Reserved Reverence: A Hair Story

Somewhere before my 18th birthday and long before Lauryn Hill spit "hair weaves like Europeans/ nails done by Koreans/ come again," I got this urge to be as God intended. I think I'd just read The Autobiography of Malcolm X a fifth time or maybe I'd just copped the first Badu album, or maybe I'd just completed my first African-American studies class in college. Then again, it could have been the open sores on my head from my perm staying on too long to alleviate any sign of a kink. (I believed in getting it straight.) It could have been the track glue that seemed to get everywhere and never come out (my pre sew-in days), or maybe it was sitting in the nail salon on Saturday for hours waiting to have my nails filled in by a woman I couldn't communicate with beyond gesticulating and basic English that only got complex when it came to telling me tab. Whatever the motivation, the result was the removal of my bra-strap long, jet black, bone-straight weave, axeing my hair into a Caesar to get rid of all the perm, and popping off my airbrushed acrylic nails. I did it for convenience (no longer fearing the rain, sweat or humidity) and self-love and so I wouldn't be slave to salons anymore. I expected to be free-er. What I didn't expect was the reaction I got from men.

With a perm, I was "Aye short-ay" and if a dude hollered and I didn't speak, I sometimes became all types of "bitches" and "hoes" as I kept walking down the block. Dudes opening lines were peppered with drops about what they could afford, what expensive location that they wanted to take me to, what they could do for me. (I guess I looked like a gold digger?) Sans-perm, I got 'Hello, Sista." I suddenly became "Beautiful Black Queen" and "Nubian Princess" and a whole range of other endearing, respectful sentiments. (My biggest crush refers to me as "Nubiana" these days. *Sigh*) I get doors opened by strange men who ran to open them and told me with appreciative sincerity, "you look very nice today.” And seats on the subway, which are damn near unheard of in this city. The block huggers in my neighborhood offer to carry my bags from the grocery store or send their sons over to help. Nine-tenths of men I encounter go out of their way to be chivalrous in a way I never experienced with acrylics and a perm. (One guy literally laid down his jacket for me to walk over a puddle a la LL Cool J on "I Need Love.") I didn't carry myself any different, didn't dress any different. The only thing that changed was my hair so I have to surmise that the hair is what made the male response to me switch up.

Earlier this year, I got the bright idea to straighten my hair. A couple well-placed tracks, 5 hours, 2 blow dryers and a pressing comb later, I had a bob with bangs (pre-Rhinnna dammit) that skimmed my shoulders. I went out to a Giant party at Cielo on Day Two and people that I saw 3-4 nights a week for the last few years didn't recognize me. (One of my aces greeted me like a fan, then did a double-take.) I had to re-introduce myself. That wasn't the bad part. That was the hollering from dudes again. The "Aye, Ma", the ungodly psst, psst, and the staple of let-me-get-at-you, "Excuse me Miss, can I have a moment of your time?" The latter wouldn't have been so bad, except that it was coming from 18-year-old boys with cornrows and du-rags and pants hanging off their ass. My new hair attracted a new man that I didn't dig. (For better or worse, I typically only pull guys with MBAs or who work in Finance. I can't figure it out why, but I am not mad at it.) The quality guys who I usually get approached by that make up the staple of my dating life were nowhere to be found. After 10 days of suffering through pressing my edges every morning and one "well fuck you then.... Bitch" when I didn't respond to a man hollering out his car window (are there women who actually walk up to the window?), I said "eff this" and stuck my head under the shower stream to get my kink back.

I'd tell you what disrespectful dudes say now when I ignore them, but I honestly cannot remember the last time a dude was disrespectful to me when I’ve had nappy hair. I've got multiple reasons for rocking kinky hair (or at least naturalesque.) But the top of the list is the way I'm treated in the street. For whatever reason, there's a reserved reverence that most men hold for un-permed hair. I like being treated like a Queen. And though I'm never mad at the respect that comes from wearing my hair without chemical processing, I just wonder why I'm just a chick or a shor-tay or aye bay bay with straight hair and a Nubiana with some kink to it. I'm a Queen either way, but shouldn't I always be treated as one regardless of the way I wear my hair?

(Men, I know you're reading 'cause you blast me about how hard I am on dudes. I'm dying to hear your comments on this.)