As I boarded my first of two short flights home one unseasonably chilly spring morning, a gentleman (should I call him that?) next to me of a skin tone opposite my melanin-kissed complexion gets up from the aisle seat for me to take my last row window seat next to him. We briefly made eye contact as he smiled at me. I flashed a sincere smile in return, mostly out of my eagerness to hurry up and chase the skies. In my mind, I was ready for takeoff yesterday. "Back of the bus today huh?! Ha!" he exclaimed with a chuckle as I adjusted my seatbelt in my back row seat of the plane. Immediately, I was snatched from my daydream of flying high, right back into the drone of the roaring engine.
For a split second I laughed with him, and then it dawned on me, 'Wait, what did he just say to me?! I know he could not have made a smart remark about me, a Black woman sitting in the back of a bus, let alone the back of anything, and then have the audacity to laugh,' I thought to myself. I turned to him again, this time wearing half the smile I wore before as I bit my tongue. I turned forward and reclined my head ignoring him.
Although his comment may have been completely innocuous, it just proves that sometimes people do not think before their words exit their lips. It just so happens that that morning, I was proudly wearing my natural hair out in all its glory of kinky ringlets and fickle curls, which I usually keep underneath protective styles after I basically shaved my head almost two years ago. I admit, I was loving my hair that morning.
After he spoke, I felt compelled to rock my lively Afro and its flourishing personality with that much more pride that morning. Because even though his words may or may not have been meant to cut me, and although I was not truly hurt, they still struck a nerve. I could see how his remark could've certainly cut someone else to the core.
As Black women, we are taught to believe that our hair is our crowning glory. This can be a difficult concept to digest and execute with confidence when we are bombarded everyday with images everywhere that negate who we are. Our rich Black American history reaches far beyond Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks' defiant acts of bravery to remain unmoved. It spans between and far beyond Madame CJ Walker taking Black hair to new lengths and Kathleen Cleaver's unapologetically natural coif that then defied chemical relaxers and embodied her fight for social justice and pride in Black America.
Of course Black history far exceeds the depths of hair follicles and twisted textures, but to think that we have been hated, oppressed and demeaned even just for our natural beauty alone is a burden we still carry presently as we navigate our daily lives.
In the fifteen seconds that all these thoughts bum rushed my mind, this experience on the Tarmac served as another reminder for me to always take pride in who I am and in those who preceded me and paved the way for me no matter what anyone says.
I smile when I see more and more Black women and other women of color with textured hair choosing to embrace their natural roots. I admit that I, like so many women, love to change my hair. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting straight hair sometimes, let alone twists, crochet braids, lace wigs, long weaves, or whatever else suits your fancy. The challenge we face is learning to love who we are just as much as the Brazilian body wave bundles we spend a fortune on and to embrace the way our various textures and strands stand tall, lay down or fall sideways in their natural state.
Even a mogul like Beyoncé can take a stand on natural hair by letting her daughter, Blue Ivy wear her natural coils and suffer backlash through degrading memes and Internet gossip before people pause to realize how wonderful it is to see an A-list celebrity letting her child proudly wear the two words we as a black community have come to loathe: Nappy hair.
But it is our lovely naps, kinks and curls that are evolving into a social revolution, on social media, in the world of fashion, on the streets, in the workplace, in corporate America, but more importantly within us--helping bring to us a sense of confidence and deeper sense of self-love.
I admit that I decided to pen this experience minutes after it unfolded. The gentleman kept turning to smile at me as I wrote down this experience, and I smiled at my will to write unabashedly as I prepared to enter the skies.