Sidney Blog

My Hair Speaks Louder Than I Can

I remem­ber sitting in between my mothers knees, no longer holding back tears as she used a wide-toothed comb to untan­gle my hair. Bawling while simul­ta­ne­ously trying to pay atten­tion to The Lion King because, an hour in and we were hardly a quarter of the way through. After each section she would take a clump of my hair that was trapped in the comb and place it on the table beside me. As the ball of blond hair became bigger and more cloud-like, I would think back to my friends at school, with their long straight hair and I was jealous. How come they didn’t have to spend a whole day washing their hair? How come their mamas never burned their ears with a hot comb? How come they look like the women in maga­zines and I so often get mistaken for a boy, just because my hair does not fall in glossy tendrils down my back?

For my twelfth birth­day, I woke up early, so excited that this morning might have been mistaken for Christ­mas. At Katie’s Hair Salon, Katie herself would spend the next six hours making my hair straight; like that of the women on relaxer boxes. I ran my fingers through my hair for the first time and constantly after that. I brushed, twirled and flipped it just like my friends at school. I had never been so happy. It lasted three days.

Almost none of my friends recog­nized me, and in the first couple of days, I hardly recog­nized myself. As time progressed, and my hair got frizzier, more things got stuck in it. At first it was just simple stuff like twigs and leaves, even frizzier and I would pull out that bobby pin I left there three weeks ago. Frizzier then, and I would remove the occa­sional pencil placed by class­mates betting on how long it would take me to notice.

When I finally let it bloom into its fullest poten­tial, I found some things I never expected. I found pride when a photog­ra­pher invited me to his work­shop, my unique look engraved now, and forever, as tintypes. I found frus­tra­tion when my local temple took me less seri­ously because my curls made me an outlier. I found a star­tling atten­tion from strangers stem­ming from the curious as well as the creepy and inadvertently racist.

While I have to fight every day to make my voice heard, my hair makes state­ments without even trying. I’ve had older black men look at me and raise a pride­ful fist in the air. Our eye contact speaks about Black Power, Angela Davis and a fight for equal­ity that contin­ues to this day.

I’ve had women stare with admi­ra­tion as they touch their own tresses damaged by a billion-dollar indus­try pushing chem­i­cal relax­ers, wigs and weaves. They tell me about sacri­fic­ing their natural hair to the Euro­pean ideal of beauty so they don’t get passed over for a promo­tion. They tell me to keep it up because I’m contin­u­ing a personal protest with every wash-and-go.

I found my iden­tity in a cloud of hair cocoon­ing and incu­bat­ing how I perceive the world as well as how it perceives me. It took years for me to accept that what I have is malleable and beau­ti­ful and mine and it shouts of black excel­lence even when I cannot find my voice.

Sidney Fisher, Class of 2018, will be attend­ing The Univer­sity of Michi­gan in the fall.