Check out Chris Rock’s docu-movie ‘Good Hair’ if you never realised hair was a culturally/racially charged issue. Then help yourself to my free click ‘n scroll children’s picture story at the end of this blog.
My earliest memories of having my hair done were of my mum scraping through my afro mop trying to get it to ‘behave’. Behave meant trying to look like white girl hair.
Per electric hair-straightener days, my mum used a hot comb on herself. This implement of torture was a strange iron contraption with a wooden handle and thick tines of charred metal. It would rest on the hob of our gas cooker – sometimes until it glowed an evil orange colour – then she would COMB HER HAIR with it to make it straight. The smell of singing hair (and sometimes flesh) was something else.
When I was about 13, I was taken to a black hairdresser in Birmingham to have my hair relaxed - a misnomer if ever there was one. Vile smelling, eye-watering chemicals would be applied to the hair and scalp. Then you were left with the assertion to “let me know when it starts to burn”. The disconcerting sensation of the skin on your scalp frying and melting was, apparently, the indication that it was working! You came out with hair that was unnaturally straight and felt a bit like straw. But you could get a comb smoothly through it. Sometimes it fell out.
Although I gave up on the horrible chemicals in adulthood I didn’t really start to wear my hair naturally until I was in my late thirties. Take things one step further into a world where a Caucasian mother may have a child with afro hair or vice versa and things get really knotted.
Freud claimed that females have penis envy – I’m not convinced about that - but brown and black girls are brought up – usually by their mothers sadly – to have white-girl-hair envy as they internalise the racism of the dominant culture.
Being born into a mixed race family in the 60s, it never occurred to me that not looking like your parents was strange. What it did do – I think – is exacerbate the whole black v white issue of what was acceptable/desirable in physical appearance.
When my first daughter Ebony was born –pale initially with more Caucasian type hair – I took her out in the pram as you do. I was very proud of my new baby and keen to show her off but was often taken for the nanny. By the time my second daughter Ella was born – with a thick mop of Elvis Presley hair – I’d got used to that.
Over the years we dealt with knots and tats and even the dreaded school nits; hairstyles for dancing, trimming split ends, growing and ‘keeping it out of the way’. Throughout the ages, managing hair has been a bonding experience for mothers and daughters and this domestic activity has special resonance in mixed race families.
Now my youngest daughter Raven is a teenager and wears her hair short and sometimes blue!
Ella and the Knot Fairies was written for daughters and all mothers who ever picked up a hair brush. It is a very particular fairy tale about mothers, and magic and daughter’s and hair and the tangles of mixed race families. Written and illustrated by yours truly. (Made available online by David Forbes - thank you)
Check it out at -