I found this essay on Racialicious today. Amazing how natural hair struggles cross racial lines; interesting for black women to view this from another perspective and OTHER reactions to this other perspective. This was a fascinating read. Here are some excerpts:
…if you look at me now, the first thing you see is what happens when Ireland and Iran decide to come together to have a baby—curls that put even Shirley Temple to shame.
My father hated my curly hair. He said it made me look black. This is a problem to some Iranians, who hold a great pride in the purity of the Persian race. Iran is actually Farsi for Aryan. To this day, when people meet me, their first impression isn’t that I look Persian; it’s that I look black. My Arabic first name doesn’t help. It makes people assume that I’m one of “those black people” whose parents named her something from the homeland.
Even my mom, my number-one fan, called my hair kinky, a term commonly reserved for black hair. That never bothered her though. She said she loved my hair because she loved the look of African hair. It was exotic to her. She just wished she knew how to take care of it. At the same time, Iranians weren’t laying any claim on me either. To them, I looked more mullato than anything else. My father hated looking at me because he said I didn’t look like an Iranian child.
I relaxed my hair for the first time one spring weekend during my freshman year of high school. I didn’t tell anyone. I wanted the new me to be a surprise. Quite honestly, the chemicals are the worst smell ever, but beauty isn’t painless, and I was willing to deal with the smell if it led to me looking normal again. Of course, it didn’t straighten my hair. It only loosened my curls by about ten percent. What the fuck is wrong with my hair? That was when I pulled out a paddle brush and a hairdryer, and I yanked it until it dried moderately straight. Then I ran the flat iron through it. You have to realize how many products are involved in making curly hair look naturally straight.
All this, just to hide the fact that you just willingly burned your hair and your scalp for the sake of aesthetic hygiene.
Anti-feminist as it may sound to say this, it was a boy who finally made me feel comfortable with my hair. I was twenty-four, in my last year of graduate school. I went in to model one summer evening for figure drawing class that was run by a guy I would later fall in love with. My hair was pulled back, and he could see the ringlets in the back of my ponytail. Sometime that evening, he asked me to let my hair down. I was terrified—I had no idea what it would look like. He didn’t care, and he asked me again to take it down. Turns out, he loved it. That night, while he held me back after class to chat, he couldn’t stop telling me how much he loved it. I didn’t know at the time that I was going to date or even marry him, but his excitement over my curls made me want to try to make peace with them.
I also learned how to break product addiction—all I needed to style my hair was conditioner. When I got home and realized how much of my bathroom I could empty out, I saw how much time, energy and money I was sinking into achieving an image that was so completely against what was natural for my body.
Sometime after that, I realized that “American” does not equal just white. Maybe in the past it did, but look at our country. America is a catch-all phrase, and when minority Americans acknowledge themselves as equally American as white Americans, then our images of racial beauty in this country can truly change. It’s interesting to see stuff categorized as African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, and so on. But American-American? It seems like a politically-correct code word for “white.” Any time a race is unspecified, we’ve been conditioned to assume it’s white. People think sometimes that it’s ironic for me to have this viewpoint, because technically speaking, I’m purely white. While that’s true, practically speaking, I’m not, because it really comes down to not genetics, but how you appear to other people. Unfortunately, we’re still a society that looks first, and then maybe learns later. The fact of the matter is that because I have kinky hair and tan skin, most people encounter think I’m black, and their projection of racial residue has really pushed me to look at race and ethnicity from a more black and less Eurocentric standpoint. I wonder what it’s like for purely white women with curly hair. Obviously, they’re not assumed to be black, but I wonder to what extent they feel the pressure to look and feel racially “normal”?