A biracial woman confronts the mainstream American obsession with neat and straight Caucasian locks
(The Saga of my Hair: A Multicultural Drama)
When I was a child my hair was soft and fine
Lying limply on my shoulders
Easy to tame and control.
When womanhood came, my hair awoke
Heeding some inner genetic calling,
To a life of its own.
It framed my face like a cloud of blackness
Wild curls reaching in every direction
Armed with combs, with clips and barrettes.
My horrified mother
(Born a white Southerner and Never Forgetting It)
Attempted to tame it and failed.
Somehow, in her mind,
My hair signaled Freedom.
It meant Rebellion.
It screamed “Multicultural! Multicultural!”
As it destroyed her carefully constructed
Illusion of a daughter Just Like Her.
My mother shook her head in hurt dismay
Acting is if she thought
My hair was somehow being disobedient
And doubled her efforts to break its spirit,
To beat it into submission with a brush.
It didn’t work.
Later, I heard whispers –
It seemed that my hair recalled ancestors
From my father’s side that Mom didn’t
Really want to think about though she had married him –
From tropical Islands, from the Jewish villages of Russia
People who went half-naked or covered themselves with dark shawls.
In a tone of horror, she said I looked “Ethnic”
(Or even worse “like a Native”).
I became The Other
And I begin to figure out
What was “really” going on.
Despite all her efforts my hair continued its wild curling
Refusing to cooperate, unsubdued like a force of nature.
It bore two more years of clips and bands
Attempts to “weigh it down” with gel and hairspray.
Then when I was fifteen,
Tired of my hair’s unfeeling noncooperation
She forced me to have it cut off short.
I despaired, sensing something precious had been taken from me
While my Mother basked in the triumph
Of a long battle finally won
Not realizing that she had gone too far this time
And destroyed what trust I still had in her.
The treasured illusion of WASPism was created anew
And carefully preserved –
Mom made sure my hair was short and controlled
The rest of the time I lived at home.
After I left, I never cut it again except to trim it.
Years have passed.
There are now strands of gray among the black
But my hair is still wild and beautiful.
Though it is hot in the summer and
Sometimes gets in the way
It is part of me and through it
My Ancestor’s voices
Speak clearly of who I am, and where I came from.
My Mother still asks me occasionally (hopefully)
When I will “grow up” and cut my hair?
When the rain stops falling,
And the wind stops blowing
And I cease to remember who I am
That’s when I’ll cut my hair.
Copyright © 2000 Melissa L. Pinol. All rights reserved.
Melisssa Pinol’s recent works have appeared in Eye Magazine, Weird Tales, Scorpion Dreams, Naturally Magazine, Glyph, The Firefly, Dialog Magazine, The Beltane Papers, Whole Life Times, Fagan, Vermont Ink, Altered Perceptions, Brigit’s Temple, New Tribal Dawn, and other publications, plus anthologies including “She of 10,000 Names” and “Insects Are People Two”.
On this site you can also read Melissa’s essay Death and the Modern Pagan.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The preceding post originally appeared in the online multicultural journal New Tribal Dawn, which published essays, fiction and poetry from 1999 to 2007. Although the journal is no longer active, we are preserving its fine literary archive here for posterity.)