The photo, a black and white image, was hardly a masterpiece. It a mere medley of full lips, expressive eyes, and freshly styled head of hair that was blown out and possessing a wave that fell beneath her shoulders. Noticing not the youth, the silly expression, or amateur photography skills, the gaze fixated on something more trivial with a disturbing seriousness.
“Your hair is gorgeous. btw…All yours??”
Although gracefully put, and casually inserted into a conversation of the contrary, the comment seared for reasons unknown at the time. In the decade upon hearing this comment—this query: is that all your hair? would take on multiple forms—even evolving from words to action. These action would include running their hands through a mane they were so sure was store bought, or generating deliberate but seemingly random conversations about hair as if to foment a confession.
The issue here is not hair, because in reality the black community has far more pressing topics to concern themselves with. The issue here is what this query represents. See, the query “is that all your hair? asserts an accusation of aesthetical plagiarism.
Just as the literate black who thinks, writes, and behaves at a level superior to their oppressors is often questioned with regard to the authenticity of their work—the black female who conveys a regal literacy atop her head, incurs similar accusations of plagiarism.
Is that All Your Hair?
Is that all your hair? Is a query purposely extended to some black women and withheld from others. The question signals a discordance, a seemingly cognitively dissonant presence. This query means that the aesthetics of a single black woman or female are presumed “too good to be true.” The presence of hair presumed to be “good” or or at least seemingly deviant from the tight coils associated with unadulterated blackness, is acceptable on those with presumably adulterated blood or those who have other features associated with non-blacks. So when a black women is asked “is that all your hair,” what she is really being asked is a query of access. Weaves and wigs present inauthenticity, or forged access to a “beauty” seen as unattainable naturally, or with authentic styling, to the black female. Thus, the query, “is that all your hair” inquires about the presence or privilege, or possessing an attribute that can or cannot be bought.
Hair is not simply celebration, but an effort of a buried body to resurrect from invisibility—to survive the “ugly” labeling applied to a female body nurtured to conceptualize beauty as her economy. For the black woman, who is told her blackness is ugly, the world has convinced her that she has no aesthetic economy. Thus, the query, is that all your hair? overtly inquires as to whether a black female body possesses a certain aesthetical commerce. Covertly, the query speaks to an veiled expectation of black female ugliness deeming the query a colloquial proclamation of self-hatred.
It is remiss to ignore that while a symbol of beauty, hair is also an indicator of other traits deemed desirable in our oppressive culture.
In Sapphire’s Push, the narrator, Precious Jones, in recalling her childhood, comments that “nobody do my hair.” In this context, This confession imbues a sentimental capital. Namely, it symbolizes that Precious is not “loved”–at least in the way she should. Black hair styling is commonly associated with the love and care received at home. To revert back to elementary school days, how and if a child’s hair was styled often proved an indicator as to how well a child was cared for. During college and in the working world, black hair that was “done” and “done well” often indicated a socio-economical bracket that allowed or prevented access to quality styling and products. Thus, to accuse a being of black female form of aesthetical plagiarism is not only to doubt the proximity of the black woman to conventional beauty, but also to accuse her of plagiarizing her socio-economic status and status as a loved person.
A popularized symbol, supposedly depicting self-love, “black girl magic” remains a frequently solicited hashtag and colloquialism. Yet, while black girl magic rolls off countless tongues daily, many remain subconsciously unable to acknowledge black hair as magic. As I write this, I hear the late great Malcolm X ask “Who taught you to hate yourself?” Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? To hate your self from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet?” We, as a collective have been nurtured to internalize the negative perceptions of blackness– to hate ourselves as victims of white supremacy, and perhaps this narrative is most visible in hair. We have been taught as black people to view magic as an illusion– as a performance we must don a costume to attend, to overlook that we ourselves are the magic. Furthermore, Is that all your hair”, though not mislabeled by the colloquial term “hating” is a symbol of something worse—“self-hate.”
Moreover, this query “Is that all your hair?” exposes that the “ugly black woman” is not
just a caricatured image seen on television and in novels, but a necessity in the white supremacist culture that engulfs us as a collective. Hair is equated to beauty, thus it is not an accident that black women are lead to believe that their hair is a burden, ugly, or specifically never long or thick enough to constitute beauty—as belief in the myth of the untamable mane is essential to ensuring that the black collective does not inquire a literacy of esteem. Thus, this query, whether from a non-black person of color, melanated black person, or white person, reflects an internalized belief that the mythical ugly black woman is indeed factual.
So in acquiring a pro-black literacy, it is essential that one acknowledges black beauty as all encompassing and without exception. Black hair is a crown made of the gold that flows through our veins, so if it seems too beautiful, glorious, and majestic, that’s because it is, but that does not make it too “good” to be true.
Black Power ❤