I was about 16 when I decided that I was going to loc my hair up.
To that point, I’d had every hair style that one could have as a little black girl growing up in the 90s. My hair had been permed. My mother hand straightened my hair with the hot comb (the one that you would stick on the burner and run through your hair). I’d rocked box braids. And finally, when I was old enough to realize that I didn’t want anyone touching my hair or pulling it anymore, I decided that I was going to loc it up. I don’t think my mom took me seriously at first. Up to this point I’d been an imaginative teen, and had dreamt of being a singer, practiced my autograph over and over, changed my handwriting, tried to be a lefty, and expressed my dreams of becoming a Rockette, so she may have thought it was just one of my Cheri-isms, and she bought me a few books on it from the library, not thinking it would lead anywhere.
But I was relentless.
I loc’ed it up myself, and my parents were so horrified by the results (rightfully so), that they took me to a place to get a consultation, and then finally, to get my locs started. They were short, little baby locs, and my mother was horrified. She begged me to let her cut them off. She begged me to try a wig, and then a weave. And when it became clear that I was serious, she left it alone, and most likely resigned herself that I was just going to with short hair forever. [Side note: mom has since come around, and admitted that she didn’t understand what they were going to look like. She loves it, and has since started to wear her hair natural as well.]
Since then I got into a prestigious private college, graduated college, attended graduate school, met my husband, got married, bought a house, and made a life as one of the director team at a non-profit.
All this to say that though I chose to transition my hair back to its natural form 10ish years ago, I am a productive member of society. But wearing my hair this way made me afraid that white people would look at me and make assumptions about who I was, my education, or my capabilities as an employee. Fears that came to light when Giuliana Rancic, a correspondent at E!, made the following comments when sizing up Zendaya’s red-carpet look from Oscar Weekend.
“I feel like she smells like patchouli oil… or maybe weed.”
She opened her hands and laughed it off. My cheeks immediately got hot.
I was taken back to the millions of times people have asked me if I wash my hair.
I was taken back to the time I was in an interview (an interview, people), and one of the gentlemen in the interview asked me what I do with my hair when I’m running.
I was taken back to a 2007 Glamour controversy where an editor stated that natural hairstyles were a big “no-no” for the office.
Giuliana Rancic, your comments were not cool whatsoever. People with natural hair don’t smell of illegal drugs or douse themselves in patchouli to cover up body odor. The vast, vast majority of us lead productive lives, and it doesn’t take a classically European hairstyle to achieve any of these. On the flip side, there are plenty of people with straight silky locks who may smell of patchouli and weed. I know this because I worked at Whole Foods for a few months while jobs searching after school. It depends on the individual.
Now, do I feel like Giulina is an horrible racist? No, probably not. But she made an insensitive, stupid, and ignorant comment that peels away that outside layer and reveals what she truly thinks when she sees chicks like me walking down the hall with a huge mane of natural, well-maintained hair. And that has to change.