Mari was three when she practically scalped herself with scissors—fluffs of her curly afro clumped like polka dots across our beige carpet. With her father and I surveying the scene of said scalping in sheer horror, girlfriend asked us all slick and sly, “Now can I get long hair like Missy?” Missy, mind you, was her BFF in her daycare class—specifically, a white girl with long blond hair.
You want a black mom to die a thousand deaths? Have her daughter tell her that she would prefer long blonde hair to her kinky afro.
Trust: We considered a Drop Squad-styled indoctrination—you know, kidnapping her, putting her in a dark interrogation room with a harsh, bright light, with a table full of down-ass natural sistas who would spend hours reading “Happy To Be Nappy,” and “I Love My Hair” through a bullhorn until she publicly swore off any delusions of silky, swinging, blonde hair. But seeing she was still a preschooler and all, we figured that would be a little much.
So we decided to take a different tact. From that second on, not a day passed by that we didn’t tell that little girl how beautiful her hair was—soft like cotton candy, strong enough to break a comb, black as night, shinier than a new penny, curly and swirly and all awesome all the time. Perfect for parting. And a million little twists. And a bunch of beads swinging and clacking in the wind. Each of these things I’d whisper into her chocolate little ears as my fingers weaved fantastic styles through her kinky hair. She’d giggle and shake her hair and crack up when the beads bounced against her little round face. And soon enough, I was satisfied she was happy being exactly what she was: A beautiful, bundle of chocolate goodness with kinky black girl hair.
Of course, these days, I know that when she announced she wanted Missy’s long, blonde locs, Mari wasn’t so much rejecting herself as she was latching on to something new. At age three, kids start noticing simple differences from those around them and point them out, and if it’s different enough, they may just want to try it out for themselves. It’s no rejection of self—it’s simply an embracing of something interesting and new.
Still, to this day, there isn’t a 24-hour-cycle that goes by that I don’t tell her she’s stunning—because she is and because she needs to know that someone else thinks she is, too. Someone who loves her unconditionally and has solely her best interests in mind and is fully vested in her having a healthy dose of self-esteem, particularly in a world that goes out of its way to tell little black girls that their hair and their skin and their bubble butts and their thick legs and their wide hips and their dark eyes and their thick lips and their plump noses don’t fit into mainstream society’s beauty ideals.
And my work is paying off, I tell you. Just a few months ago, at the beginning of the summer, Mari decided she wanted her hair styled into locs, a process in which hair is left uncombed until it mats and coils and grows into itself. I’d long wanted to loc her hair, but because it’s such a permanent hairstyle, I needed her to decide for herself that it’s what she wanted to do. Sure enough, she started looking around and seeing all the beautiful women surrounding her who wear locs in their hair—her grandmother, a few dear friend of mine, including my girl Joyce and my other buddy Akilah and her two adorable daughters, and a bunch of women at our family’s church. And after a few months of admiring them, Mari made clear that she wanted her hair to be beautiful like that, too.
And so I set about finding a loctician who would love her hair and tend to it and teach Mari and me how to care for it properly and make it beautiful, from roots to ends. And beautiful, it is.
I tell you these things because just yesterday, Mari was standing in the mirror playing in her newly-forming locs and trying to decide which sparkly barrette to accentuate them with when she ran her fingers through her hair and said, with the biggest, juiciest smile, the four words I’d wanted so desperately for her to say that day when she took scissors to her twists: “I love my hair!”
And today, my heart is leaping for joy.