Truly. I want to hear this woman is gone. Just like Erin Andrews' stalker will hopefully get jail time for peeping at her and posting embarrassing pictures of her on the Internet, I want this teacher to face some kind of punishment for going one step further and laying a hand on the head of a child in front of all of her peers, equally and unnecessarily embarrassing her. But I also hope all this cutting behavior will mean some real discussion between the races about how to respect each other and within the race (black Americans and blacks from other countries) about the length of our hair issues. In the meanwhile, my daughter and I have hair appointments this weekend. You can bet the shop will be hopping mad.

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