WFPP Guest Post: We Will Braid Our Way to Revolution, Baby

Kelly Diels, of her eponymous blog, offers the following entry to the Womanist/Feminist Parenting Primer on hair, and parenting biracial black girls, and hair, and love, and hair, and revolution, and hair. Because hair is (if you’ll pardon me) woven in with all those things, especially for black women and girls.

I love this piece not only because I love Kelly’s writing, but because it is an excellent intersectionalist piece. Although — like many — she doesn’t use the words “feminism” or “white privilege” or “internalized racist beauty standards”, her post is about all that and more.

We Will Braid Our Way to Revolution, Baby

I wish my children were turtles and carried a carapace of protective armour on their backs.  I wish I was a warrior woman who would blaze trails of righteousness with fearsome weapon, the word.  Or the laptop.  It has a certain heft.  It can also start fires if you leave it unattended on the sofa.  True story.  Not mine, but true, so leave your laptops on hard surfaces only, if you please.  That was my PSA. No charge.  Tell your friends.

I wish these things — the armour, the bravery, the righteousness, not the small house fires – because I often feel helpless to protect my children from both the big, bad wolf (and lo, he is out there) and the big, bad world.

I am white.  My children are black.  Although in my work, my studies and in my thinking I challenge those poles of identification, the truth of the matter is that my children and I have inherited and inhabit two different worlds.

This is not an easy thing to admit. I’m an idealist.  I really would like to buy the world a coke and live in perfect harmony.  The world that the multicultural clubs and Benetton ads of my adolescence sold me is a sexy fantasy.  Sometimes I think I’ve created it.  Sometimes I marvel at how my friends are just so damn progressive and awesome and kickass that I’ve accidentally-on-purpose astral-planed into a right-thinking world where Barack Obama is president and schools don’t boycott his speeches.  And then schools protest his speeches. And then someone questions the paternity of my children, or my connection to them (are you their mother? their REAL mother?), or talks about their good hair, or or or or.

Or my daughter will tell me: I wish I was white.

Or I will hear her barbie say: I want to be friends with the white girl.  You can’t be my girlfriend because you’re brown.

Or she will pester me for seven hundred consecutive years AND I AM NOT EXAGGERATING to oppress her ringlets into a straight-hanging hair curtain.

Or she will tell me that her cousins are more beautiful than her because they have yellow hair.

The hair, the hair, the hair.  I worry constantly about the hair.

I straighten my hair every day.  It is a creative endeavour.  I’m working a Cleopatra-bob AND IT IS ART DAMMIT.  I love parts of the aesthetic community that women can opt into or out of: I love going to a salon or getting together with a girlfriend to apply rinses and pluck offenders and having my hair stroked and my words heard and frizzies steamed into submission. It is cheaper than therapy.  It IS therapy, and art therapy, to boot, and there is touching and I am a affection sponge entirely devoid of shame.  I’ll take it any way I can get it.

So for me, hair is just another medium for personal expression.  Blue hair says something and so do gleaming chestnut bobs.  Mine says, is it just me or is the unrepentantly oft-married Liz Taylor the EFFING BOMB?  (It might be just me.)

So that’s what hair is to me: a choice. A playground.  At work, no one will look at me any which way if it is curly one day and straight the next. I can come back from vacation with braids and beads (please kill me if I do) and it will be a lark, not a political statement, though HOLY is that weighted with economic and political implications. I can wash it and leave it be and it will be and it will not be a big deal, to anyone, anywhere, and definitely not in my office.  I’m not sure anyone there has even noticed that I have hair even though I sometimes straighten it at my desk.  No joke.  I do it as a joke.  I like to send up my job.

This is fun and inconsequential and this is not necessarily how black women experience hair.  This is not entirely how my children will experience their hair.  Their hair signals something: not white. Not black. It means something.

OMG BREAKING NEWS: TYRA BANKS JUST TOOK OFF HER WEAVE ON NATIONAL TELEVISION.  “Is embracing the state of black hair the new liberation?

And that is what I mean: for black women, to just wear your hair, as it is, is so bad-ass. So Africanist.  So Authentic.  Such a political statement that even Tyra can make a play at challenging the beauty myth.  Because the dominant standard of beauty in our society is so Eurocentric that to be acceptable black women must pay for entre.  They pay to the tune of $45.6 million a year in home hair relaxers (not including relaxers sold at Wal-Mart).  There’s a quip that isn’t just a quip in the trailer for Chris Rocks’ Good Hair: “If your hair is nappy, white people aren’t happy.”

So my white hairplay is frivolous but what I do with my black children’s hair has meaning.  It might mean that I haven’t bothered to learn how to care for it.  It might mean that I am flaunting their biraciality and their ‘good’ hair and the way they might straddle of the divide between white and black.  It might mean I’m allowing them to be culturally white and aesthetically exotic.

Or it might mean that I will usher them into the art and touch and play of hair.  We might sit for hours and braid and talk.  We might blow-dry and straighten and stroke and talk.  We might oil and twist and knot and talk.  We may play, we may bow, we may straighten our spines and there will be curls and braids and beads and straight and wild days.

But with each style, with each hot-set undertaking, we will talk.  Love talk is radical.

I always wanted to be political, to be an activist, but I was always too lazy for protests, and besides, the crowds freak me out.  I can barely handle the twelve parents and assorted children at softball games without medication.  So mothering has been the most surprising endeavour: my most mundane moments are protests.  Negotiation.  Navigation.  The revolution is much smaller and intimate than I ever imagined.  The revolution will be mothered.  And fathered.  And, one wonderful day, parented.

The Beginning.

About Me.  Kelly Diels.
1.  This year, I’m thirty-sex.  Yes I AM.
2. By day, I’m a single mama who works in the big bad corporate world writing proposals and managing contracts.
3. By many, many nights, I write from my heart and spill my tawdry secrets (they’re mostly not tawdry, alas, but that might make you look) on my wildly unfocused blog,
4. I also have an unacknowledged Twitter problem except now I just acknowledged it.  Please find me (@KellyDiels) and say hi.

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7 Responses to WFPP Guest Post: We Will Braid Our Way to Revolution, Baby

  1. online friend of mine who is growing her hair out without nasty chemicals. Her hair, as you can see from the pictures, is gorgeous, soft, and moist without being fake European. She’s been kind enough to share her journey to long hair with me, so I now have an odd interest in black hair and a definite bias against chemical treatments.

  2. OK, that was just. really. really. good.
    sorry brain too fried right now to leave a good comment but I just recently stumbled unto Rocks and now I’m happy to find another blogger I like so soon.
    again, really.really.good.

  3. I love this post. I have a young daughter too and want her to love her kinks and curls simply because they spring from her lovely, precious head. But then the world gets in the way and the images that she sees that are supposed to represent beauty just don’t look like her.

    There comes a time when all little brown girls realize that their hair is…different. It doesn’t swing and hang, it shrivels up, sticks up, and sometimes (oh the horror) it even leaves grease marks on the seat on the school bus. We are taught that the silkier our hair the better. Of couse, hair is an obsession for ALL women. But for brown girls, who I personally believe have the most unique and diverse hair, we need to be taught from a young age to embrace our coils and curls and to wear them with pride. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn this until I was 30 years old. It’s just an accessory, after all. In my life it has been a vehicle of expression, bonding, seduction and distraction. I agree with Kelly that hair does have meaning. Whatever meaning we choose to assign to it on any given day. And to me, that’s the beauty of it. My hair (just like your daughter’s) is not good, bad or indifferent, it’s mine and that alone makes it beautiful.

  4. Pingback: Cleavages: The Lines That Shape Us. | Cleavage by Kelly Diels.

  5. It might be useful to think about what it means to your daughter to watch you straighten your hair….yea the media sucks, other kids are an influence but when a girl is young her mother is a biggest role model, maybe a part of this journey starts with you.
    Also, if your daughter hates her hair wants hair that she will never naturally have, why dont you expose her to women of color with similarly textured hair and say hey, these women are successful, attractive, and awesome and you can be too?

    These are just some ideas that popped in once I finished your article, I am sure you can come up with better ones yourself.

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