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Posted by Lawrence "LAW" Watford - - 0 comments

One Father’s Thoughts on Women and Hair Imprisonment 

Wrtten by Lawrence "LAW" Watford for 

Okay, it’s old, but unresolved news, so I’ll bring it up for the purpose of this discussion. A 16-year-old African-American, first-time Olympian shocks the world by winning a gold. She was not only the first African-American gymnast in Olympic history to become the individual all-around champion, but she was the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics.… Not bad, huh?

But while most of the world was awed by her skill and her grace, becoming the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics, a very small population of the world, more specifically a very small population of America, more specifically a very small population of African-America was in awe that her hair wasn’t freshly permed?... Que?

Now, I know that this is a very sensitive subject, so my aim isn’t to demonize those whose passion for “black hair excellence” superseded their appreciation for the accomplishments of the first African-American gymnast to become the individual all-around champion.  Nor would I want to make the mistake of assuming that only women of color experience the sense that their hair is the pinnacle of their physical existence.  At first, my aim was to ask, why so many women (women of color in particular) see their hair as “the be all to end all” of their beauty, but seeing as how that would require exploring everything from The New Testament theology about hair length, to the bombardment of Eurocentric beauty standards in pop culture, I’ve changed my focus.

My daughter is only 10 weeks old, but I can already envision the day that she comes home crying because the hair dresser cut her bangs or ends too short, or the day she gets teased on Facebook because the Jerry-Curl came back and her mother refuses to let her get her “soul glow” on.  As a father, I’d love to shield her from this kind of hair bondage that will only damage her self-esteem and stifle her individuality. But if a 16-year-old, history-making Olympic gold medalist can be rattled by the cultural curse of hair imprisonment, what could a father possibly do or say to shield his “baby girl” that will make a difference?  After all, it’s not likely that she will have the world acclaim to reinforce her self-esteem. What if she’s not the head cheerleader, or other girly things that makes girls popular?  What if her accomplishments are things like a debate club captain or a spelling bee champion?

I’ve decided that when that day comes, I’m going to do the following:

1. I’m going to call her into the bathroom and tell her to take a really good look at herself.

2. I’m going to tell her silly things that will go over head now, but will hopefully set in over time; things like “baby-girl, your hair is only a small expression of who you are” and  “what matters most is who you are on the inside.”

3.  When she rolls her eyes and wonders how I could possibly relate to her “crisis,"  I’ll pull out the photos of me with my locs and tell her an old college story about how I was looked down upon by some of the school’s administration officials because my hair was considered unkept, “unprofessional,” and unbecoming of a person in leadership…. The problem with this was that I attended a Historically Black College.

4. And after I tell her “turn off your cell phone. I’m trying to kick some knowledge,” I’ll go deep and tell her about the beauty and grace of women who battled breast, ovarian or cervical cancer, yet somehow were more fearful of temporarily loosing their hair than, perhaps they were of having their ovaries, breast or cervix removed.

5. And after she pauses to reflect on that, I’ll tell her to look at herself in the mirror again, and then I’ll turn off the lights, and in the darkness I’ll remind her that she still exists.  I’ll remind her that her physical beauty fades away in darkness, but the fact that she’s a smart, capable, talented and a loving person still persist.  I’ll tell her that everything that’s truly beautiful about who she is, is visible even without knowing if she has long or short hair, braids or curls, natural or perms.  I’ll tell her that she’s “bangin” with bangs, cute with curls, lovely with locs, or fine with finger waves.

6. And while she’s laughing with (or at) me, I’ll turn the light back on, tell her to look in the mirror and ask her “Now, do you see what I see?”

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