These days, all the kinks are curly, all the chicks are mixed, but some of us just have hair. So I’m not going to harp on the fact that strangers often look at my daughter and ask, “What you gon’ do with all that hair?” in a way that suggests two things: 1) that something has to be done, as an Afro is not a style, and 2) that the answer should involve a head shaking at the thankless task before me. The culprits for this question are the usual suspects, brought in relief to us in the decades before Reaganomics, Black nihilism, and PCJ Perm commercials made us feel bad about a whole lot of other things besides all this kinky, problem hair that needs to be fixed rather than styled.
So I’ll answer. What do I do with all that hair? I daydream.
With a handful of my daughter’s hair in one hand and a dollop of conditioning cream in the other, I dream that her hair is my own history. Which of these strands is most like Ms. Lucy? Which like Jo Mama? When styled in plaits, her hair is mine on a faded Polaroid. Styled another way, her hair is my mother’s in the black and white photo hanging next to the bathroom mirror. There are so many people in the thick, sandy strands that gleam orange in the sunlight and I have the privilege of touching them all.
I use the pointed end of a rattail comb to make a straight line and remember the times my grandmother dozed while my little brother and I styled her hair. He’d probably never admit parting her hair down the middle and competing with me for the best half-style, but I was there. It happened. To the soundtrack of the evening news, we filled our hands with the hair of our father’s mother, combing so gently that she nodded deep into her chest. Her hair is my daughter’s hair and so when I style it to the soundtrack of Disney this or that, I am six and thirty-two at the same time, in awe at the circle of life.
I dream of children whose heads aren’t yanked by rushed hands with angry combs. In my fantasy, we all have precious time to treat a tangle (the Black girl’s bane of existence) like a misunderstanding, two clingy lovers who have accidentally lost themselves in each other. Knowing this, we start from the bottom of the tangle, gently coaxing them apart.
I dream of goddess worship and angels with Afros who sit beside me on this journey through hair. I dream of a world that recognizes the godliness of cornrows. Children of the sun were rocking Goddess braids long before Christianity replaced Isis with the Holy Ghost. A three-strand chord is a symbol of strength, so now our braids are “protective styles.” I try to make my clumsy fingers pull patters– pick up, cross over, pick up, cross over—all the while dreaming that I am a front porch geometer with patient fingers and precise math. I remember the teenager who braided my hair for the summers. After each braid, she’d gently pull my head back into her soft belly, counting the braids so that the pattern was precise. Daughters of Kemet, we taught Pythagoras his theorem. I’d like to imagine that mathematics began between the knees of women with tender-headed children.
Finally, I dream that I am not doing any damage in this area of the sacred chakra. I pray that I am honoring my daughter’s connection to the divine by treating her hair as a creation rather than a problem. I dream that with each gentle pass through her thick hair, I am bypassing hair management and investing in hair care.
But these are private thoughts. To others, I speak in Black girl code.
“What you gon’ do with all that hair?”
“Honey, your guess is as good as mine.”
Asha French is a writer and mother living in Atlanta. Tweet her: @afrenchwriter