A queen's quest to rocking her remarkably real crown
The Girl of 1,000 looks
"Well if it isn't the girl of 1,000 looks," he'd announce with amusement.
This greeting came at the start of every shift, as I strutted into the bar sporting a new hairstyle. While 1,000 looks was considerably generous, I was no stranger to the overnight walla-magic of my Black hair. Faux locs, platinum gray knotless braids, Peruvian curly or body wave, I rocked them all.
The wry greeting was often met with additional comments and praises from others on the bar staff. Everyone providing their own two cents on the shapeshifting of my hair.
"Oh, I just love this style on you. I like your hair the other way too. But this one's definitely my favorite!"
"How long did that take you to do? Oh my gosh, I don't think I could sit that long!"
"I wish my hair could do that. What do you think it'd look like if I tried that?"
"Can I touch it?"
The Q&A portion of my arrival was always met with an exhausted sigh of an explanation on my end. And the response always seemed to dissatisfy the receiver. It's hard for the observer to truly ever understand the experiences of the its subject. Especially when that subject is Black hair.
Black hair over the decades has been the enigmatic phenomenon that keeps others questioning, "how did you do that?" The conundrum of attempting to comprehend the complexities that is the interlocked historical significance of Black hair has led to wars of colorism, self-hate and misguided beauty standards. Black hair or, "our crown", as I prefer to call it, represents the epitome of self-love. At the root of Black hair (no pun intended) is the Black Girl Magic that entrances onlookers in all its mysterious glory and allows us to shine in our own unique way.
Growing up in a suburban, Midwest town in Ohio groomed me to always assume the best of intent in others, if for nothing else than a means of survival. As the only Black woman to graduate in my high school class, I was surrounded by everything that was the antithesis of my existence. My classmates rocked loose, soft straight hair; while my braided crown was bejeweled with chanting beads at the end. My entrance was heard before I stepped foot inside the door. My high school curriculum required structure and restrictions; the creative in me craved abundance and freedom. My textbooks glorified the history of slaveowners; while I learned of my ancestors inventions through TikTok in 2021.
My k-12 education evolved beyond matters of arithmetic and taught me to navigate microagressions, racial slurs and implicit bias from my peers and teachers. I learned that my existence wasn't always going to make others feel comfortable with their version of the truth. In fact, the mere shimmer of my skin tone, the combination of stars that fills the hourglass of my life has led white men to unthread the very fabric of human dignity. The unraveling of which many have experienced for the past 400 years, while others have only recently been awakened to in the past two.
And it wasn't just my peers that brought me to this conclusion. It was the expectations from my home life on how to enter the world. How to fit in. To assimilate my sense of style and identity with that of my white counterparts. I would often receive the question of, "are you going to do anything with that hair?" before leaving the house. Doing anything with my hair often translated to are you going to tame that fro and straighten it or pull it back into a ponytail? The standard of our appearance was notably higher for my sisters and I, both as females and as Black women exiting our home.
Our appearance stood out, if not simply for being the only Black family in the neighborhood. Our performance in school came with high expectations as our parents were brilliant and affluent. We were a reflection of the standards that our parents were raised to uphold. The lessons on how I am to exist in this world that I learned over my formative years, poured out into the sands of time in the most remarkably real way my last year in college.
As a graduating fifth year senior, there weren't too many classes that excited me until I took a high level sociology course entitled, Social Deviance. The course explored the social construction of deviance and the social causes of and explanations for deviant behavior. The magnitude of the deviance varied all the way from standing the opposite direction on a crowded elevator to owning a strip club. What I found to be the most intriguing about the class was the concept of questioning the intent of sociological constructs at their core. To offer the constant question, "But why is it that we've always done things this way?" The kind of inquiry that offers both understanding and evolution.
The class final required us to write an 8-10 page research paper on a topic that introduced some level of social deviance into society. As a self-proclaimed sociological scholar with an affinity for red wine and rambling streams of conscious thought, I wanted to offer a topic that spoke to who I was. The Black woman, "the most disrespected person in America," according to Malxolm X. Social deviance, after all, was branded on my crown at birth. I wanted to explore the deviance of my hair in relationship to American society (specifically in the workforce).
Inspired by the concept of 2009 documentary "Good" Hair featuring Chris Rock and lived experiences, I wanted to delve into the history of African American hair styles and textures. I recognized the array of responses I would receive from the different versions of myself that would show up in society with every style I rocked. When my hair was pressed and straightened, I received often positive attention from my white counterparts. I was encouraged that I looked, "more professional." When I rocked my natural curls, I received comments that exoticized my identity. I was questioned if I was of mixed race. I was often requested to be touched or "petted" by non-Black coworkers or colleagues. In one incidence, I was in the middle of a shift at the bar and a drunken customer came from behind to shove both hands in my fro. Commenting on how different the texture felt.
Black women are often faced with a myriad of daily decisions based on their appearance, their work and their livelihood. The complexity that Black women must navigate personal and professional life based on the style of their hair was a concept that I had experienced but rarely seen literature about. For example, a Black woman who spends $75 getting a silk press to maintain her appearance in the office is often charged with deciding to workout for the evening without undoing hours of professional hair servicing. To some it may speak to a trivial preference on personal style. But the real professional transgressions imposed by the implicit bias of professional appearance are felt in a real way when it comes to the economic status of Black women. There were few scholarly publications speaking to the barriers surrounding social hierarchy that Black women and people of color face experience when climbing the ladder of social mobility. Using the thesis of how whiteness has been used as a tool to influence corporate business and educational standards, I wrote my final paper Deviant Hair.
In true procrastinator style I wrote a majority of the paper the night before just a hair infront of the classic college 11:59 pm submission deadline. The second part of our final involved preparing a presentation about our research topics. I had worn my hair pressed for that semester up until the day of my final presentation. On that day, I decided to rock my natural fro. It was time to let my real hair shine.
I'll never forget my professor's feedback as she praised me for bringing my full self into the presentation. She remarked on how enlightened she felt by the subject matter. The class was easily one of the few courses I remember taking simply because I see the principles of leading with curiosity that shape everything about who I am today.
I love my Hair
"I love your curls."
For a long time, I struggled to see the beauty in my own hair. The constant manipulations of my crown led to the disillusion that I needed to add to my head in order for there to be more to offer. When the reality was, my hair has and always will be enough. My hair is one of the few markers of my real identity and no one can take away from me.
I love the different aspects of my personality that resonates with every unique style. Derrière-length 1B knotless box braids encouraging an icy fierce vixen. Distressed faux locs lures out a soft esoteric soul. 16, 18, 20 inches of Body Wave entices the sultry chic siren in me to come out and play. And my curly fro, well she's the grand finale, the crème de la crème, the pièce de ré·sis·tance.
A rich sense of pride pulses through every twist and turn of my tender, ebony 3C ringlets. The statuesque nature of my crown standing at attention, as if my ancestral DNA were shouting, "I defy any form of oppression that attempts to dim this crown's shine." Challenging any bone straight silk press version of my history.
I love my hair -
In a society that can't help but commentate on how they prefer I fit in or the most professional ways to style my crown. The complexity of my hair confirms exactly why my leadership style stands out.
I love my hair -
In a workforce that discriminates against natural styles on different textures through hiring practices and school disciplinary measures. My hair protests the unequitable treatment of people based on biased toxic beauty standards.
I love my hair -
In a world that will try to convince us all to be everything we aren't. My hair reminds me of everything that I am.
The CROWN Act
The C.R.O.W.N Act stands for "Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair". The legislation was created in 2019 to ensure protection against discrimination based on race-based hairstyles be extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles such as braids, locs, twists, and knots in the workplace and public schools. Sponsored by Dove and the CROWN Coalition, the CROWN Act seeks to end hair discrimination.
To learn more about the CROWN Act and to see what legislation has been passed in your state you can visit their website, the crownact.com. #PassTheCROWN