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The Secret Language of Curly Hair

2 Dec

Somewhere between the court of Louis XIV and Maurice Sendak’s wild rumpus, lay clues to the mystery of a boy’s curly hair. He would travel the world, but only find elusive snippets of the real answer.

She hinted of a secret world connected by curls. The Circassian beauties who travelled in PT Barnum medicine shows had something to do with the way the afro became synonymous with black power.

I was not raised to be fancy. I was made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails. My hair, however, grew in curls. I’d outwardly gnash my teeth at the sort of grown woman who took curls as an invitation to cleanse her fingers of life’s let downs. When a strange woman strokes a little boy’s curls, what she is really attempting is to physically feel potential. She is also massaging—deep into his scalp—a certain kind of expectation. And though the curly haired boy understands none of this at the time, he does know one thing: it’s just dumb stupid hair. That will not stop him, of course, from growing up to believe it’s more. From chasing the endless potential of those curls himself.

My mom, who had olive skin and tight loopy locks, knew what was in store. She’d periodically sit me on a tall chair in the kitchen, and gently trim my curls with the same squeaky scissors we used to cut Christmas wrapping and the fat off chicken thighs. The look on her face at the end of each snip was a mix of dissatisfaction and uncertainty. One day we pulled into a parking lot outside a strip mall and sat silently. She eventually sighed and said: “please just ask him not to take too much off.”

Like that I had entered the care of the barber, who not only took too much off, but took a chunk of ear with it.

A barber sees neither the mystery nor the potential. He sees a poncey periwig. He sees smug pedophilia dripping off an Athenian statue. He sees the spread of communism. The things he sees must be eliminated.

The ear, I realized years later, was no accident. It was a souvenir. Continue reading