Conditioner and a mix of olive oil and coconut oil covered my hands. On the side of the sink sat a ball of shed hair I had combed out.
And my hair, wet, shrunken, drenched in oil and conditioner was combed haphazardly into fat twists. Not pretty.
I didn’t mind that my sister was in the bathroom. She had seen me dishevelled. Naked. Ugly.
But she, our friend who I will call Kim, was a stranger.
And I had recently learnt that her ethnically homogeneous culture preferred Caucasian features.
Could she appreciate, see beauty in other ethnicities?
“Look. Look.” Both Kim and my sister squealed.
‘What?” I asked, tugging on a section of hair. My mind still reeled from this invasion of privacy.
She had copied my sister’s hairstyle. They both stood in front of the mirror with their heads slightly bent in my direction.
‘Cute,” I complimented. I thought Kim would leave and I would have the opportunity to tongue-lash my sister for breaking an unwritten code.
Instead Kim planted herself on the Jacuzzi step and watched as I combed out a section of hair and twisted.
What was she thinking? Would she go back to her family and friends and tell them that afro-textured hair is ugly, short, and weird?
I felt uncomfortable. Ashamed. And a little bit curious.
My hair care practices don’t look like the 30 second Garnier commercials. And most non-black ethnicities just don’t get the hair. They don’t understand how tiny cornrows can blossom into a big ‘fro. Or how shrunken tufts of hair can suddenly jump from shoulder length to waist length. They think it is strange that black women change their hairstyles so often.
At school, church, work, in airports, hair salons, and on street corners I am bombarded with questions about my hair.
So washing my hair is sacred. Free from curious stares, questions, judgement and sneaky hands coping a feel.
Kim stood in a sacred space. A space in which my non-black friends were not allowed.
But her invasion made me curious about this space that I am unwilling share. There is a bond/intimacy that is created when you can talk to a friend about your hair care practices and experiences, and she gets it. This friend knows and accepts the hair. She won’t be shocked when she sees your hair in the before, during and after stages of washing, braiding, twisting, weaving or straightening. She is even willing to help take out your nasty braids. To have her hands covered in the oil, build-up and dandruff of your two-month-old style. Not every black girlfriend is willing to do this, but I wonder if a non-black girlfriend would ever want to become that intimate with your hair?
Blogger, Yagazie Emezi wrote a post about hair intimacy. She describes it as“getting to the roots of your hair; touching your scalp (yay head rubs!), knowing the way the hair works and accepting the hair in whatever form.”
Yagazie is in an interracial relationship. In the blog post she talks about refusing to allow her boyfriend to see her hair when it was halfway done in braids. But as their relationship deepened she allowed him into that sacred space of hair grooming: “At a certain point of our relationship, he watched me take out my braids. He saw the nasty nature of the way hair gets after two months in braids. Clumps and all. He helped me put in braids. He washed my hair. And I insisted on head rubs just about every day.”
Hair intimacy is not limited to romantic relationships. But what does it look like between friends of different ethnic backgrounds?
“We need your help.” my sister asked. Kim’s hairstyle had fallen apart.
My fingers touched her scalp as they intertwined the black, silky strands to form a flat twist. Gently, I pinned the twist back. Her hair is beautiful: thick and shiny.
She and my sister clapped their hands and giggled. They were pleased.
Would I let her touch my hair? Finger these delicate coily strands? Pull it back in a puff? Would she like the soft, pillowy feel of the hair?