Obviously looking like I do and coming from where I come from has provided me with certain experiences. The most glaring and interesting to me has always been the very intense desire I had as a young child to be physically black. My mother loved me and told me I was beautiful constantly, but there were things that she said, often in jest or under her breath, as mothers are prone to do, that made me feel like I would be better to her and everyone else if I were black. Not to mention the fact that nearly all of my early childhood friends were black or mixed race (and actually appeared as so, unlike myself), I think it would be understandable to anyone why I spent many years dying to look like the women and girls around me.
I hesitate to post this. I wanted it to be a poem, but it came out like this, and I feel like there may be some anger here. I'm resentful, I suppose, and there's always going to be a part of me that wishes I got to look more like my mom and brother, but I'm not angry. I'm an adult and I like the way I look. I'm just always going to be working through what it means for me to be mixed race and how that shaped me and continues to shape me. I guess that's a part of anyone's identity, though, no matter what identity that is.
My mother hated my hair. On any hot summer day before I went out to play she'd comb it out and run it through her hands and sigh and say, "I can't do anything with it." And I'd go off to play. It would start out shining and dark, smooth and clean, and somehow mat into a nest of gnarls and snares that would have to be ripped out in the evening in clumps. She hated it. There came a point, very quickly, where she just opted to cut it all off. Even then, as a small girl, I felt I was being deprived of a certain beauty I was expected to have. Long hair. Beautiful, long, braided hair.
I would run out into the sun and through two woods, across one street, to Keisha's house early in the morning, where I would find her dressed and finishing breakfast with her siblings. She just had one more bite and then we could - "No. Keisha, I have to do your hair." So I would sit with them for ten minutes (which seemed like hours) while her mother pulled out the snarls and twisted her fluffy soft hair into something fantastic and dotted with colored barrettes, something that always reminded me of ice cream cones and cotton candy, and made her look beautiful, long braided hair.
My hair was so short now they were shaving parts of my head.
I'd cry, but she just said, "Well, I can't do anything with it."
We ran into the sun and through all of the woods, across all of the streets, climbing things, fighting things, throwing sticks and leaves and rocks and digging and marking the world with our tiny girl hands. Burning and screaming and turning somersaults down hills for hours. At the end of the day we would part, me ragged and knotted and grassy and green, she just as grassy, but still clean. Still her perfect fluffy black hair in its perfect braids, each clip (matched carefully to whatever outfit she had chosen that day) still in place, holding together her long braided hair.
And I was a mess. Always a mess, a little smudge, a little thing with straight hair that still managed, always managed, to be knotted.
As an adult I read a story once, in a newspaper, about a white man who adopted two black girls and took it upon himself to learn to do their hair. There was a photo of him carefully combing the fluffy black hair of a very little girl, she playing with a toy, him deep in thought, concentrating, certain he would make a perfect little braid to decorate perfectly her pretty little head. I thought of my mother, a black woman, touching my head, the little head of her white daughter, every day, and giving up before she even began.
I can't even do anything with it.