From Kindergarten until Senior Year, I attended a small, fairly white, Christian private school in Southern California. As one of the few black girls at this school, I have a pretty significant arsenal of stories about interesting, slightly insulting, and just plain ignorant things people have said to me about my hair. Honestly, I didn’t really notice how weird the things people were saying were until about Jr. High. Up until that point, I just thought it was normal for people to say the things they did. I didn’t really know anything about microaggressions, and I didn’t notice that the comments people would make to me, they weren’t being made towards anyone else.
One of the first instances in which I remember noticing that these comments weren’t normal was during my seventh grade year. It was our first day back from winter break, and I was showing off the braids I had gotten over vacation. It was the first time I had worn braids to school, and, needless to say, I was really excited about it. All the other (5) black people in my class complimented me saying, “Ooooo girl! Who did you go to to get those done? Which brand of hair hair did you use? How long did it take?” Et cetera. These were the kinds of questions I anticipated. This was normal.
Something happened later that wasn’t so normal, though. I vividly remember walking into my 1st period English class, my black friends surrounding me when a white girl squealed from the front row.
“Oh my GOSH AZ! Your hair grows so fast!!”
My friends and I paused, confused. We all shared a look like, Does she… does she not know? Is it not obvious? I expected her to laugh with a “Just kidding, lol. I know it’s not really your hair. It looks really good though!” But she didn’t. She just sat there continuing to smile, although it was slightly less wide than it had been because I was taking so long to respond. Once I finally realized that she wasn’t joking, I mumbled a quick “Um… thanks?” and sat down at my desk.
The day went on.
Another significant moment like this that I distinctly remember was during my 8th grade year. I was sitting in a desk cluster with this white girl I used to be friends with and one of the other black guys in my class. I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but eventually the conversation moved to the topic of hair.
“Yeah, I was up until like 11 last night doing my hair.” I remember saying, “I’m so tired.”
“How do you take care of a weave?” My white friend asked.
At first, I didn’t really realize what she was asking. I thought it was just a (slightly rude) change in subject.
“Actually, I wouldn’t know!” I replied, “I’ve never done it before.”
She made a face. “So… your mom just does it for you…?”
Oh my lord. The realization hit me.
“Um,” I spoke slowly, “This isn’t a weave,”
The white girl cocked her head to the side. “... It’s not?”
At this point, I was slightly insulted. I mean, I had worked hard for my hair! At the time, I was one of the few black at my school who was wearing it natural. I was proud of it.
“No,” I answered flatly, “It’s not.”
“Huh.” She shrugged. “I thought all black people had weaves.”
At this moment, my black friend and I shared a look. You know what I’m talking about.
“Um… what?” he finally spoke up, “Are you serious?”
“Yeah!” The girl honestly did not know how wrong what she said was. “I didn’t know you guys could, like, you know... grow your own hair.”
At this point, my friend was more angry than I was. He tugged at his own afro.
“So, what? You think this is a weave?”
“I mean…” The girl shrugged again, now bored with the conversation. “I don’t know. It’s just weird to me, I guess.”
I was at a loss for words.
The girl turned back to her work, the discussion apparently over. My friend and I looked at each other, completely incredulous. Eventually we went back to doing our work too, knowing there wasn’t anything else we could really do.