I'm a Biracial Woman Who's Done Struggling With Her Hair Identity

I implore you to embrace your authentic self—and to support others who are being their authentic selves—whatever that means to you.
Publish date:
September 15, 2015
curly hair, race, Biracial

Obviously, we’re over Rachel Dolezal (girl, bye), but after writing about her antics, I had an epiphany: finally, after years and years of struggling with my hair identity as a biracial woman, I DO NOT CARE WHAT PEOPLE THINK OF MY HAIR.

I should mention it has nothing to do with the woman that became an internet sensation in the worst way possible by appropriating black culture, but it has everything to do with the overwhelming number of people just like me who have reached out since I wrote that story. Now, at 35 years old, I embrace who I am and what I look like, every day. I think people are beautiful whether their skin is light or dark and regardless of what their hair looks like. I believe in embracing others' differences—they're what make us special.

In case you didn’t read the aforementioned story, I’ll give you a little background on me. I grew up with a black mother, a white father, and two brothers who have darker skin than I do, in a small town in upstate New York. My hair is naturally dirty-blonde and curly, though you’d never know it with all the chemical processing I’ve done over the years.

My natural curls were springy and not coarse; maybe a bit prone to frizz, but manageable with the right products. They were a dream come true, unbeknownst to me at the time, and now I’m actually trying desperately to coax my hair back to curly. My mother and middle brother wear their naturally curly hair in short styles, while my youngest brother has dreadlocks that he’s been working on for so many years that they are pretty much all the way down his very tall back.

Before I tell you more about my personal hair journey, I’d like to drop some knowledge on the uninformed. Do you have a sneaking suspicion that you sound racist when talking to your black friends about hair? Then you probably do. Speaking from the perspective of someone who grew up in a black household, I would strongly recommend wiping the following words from your vocabulary:

  • Nappy
  • Kinky
  • Fro, in all its forms ('fro, Jew-fro, and afro [unless you are referring to an actual afro])
  • Bad hair (yes, “I’m having a bad hair day” is still OK. But don’t tell someone they “got that bad hair,” because it’s flat-out rude)
  • Frizzy (see above for you’re-still-being-rude)
  • Brillo (this was one I got when I was little and I LOATHE it)

I could go on. I’m not trying to be the PC Police, but there’s a long history of struggle and oppression linked to those words, and you are hurting peoples’ feelings whether you realize it or not. Don't be willfully ignorant.

Anyway, back to my journey and the journey of so many of you textural beauties out there.

People of many cultures will be able to relate to this: I have spent my whole life trying to have someone else’s hair. (Now I have it via too many chemicals, and, quite frankly, it sucks.) But this is not just a case of wanting what you can’t have. I want a million dollars, too, but I’m an adult and I know that I’m not going to get it. For women of color in our country, many of us have been trying for years to have "good hair" in order to fit in. That’s what we saw our whole lives on magazine covers and on television.

For many, it is a matter of not feeling accepted in the job market if you have "black hair." For far too many, it is actually a matter of fearing for your safety against hate crimes. My hair identity issues all stemmed from not looking like the girls on the magazine covers when I was little, because of my curly hair and freckles. Some kids in my classes would call me Brillo and Rag Mop in regards to my hair (there was even a song called "Rag Mop" that they would sing to me).

This was long before companies like Dove were encouraging little girls to embrace their curls, and many moons before my first keratin treatment, my first straight-hair weave, and my first experimentations with hot tools. Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair didn’t come out until I was 30 years old.

I had a long struggle of not feeling like I fit in because of what my hair looked like. But the alarming part about it is not my insecurities. The scary part is that so many people, even in 2015, are made to feel this way.

My story is all too familiar to many people, so I implore you to embrace your authentic self—and to support others who are being their authentic selves—whatever that means to you.

To me, right at this moment, that means I have red hair with peach and pink tones in it, and bangs. To you, like my brother, it might mean beautiful and meaningful dreadlocks. It might mean rocking your natural hair. It could mean purple, it could mean curly, it could mean straight. Whatever it is now, you absolutely have the right to change your mind. What people don’t have the right to do is to make you feel like less of a person because of how you look.

I don’t fit in to a neat little box that you can check off as "two or more races." That box didn’t even exist when I was growing up, so I won’t be boxed in by my hair, or freckles, or ass, or cheekbones, or anything else.