Original art by Sierra Price [Image description: a Black femme-presenting person with what appears to be an afro, with a thought bubble that says “I am not my hair — India.Arie” inside it. They are standing in front of two other Black femme-presenting people with flat or relaxed hair.]

The Politics of Biracial Hair (or, “Why I Shave My Head”)

A couple of days ago, I temporarily changed my Facebook profile photo to an older photo of me with longer hair. It was a photo that a lot of folks really liked, but not for the reason that I would have thought. I got a whole bunch of reactions like this:

An example of some of the responses to people seeing what my hair looks like in an older photo that I temporarily put as a profile picture. [Image description: a Facebook comments section with positive comments about how long my hair was at the time, as well as statements of shock around the fact that I had hair in the first place. Each comment has a couple of likes or reactions.]

Although I was flattered that a lot of folks seemed to really like this photo of me, this type of comment made me feel uncomfortable. This is, of course, not the fault of the commenters. Rather, it’s just that it awakened an internal debate about me and my hair.

You see, the relationship that I have with my hair is complicated, to say the least. It doesn’t grow curly and dense like that of my Caribbean father, nor are my locks long and straight like those of my European mother. No, it grows somewhere in-between. A texture which, much like many other aspects of my biracial life, leaves me longing for an understanding of who I am, where I come from, and where I belong.

This is the hair that would never stay straight when I wanted to assimilate into whiteness; this hair whose thickness and uncontrollable flyaways would rebuff the toxic effects of hair dye and would only be tamed by the noxious heat of a flat iron. This hair with which I fought with every day of my high school life in an attempt to make it lie flat, only to have humidity and post-gym-class showers throw a crimp in my plans (no pun intended). This hair which, with the same unwavering strength of the ancestors from whence its stubbornness is issue, refused to conform to this Eurocentric idea of beauty which caused millions of folks like me to bleach their skin, wear coloured contact lenses, and destroy their hair with toxic chemicals until it fell out at the root. This hair which, as hard as I tried, would always make me stand out.

Conversely, this is the same hair that a white person that I once dated ran their fingers through while I was passionately explaining issues of anti-Black racism, saying, “You’re not even Black, honey”. This flat, lifeless hair does not grow towards the sun like the tight, curly black locks of my father but rather slouches downward, oppressed by its own weight, shaping the way in which my identity as a Black person is perceived, both by myself and by others. This hair doesn’t form natural dreads, and it would be useless to pick it out. It does not need the protection of a silk bonnet at night, and I’ve never felt the pressure to relax it. This lack of texture that condemns me to the status of other, this marker of racial ambiguity that plagues my existence, just like that omnipresent question: “But like, where are you from, really?”.

And then there’s the idea of going natural. I feel as though the natural hair movement doesn’t belong to me, even though I am a Black person. And I mean, should it really? My natural hair, as undefinable and ethnically ambiguous as it might be, will never bear the burden of being called “too unprofessional” to be worn at work. The products I use to care for my hair and head don’t make people “sick”. As much of an enigma as it might be, my hair is not the victim of institutional oppression and violence in the same way that other Black people’s hair is. But what does that mean for me, and for my Blackness?

In a futile attempt to avoid this internal conflict, I eventually decided to give up on the whole endeavour and just shave it all off. But even a freshly-shaven head can pose problems. I feel the pangs of discord and shame when I rub shea butter scalp moisturizer into my hair and feel the prickling of these straight(ish), thick hairs beginning to poke their way through. I acutely understand the desire to shave my head again and again every couple of days to stop the growth from getting too long; long enough for anyone to notice. Sometimes, when I don’t want to deal with it, I tie a bandana around my head and throw a ball cap on top so I am perceived as being “Black enough” for those who would ask questions. Indeed, being concerned with the way in which folks of any race will perceive me as a result of my hair has become a state of constant preoccupation for me.

This is a fraction of the struggle that I have with my hair. I have still not come to terms with a lot of what this means, and I don’t think that I am even close to done learning about the subtle intricacies of my identity as a biracial Black person and the relationship that will engender in regards to my hair. Much like me, my hair does not feel “white” enough to be “white”, nor does it feel truly “Black” enough to be “Black”. It exists in the grey zone between races and cultures; between certainty and ambiguity. And I don’t know where that leaves me.

Thanks for your compliments on my hair, though, folks. And no, you still can’t touch it.

[Image description: A GIF created from the music video for “Don’t Touch My Hair” by Solange where she is slowly moving her head from right to left. As she does this, her braided hair filled with beads flows effortlessly through the air around her head.]