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No, You Can’t Have Our Cornrows Too

As a kid, most black girls I knew grew up between a pair of legs. The parting, the greasing, the braiding, the beads. All in the name of being presentable. As I got older, the allure of the “creamy crack” and the desire to be accepted hypnotized me. And I, like so many of us, became relaxed. The Just For Me slogan, sung by brown skin girls with bouncy ponytails sold me and I was hooked. I was not prepared for the sores and burning scalp but I pushed through because, who doesn’t want to be pretty and presentable?

Early 2000’s when the natural hair movement was making its way back around, my scalp had had enough burns and the ends of my hair would just break by touching it so I big chopped. 3 inches of curls stood in a mound on my head and it was the lightest I had felt in a long time. I felt proud of my hair, that I let go of the construct tied to it which in turn, made me feel tied down. My hair flourished, it made me feel closer to my ancestral roots and that was freeing in itself.

Throughout the years I’ve worn quite a few hairstyles but my hair in it’s natural curly state seemed to be the worst one. Natural hair doesn’t look good in corporate America, I was told. It would be best to assimilate as to not bring attention to yourself. Braids were ghetto, especially if they were long and especially so if they were any color outside of a standard brown or black. Natural hair didn’t work in corporate America so much that in 2016 they made it legal to ban dreadlocks in the workplace.

As I greased and parted the head that sat between my legs today, Juneteenth crossed my mind. It made me think how white people want to assimilate with us so bad and claim black culture for themselves and yet right their wrongs, that they once again took something that had nothing to do with them and made it America’s. Throw it right on up there with America herself and jazz music. Classical music. Rock and Roll music. You get the point. And don’t say you made it a holiday for us because we didn’t ask for it and were already celebrating Juneteenth without your stamp of approval.

These days, I seem to question everything I do as it pertains to this country and the history behind it. And I spend more time unlearning the past and making peace with the truth of it all. Imagine the aha! moment I had when the memory of cornrows in this country slapped me right in the face. Aha! because of course. It felt like the moment I found out it was three black women who successfully landed America in space. It was like the moment I realized what Memorial Day in this country truly was and how it was first celebrated. A lot of shaking my head. Because of course you would try and police our hair and then turn around and rock it like fashion. On white women, its gorgeous, glamorous and trend-setting; on black women….it’s ratchet?

To any black woman reading this, I would like to remind you of the queendom you come from. That your crown will always be policed. Because like everything else, the very scalps of slaves that they would’ve loved to snatch bald, secured the routes of freedom and really stepped the farming game up for this country. A slave wearing Departes, or braids braided into a bun on the top of her head meant she was ready to escape while braids that curved signaled the different roads they would take. Besides free labor, South Carolina and Georgia both became prime places from rice plantations due to the rice carried over in the hair of West Africans. The wisdom and farming expertise of West African women is what cultivated the plantation economy here, not the made-up story about the Europeans magically figuring out how to farm.

Black people in this country have waited a long time for their just due. We have echo’d the history taught to us while trying to make peace with it and survive the best way we know how. All the while white lawmakers stand by and swallow the truth while regurgitating falsities supplied by their own guilt in hopes that black people won’t get too rattled and will stay in line. We probably won’t though. Because at this point, we’ve stood in way too many lines. We’ve asked way too politely for justice and have been met way too many times with violence. Our ancestors had no choice when their families were thrown overboard the Mayflower, had their children ripped from their arms and fed to sharks and watched their men be tied to horses and snatched apart as a reminder of what happens when you get out of line.

Because at this point we're standing toe to toe with the line. And up until this point you’ve take most of what we had.

So no, you can’t have our cornrows too.

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Jun 23, 2021


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