I went #teamnatural 13 years ago with a very specific intention: to show and prove to my daughter, Mari, that she should be proud of her hair exactly how it grows out of her head. And for more than 14 years, I’ve lovingly tended to every curl, kink and tendril on her scalp, speaking power and strength into them and her, with a mother’s hope that by modeling, praising and encouraging her natural journey, she would be all good. That each of these things would be enough.
I underestimated, though, the power of other—other images of black women in the spotlight, rocking weaves like its some kind of super power, other thoughts in her head about what it means to be a 14-year-old African American girl with locs among a cadre of friends with relaxed, straight hair, boys other than her daddy and her brother, who have their own warped ideas of what constitutes beauty. And I found out only recently and quite by surprise that the girl just isn’t feeling her natural hair. Not like I’d hoped she would.
In other words, when it comes to rocking her natural hair with confidence, she struggles. And because she struggles, I struggle, too.
Recently, I found this poem among the many poems and personal essays she penned for school last year. It is called, “My Hair,” and in it, Mari is curious, defiant, fierce. Vulnerable. Her piece led us to a new conversation about our natural hair, one that is decidedly deeper than the many we’ve had up until now. More grown up.
I am grateful for the conversation.
And scared to death of it.
Mari gave me permission to share her poem with the MyBrownBaby readers. I hope you see the beauty in her word and that it, too, gives you fuel for conversations about hair in your own homes with your own children.
By MARI CHILES
A derogatory term that rings in the ears
of every black girl
that wears her hair the way it grows out of her head.
Criticism after criticism tumbling out of the mouths
of those that the corrupt society has captured.
Dreams being crumpled up and thrown into the trashcan
of pointless ideas
just because she has dreadlocks falling down her shoulders.
And they wonder why I would rather tug at each strand so that
I could get it straightened
instead of wearing it
how it is.
See, I want to turn things around.
Bend it, twist it, cut it, so that it can be even again.
Straighten things out so that they can be the way they should be.
Because you people have obviously gotten it all wrong!
Is it okay for a little black girl to grow up believing that her real hair
isn’t good enough?
Is it okay for her mother to drown her hair in perms and relaxers
so that her natural hair won’t ever be the same?
Is it really okay for a black woman to be turned down from a job
just because she has dreadlocks hanging down her back
no matter how intelligent she is?
Over the years
even I was made to believe it’s okay.
Hair salon chair
There I sat as she
tugged on my hair, twisting it like my mom always did
but this time, it remaining
filling out to form locks
Like the damages done to a little black girl’s Afro
after it is drenched with hair altering chemicals.
Remaining like the “nappy” headed stereotypes and ideas
that aren’t even true
but still filter their way down into my head
making me question my own hair.
Put me in a group of black girls my own age
and I will probably be one with very few others
that actually have natural hair.
I stand out.
But is that good?
I search deep down into my mind
trying to figure out if I have the guts to stand out
in a society where natural black girl hair is a “no-no”
while struggling to find the courage
to tell my mother
that I want
Trying to surpass the stereotypes and assumptions
that people make is hard.
Trying to find the courage to do it is even harder.
Mari Chiles is a 14-year-old high school freshman who writes book and movie reviews and recipes for MyBrownBaby. The avid reader, who plays trumpet and softball, lives in Atlanta with her parents, sister and dog.
1. Natural, Not Nappy: Surviving Back-handed Compliments On My Kinky, Curly Mane
2. A Beautiful Black Girl Finally Says, “I Love My Hair!”
3. Little Black Girls With Natural Hair: Lessons On Touching, Rocking and Loving Kinks & Curls
4. Adoption and ‘The Blood’: Embracing the True Meaning Of Love, Family and the Ties That Bind
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.