You remember those powerful and sing-able lyrics by India Arie. Belting them out in our cars or our bedrooms or our showers and in spite of any vocal ability we may or may not have we sang…. “I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am not your expectations”. Such a strong reminder of how harshly we can be judged or judge one another for the external. How we can judge one another for length and color and style and texture, and I confess, at times, I too have done this. But the truth is, for centuries and throughout history our hair can define us. Stories about hair are all throughout time. Sampson lost his strength when his hair was cut. God mentions He knows us so intimately that He knows the numbers of hairs on our head. Hair can define a time period. Hair mirrors culture. Cut or color can define a stage in life. Historically hairstyles have defined one’s status in life. So, it may seem frivolous and shallow and not the subject for blogs about faith and grace and race and single parenting, but for a moment can we ask ourselves, am I not my hair?
No, I am not my hair, but I spent my middle and high school years deep in the Farrah Fawcett era. Most of you remember THE poster but for us pubescent girls it was really all about her hair. I can still remember being envious of Terri V. who between classes would comb her hair with a wide toothed comb pulled from the back pocket of her Ditto jeans. This simple act caused her bangs to fall into a perfect “feather” framing her face. This memory is just a small snapshot of my version of the previous post on middle school stinking because unlike Terri and her flowing feathered hair… I. Had. Curls. Unmanageable curls. Curls that didn’t have shape yet. Curls that I would come to love but at 13 (ok truthfully from 13 to my late 20s) I had no idea what to do with. I tried drying them straight, which was an exercise in futility when my day started by walking to school through wet valley fog. I tried cutting them shorter, which created a look with more width than length. I tried everything my teen-aged mind could think of. When all my friends had seemingly effortlessly and beautifully mastered the Farrah look, my hair chose to stick out from the sides of my head as if it was physically fighting with itself. In that decade, we all were our hair. It took me quite a few more years, but I finally learned to work with my curls and let them do exactly what they wanted to do. I have had long curly hair for as long as I can recall now. And I have to ask…am I not my hair?
No, I am not my hair, but it certainly says a lot about who we are. At one point when my brother Darron had cancer he dyed his blond hair bright pink. Because he was getting radiation for a brain tumor he had this great fuscia mohawk. I remember finding pink strands of hair in my couch as if PunkRock Barbie had visited and left me some remnants after a wild party. The pink mohawk and the bald stage defined him during that 18 months. He was the man with cancer. After he passed we joked about what the guy at the funeral home would think because of that pink tuft of hair on the top of his head. (Sidenote: Ona I will forever love you for the memories and laughter and love and sadness we shared through that time in our life). The last pictures I have of Darron are mostly bald. Those are the only pictures that Sam is in with him. The only way he knew his Uncle Darron. Am I not my hair?
No, I am not my hair but having kids can certainly teach you a lot. Since his first haircut at one, I have always cut Sam’s hair. And notwithstanding what I can only describe as one of the high points in parenting when reading a note from a relative asking me if I “needed money to get him a real haircut” – for the most part, and despite a couple of overzealous moments with the scissors and/or clippers, it worked well. (whew, forgive that run on sentence!) It saved money and saved the time of dragging him out to a barber. And through all the mistakes to this day I still cut his hair when he comes home from college. I know that yes, our hair can at times define us. When Sam was little he was trying to describe an African American boy I didn’t know. At age five, he went with the simplest explanation, “You know mom, the boy with the circle hair”. Defined by his hair. Enter these new boys of mine. I knew having mixed race boys might add some new challenges at the home barber shop. I fully intended to figure it out and for the same reasons I cut Sam’s hair I would cut their hair. Little did I know how much I didn’t know about mixed race hair. To date I have learned quite a few things. With a shout out to my girl Tanya and my boyfriend who both have responded to (or maybe directly addressed) some issues I might have had – yes, I have learned quite a few things. I have learned that conditioner is not an option. That even after washing and conditioning, their hair still needs something more to retain some moisture. I have learned how to twist and braid hair and where to buy twisting butter and that a buzz cut needs to be edged. With a quick phone call to a friend I learned the local shop to go to if one of them follows through with his idea of wanting locks. I have learned that if the curls aren’t managed daily they can create a smelly birds nest (truth) that has to be cut out in a chunk (truth) and that not managing the curls creates tangles so tight they hurt their scalp (which just recently resulted in that aforementioned buzz cut). I have also learned that “Fro Kid” is how they might be described at school. And that sometimes wearing a hoodie is easier than dealing with any of it or the expectations of who you are supposed to be when your hair doesn’t look like most of the kids at your school. Am I not my hair?
No, I am not my hair. And despite the historical reminders that tell us we often are our hair I know deep down that I am not, nor are my boys, nor my siblings, nor my friends and nor was Darron. I know that how we cut our hair or wear our hair or style our hair can say a lot about what we are, but it is not who we are. I know that taking care of these boys’ hair is critically important, but it does not have to define them. I know my intention is to raise my boys into men that look inwardly, beyond their own hair styles, and look outwardly, beyond a woman’s hair. I know my intention is to always remember that as real as this stuff around our hair can be, that we can all attempt to move beyond the superficial and try to remember those formidable words that India sings…. “I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am not your expectations” and the powerful truth she finishes with…. “I am the soul that lives within”.
So for a blog that is supposed to be about faith and grace and race and single parenting let me try to tie a bit of it together. Let us try to practice grace for ourselves and those around us. Let us remind our kids and ourselves to not make judgements about hair or anything else that can only be seen from a photo and not from knowing someone’s soul. Let us try to always remember that the important part is always, always who we are within.
And thank you India for that reminder, because I am not my hair.