“Why are you walking so fast, babe? It’s just rain.”
“Oh, just hush & come on!”
“Is this a black girl hair thing?”
Yes. Yes, it was. There have been many times in my life, mostly as I’m fleeing from water & mostly with people who call me “babe,” when and for whom I’ve been called upon to clarify whether something is a black girl hair thing.
Interracial dating, you see, isn’t my novelty so much as my norm. There’s been only just enough of an assortment over the years to distract me from the very obvious truth of my very obvious “type.” It wasn’t until a roommate once pointed out that a rebound bore a striking resemblance to my previous beau that it at last occurred to me nearly every serious boyfriend I’ve had since the age of majority could be hauled in under the same all-points bulletin. Early to Mid-Thirties. Tall. Lean. Shaved Head. White Male.
And while there are there are a litany of hot buttons on which people will expound when confronting the intersection of dating & race, for me, the Rubicon of the black girl-white boy relationship has always been as simple as broaching the subject of my hair. From the one-month wonders to the loves of my life, when it comes to dating, I’ve frequently had to contend with white boys’ unfamiliarity, appreciation, frustration, and fascination with my ‘do. It’s a love-hate relationship that I have with the relationship the men I like and love have with my hair. Say that ten times fast.
There are always those early first few sleepovers during which I’ll forgo wrapping my hair at bedtime so that I might achieve the ludicrous goal of looking pretty in my sleep. I neatly splay the scarf over the pillow, only to have it balled up somewhere under the sheets by dawn, & discreetly reposition it in time for morning pillow talk. Soon enough, they’d get around to noticing this little dance, inquiring after its purpose, & listening rapt to my explanation regarding the varying moisture retentions of cotton & silk.
“I’m actually supposed to wrap my hair with it,” I say. “It gets damaged when I don’t.” My tone is inevitably half sheepish confession and half accusation, as though I acknowledge the silliness but have chosen to lay its partial responsibility at his feet.
“Oh,” he’d shrug in reply. “Then why didn’t you?”
Other thresholds will come, and other questions with them. Why can’t he run his fingers through it while we cuddle? Why don’t I ever want to make love in the shower? I would hear them all as though he were impugning me for denying him life’s myriad sensual pleasures by way of my high maintenance.
I felt it wise, at times, to judge men by their judgment of my hair. It’s not exactly a bad yardstick either. There were those who did wield it as a weapon to wound. The sound of a paddle brush stroking through weft hair was of a particular annoyance to one unfortunately long-lasting partner, a fact he was fond of spitting forth in his surlier moments. But the most part, they were, at worst, entirely less concerned than I gave them credit for and, at best, the most reliable source of encouragement for which I could ever ask.
There was a distinctly, devilishly awestruck “wow” elicited from a former flame on first sight of my newly natural hair that let me know, in no uncertain terms, I had made the right choice. And long before I began my transition, long after I’d all-but-forgotten it was even there, it was my beaus who’d express their desire to see my natural hair. “Why don’t you wear it like that? I bet it’s beautiful,” they’d say, & still I’d find a way to get defensive or to tell them they were in the wrong.
Why did their simple curiosity put me so on edge? Why did I react as though there were four hundred years of history in our bedroom when it was really two lovers learning about one another minds & bodies. What could be sweeter?
I found the more confident I felt in my own skin, less intrusive those questions felt. The comfort level I need to attend to is not theirs, but my own. They’re already my biggest fans.
Kischa Ford is a writer in New York.