You don’t have “mixed-girl’s hair”

written by Love Isn’t Enough contributor Liz Dwyer; originally published at Los Angelista’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness

Did you know that I have weird, frizzy, nappy hair and I shouldn’t? Apparently, since one of my parents is white, it’s supposed to be amixed.girls.hair.not different texture.

Last night was quite fab till I decided to slap on my dunce cap and make a late-night run to CVS to pick up a few things. (Note to self, stay away from CVS after 11:30 pm.)

Alas, while perusing some lipstick I didn’t need, a pretty, twenty-something African-American woman asked, “Excuse me, is that your hair?”‘

Um, yes. It got stapled it to my scalp this morning. It is.

I get all excited when I think I’m about to have a conversation with a young sista about ditching chemicals and rocking the natural hair that grows out of her head. I was ready to drop knowledge. Smiles all around.

She was skeptical and didn’t believe I don’t have any chemicals in my hair. Nope, I insisted. I’m chemical free. I don’t even use chemical hair dye.

I wanted to stab myself in the eyeball when she said, “Well I guess I could get away with being natural if I had hair like you. You kinda got a good grade of hair.”

First of all, who the heck still uses the word “grade” to describe hair? This isn’t school and there’s no A+ being handed out for hair textures. Secondly, a “good” grade automatically implies that there’s a “bad” grade.

I’ll spell out the code language: A bad grade =more highly textured, kinky hair. More African. A good grade of hair means your hair is straighter and more European.

Same crap, different day. Heard it before. Yawn.

However, I recognize the signs of internalized oppression so I patiently gave her my spiel on how healthy hair is good hair and how people of African descent with highly textured hair don’t have to apologize for the way our hair looks, and we don’t have to make it straighter or make it curl in a more socially acceptable manner.

“Well that’s easy for you to say since you don’t have that super-black hair.”

She said it like “super-black” is something bad, but I tried to focus on what I thought she was trying to say, which was that to some people, my hair is more acceptable because it’s not the most highly textured hair on the planet. No doubt that’s true because unfortunately, that’s the way racism in America intersects with our standard of beauty.

Then she asked me if both my parents are black.

No ma’am, they’re not. My mom’s black but she’s the one with the Beatles and Rolling Stones records, she doesn’t eat soul food and she speaks 100% Kings English. I’m sure in somebody’s book, that doesn’t make her “super black.” As for my dad, he’s white. He can also play the heck out of a Duke Ellington song on the piano and he refuses to eat tomatoes or mushrooms. Does that mean he’s not “super white”? But I digress. Back to the tale at hand…

She replied, “You’re half white? I thought you might be part Mexican or something.” Um. Hmm. Really? That’s a new one. And she continued. “No offense, but most mixed people I know have a better grade of hair than you do.”

There are so many things wrong with that statement, but clearly, the message was that I’ve been cheated by genetics because I don’t have Mariah Carey’s or Alicia Keys’ hair.

“It’s just weird that your hair is so frizzy and nappy and your dad is white. ARE YOU SURE YOU’RE MIXED?”

1) weird
2) frizzy
3) nappy

Hold up! She asked ME about my hair. I was nice enough to explain it and answer her questions, and she says I’m weird, frizzy and nappy – all three clearly meant in a derogatory manner. Now I want to start a new blog called weird+frizzy+nappy= HOTNESS to combat the myth that any of those things are bad.

OK, maybe I’ll just make it weird + nappy = HOTNESS because I can truly do without frizz.

But, as for questioning my parentage… sadly, this is not the first time that’s been said to me. I’ve even been told that maybe the “problem” with my hair is that my mom’s black instead of white. Yeah, my black mom ruined my chances of having a non “super-black”, “good” grade of hair.

I was finished with the conversation and I was starting to think about how it is that people get beat up in public, so I told her that I had to go because I was in a hurry and to have a good night. Then I excused myself and left without getting any of the stuff I meant to. I came home, started writing down what happened, fell asleep and now, a few hours later, reflecting on the whole interaction just makes me feel incredibly sad.

Not only was she insulting a total stranger, her statements were just flat out ignorant. I’ve stopped and talked to strangers before and usually, as long as they don’t try to pet me, I’m cool talking about my hair. I’m especially happy to talk to black women about my hair, because we need all the encouragement we can get to rock what grows out of our head.

There are people who I see every day who never compliment my hair and then the minute I straightened it a couple of months ago because my kid caught lice and I was trying to check my hair to see if I had it and it was really hard to do so when it was curly, THAT is when I heard for the first time in eons, “Wow, your hair looks amazing.”

I expect that crap. I really do. This is America and people are trained to think straight hair is the most beautiful. But to be insulted in CVS and have my parentage questioned and be interrogated like I’m some circus freak when I’m just trying to buy lipstick… AAGH!

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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