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Erase, erase. Hide, hide. Assimilate to survive.

27 September 2022

Today, I took myself to get my hair done. I needed to do something that might help me feel good. For the first time in my life I chose to get locs. As I was getting my hair done, it reminded me of when my mom would braid my hair growing up, and all of the times I'd get my hair done in the salon. Today I remembered how therapeutic this could feel. What was also neat was both stylists were from Nigeria and shared some cultural things with me. Who would of thought I'd get more connected with my African heritage while in Korea!

While sitting there in the chair today, it reminded me of a recent message I received from a friend I grew up with. He's an airborne linguist and came across my picture in the Air Force dress and appearance manual. I remember taking this photo a year ago and how honored I felt to get to be a part of it, especially given my history with my hair and when I first put the Air Force uniform on as a cadet back in 2004.

While sitting in the stylist's chair today, I began to reflect on that first year of JROTC. I thought about reading in the Air Force regs about how hair should not be "matted and unkempt", along with a list of popular African hairstyles that were forbidden. My friend and I looked at each other and said, "I guess they are talking about our hair". I laughed and pressed on. This was nothing new to me. Culturally, I knew what "professional" hairstyles looked like, based off of what I frequently saw represented. What was valued. Straight, fine textured hair was the preference. My hair, growing as it was could be viewed as "matted and unkempt". My hair as it was, was BAD. I needed to choose styles that were GOOD to not just be in regs but eradicate negative perceptions of me and open doors for future opportunities for myself and others like me. I saw this as key to my SURVIVAL.

While I was growing up, I never challenged the idea that "my African textured natural hair was bad". I accepted it, INTERNALIZED the racist message and assimilated. I was so critical of other black people who wore their hair natural, as if it was a threat to me. I did everything I could to keep my hair UNmatted and KEPT. I did this for years until my hair thinned, broke off and left me with bald spots. Why did I let it get so bad? Why didn't I challenge this idea sooner? Why did it take so long for the Air Force regulations to be more inclusive of hairstyles that protected African hair? Why do laws, like the CROWN Act, have to be passed to prevent people from being discriminated against in schools and workplaces for wearing their natural African hair?

Above all, why do I keep craving SAFETY and PROTECTION?

Today I thought I'd switch it up and give the notoriously "matted" locs style a try. Locs became approved for wear in the Air Force by 2018. While I'm a little late to the party, I'm glad I gained the courage to give it a try today.


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