Tag Archives: race

Mistaken for a Muslim Woman

Last night I was at the airport waiting for my driver.  It was late and very cold.  I was coming from Memphis where it had been about 30 degrees warmer.  I put on every piece of clothing I had in my bag and covered my head with a scarf. While waiting, there was a Muslim-looking woman.  I say Muslim-looking because on that night I was a Muslim-looking woman too.  She smiled at me as if to say, “Hi sister.”  I smiled back but felt a little uncomfortable.  I wasn’t trying to look Muslim but I was aware that I did before I even saw her.  Should I tell her that I’m not Muslim?  It was silly.  Who cares. She smiled at me. I smiled back.  We are sisters.  I am Christian.  She is Muslim, probably, but who knows for sure.

The picture above is of me in Morocco about 6 years ago.  I can pass for many things: Puerto Rican, Dominican, Ethiopian, Muslim.  I am none of those things.  I am Christian, of African descent (most likely West African), English, Irish, German and French.  Most importantly, I am human.

The Autobiography of My Hair

Picture by Victor Bezrukov

Today it is one-third straight, one-third frizzy, and one-third wavy/curly.  After many years of leaving it alone, I’ve decided to actually do a little something to it.  On Saturday I sat in the chair of a salon for the first time in about 10 years.  My hair has been living a very sheltered life indeed.  Wash and wear.

My hair was born in ’63.  It was pretty straight with a mild curl at first.  By the time I was six months old I had a full head of curly dark brown hair.  Because my mother was obsessed with my hair being straight, at some age, probably 5 or so, I was taken into the beauty parlor to get my hair done.  I remember sitting on phone books and sitting under the dryer for hours.

From 5-10 I wore braids and ponytails.  I was active and swam in the summers because we had a pool so my mother kind of let it go.  10 -20 was a different story.  At 13 I got it cut short.  That was miserable.  Think curly afro in junior high when none of my friends had one.  I tried pressing it and tried a perm.  Once the beautician forgot to put neutralizer on it and my scalp was badly burned.  Thank God I still had hair.  I tried the curly look – back when Jeri Curls were in.  Despite what I did, my hair continued to do as it pleased.  Which was mostly curl up and frizz out.

In college I pretty much let it go and thought about dreadlocks.  Just thought about them though.  I might go a week or two without combing but then I’d always comb it back out.  In law school (ages 22-24) I wore it up and had a blonde tail.  How attractve (not).  And then after law school I cut it all off.  It was an inch long.  It was one of the most freeing things I’ve ever done.  Isn’t hair great?  You can cut it off and mess it up and it keeps coming back like old faithful.

Age 25 I started locking.  I went for 6 months or so and cut it all off.  And then at age 28 I locked again and had locks for about 7 years.  They were long and beautiful but heavy.  Both physically and mentally.  They caused people to think a certain way about me.  That I was radical or vegetarian.  I was kind of radical and a vegeatarian but who wants to be judged by their cover all the time.

Then I cut off the locks, I kept my hair short for a few years.  And then I let it grow and still wore it natural.  It got pretty long and I mostly pulled it back.  About 2 years ago I got it cut into a curly natural style.  Think curly afro again, only this time I chose the curly afro which makes all the difference and differentiates my junior high experience.

Fast forward to today.  I’m wearing my hair once again like I did when I was 16.  The point?  Don’t really have one.  But hair is a mysterious thing and a complicated one especially for people of African descent.  I do have to say that I actually like my hair now and look forward to playing with it for the rest of my life!