There is an experience in life when I know I’m fully honest. I can feel it in my body, the ignited feeling of being alive and the sunken in feeling of being grounded. And that experience lives in dynamic tension, always changing and always needing my attention to stay current. This has been a hard lesson for me to learn. I have fought it every step of the way. I used to be very attached to my preferences and opinions, wanting them to be formed and then never have to change. I didn’t like when new parts were drawn out that didn’t fit into the identity I wanted to present out in the world.
Then, after decades of trying to tip the scales to be present as more white, I decided to try my hand at being an empowered black woman. I stopped relaxing my hair and decided to wear it as it’s natural afro. They say change occurs in the brain as pain and though seemingly small, it was a change almost painful. My identity was beginning to shift.
A few days into the new terrain, a white friend asked me if I ever thought about doing something different with my hair. I immediately got defensive – why would I need to do something different? Does she think I’m too ethnic? Is my blackness disturbing her?! I thought this style of defensive black pride was necessary to earn my chops after years of denying this side of me. She slowed down and simply said, “It feels like a new part of your identity is wanting to be expressed.” She sat with me in the discomfort, like she could read all the thoughts going across my mind like a teleprompter, many of which pointed to her being racially insensitive. I said, “I’ll think about it.”
The more I thought about it, the more I felt the truth of what she said in my bones. Any time I thought of the endless options for new hairstyles, I felt this warm, bright heat vibrate through my body and face. I felt excited by the idea but didn’t want to show it, I couldn’t possibly forgo my fro like an Uncle Tom. My friend was persistent, she could feel the opening and she kept her attention right on it. She sent me pictures of beautiful hairstyles with braids and twists, she sent me the Google info for various salons in our area and their reviews from women with natural hair. I started to really see her level of care. She wasn’t suggesting I go back to trying to fit myself into an ideal beauty standard, she was reflecting something I didn’t see right away but could feel. With all of my growth and expansion on this path, a new expression was shining through and my outsides could match my insides without needing to tone down any part of my race.
Changing my hairstyle disrupted all of my ideas about what it meant to be an empowered black woman. I got to learn that being a mixed race woman with natural hair can look a lot of different ways, and none of them are wrong.