Assimilation and Preference

By Chelsea Perry

Gym class was an everlasting trail of waterfalls. Brown, red, strawberry blonde…  Flowing and swinging back and forth followed by cheerful laughter and shouts of “my hair got so long!”I was a bush. A bush among waterfalls. “Touch your toes!”

The P.E teacher would yell, and a cascade of long fine hair would drip to the ground as small hands touched less than adolescent feet. I longed for my hair to touch my toes. I prayed and prayed that one day I could be a waterfall and not a messy shriveled black bush.

I went throughout elementary school surrounded by what I saw as unattainable goddesses. The ones that you saw in the magazines. Slim with bright skin, and of course long blonde hair. I knew that my skin would never be their color but getting their hair I knew I could achieve when I saw brown girls like Beyonce gracing the covers of magazines with long flowing hair.

My mom finally relented and I soon felt the burning sensation of perm coursing over my scalp. I gritted my teeth throughout my appointment and bit my tongue at the “girl you too old now to be this tender headed!”I knew that it would all be worth it. I walked into gym class after the salon appointment that changed my entire world.When the teacher told us to touch our toes I couldn’t stop the satisfied smile from escaping my lips as my hair softly fell to the ground like the rest of the girls’.

But the satisfaction I felt was temporary. I wanted more.

Middle school arrived and I picked and pricked at every portion of my body, my hair was not enough anymore. I had a black body with white hair and people were beginning to notice.

I wasn’t like them. I would never be like them.

I tried my hardest to squeeze into the mold of the people in power. I listened to their music, I stuck my nose up at rap music and anything that wasn’t on the ITunes top 40 list at the time. I read their books, I talked like them, I walked like them. I sounded like them… reserving the warm slang words that rolled off of my father’s tongue to the confines of my home. But when I looked at myself in the mirror I was still me. I was still black, and I hated it. High school rolled around after the dark days of middle school, and all of a sudden it was cool to look like me. It was cool to listen to rap, have corn rows, and use slang. I had spent so many years trying to erase my blackness that now I was grasping on to the little pieces that I had torn apart and left on the ground in my middle school years.

I mourned for the culture that I had let slip through my fingers.I could seldom claim my blackness to my white peers. It was like trying to buy something back that you had carelessly pawned off. Any attempt to latch onto my identity was mocked or disregarded.

“She talks like a white girl,” “You really don’t even count as black”, “You aren’t that black.”

But I was. I was that black, and this was my punishment for shunning my identity.

I stumbled throughout my first years of high school and I finally found a group of black girls that were like me. We had kept our heads down in our predominantly white neighborhoods until having a cultural awakening in high school. We had been called white, we had shunned rap music and then recently dived in and loved it. We had shared the same experiences and we claimed our blackness. Loudly and proudly.

They helped me to re-define who I was and they helped me to realize that no one else can define me but myself. I stopped getting perms. I went natural. I liked it but I wanted a change. I got a weave. I felt liquid tendrils of soft brazilian hair glide down my shoulders. I took the weave out. I put it back on. I changed and switched things around because at those moments in my life I felt like expressing myself in ways that no one could plaster down or staple to a wall. I recently decided to go natural. I chopped off my damaged tufts and I grew into a flower.

No one can define me anymore.

Assimilation and Preference are two different entities.

The girl in elementary school that put chemicals in her hair to look like the white kids was an assimilator. The girl in high school that wore a weave because it made her feel confident was using her preference.

Natural hair is beautiful. Straight hair is beautiful.

Whatever black people do with their hair not because they hate themselves but because they love themselves is beautiful. No one can define who you are except for you.

 

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