When the screenshot popped up, I shook my head in disbelief, then leaned forward dumbfounded, my face inches from the screen to reread it and make sure I wasn’t mistaken.
That was not a mistake.
I created the Black Girl Magic Facebook group two years ago after organizing a photoshoot to both celebrate black women and raise money for a social enterprise in Liberia. In this group, we discuss everything from hair tips, to inspiring women, to raising children, to dating and marriage. We also come together for events and had our second photoshoot earlier this year
The group, which now has about 800 members, is secret – you can’t find it if you search and only members can add new members. The main reason it was set up this way is because, so often, groups like these get attacked by folks who don’t care or understand why we might want our own space to discuss issues that impact us and I’m not interested in having to debate or explain why.
Last month, one woman shared a photo of her beautiful, dark-skinned daughter, hair freshly taken out from braids to form a huge halo. She shared it to say, “Look at this beauty, loving her hair and her skin. Ain’t she the epitome of Black Girl Magic?”
Another member disagreed.
First we tried to understand. Why in the world would a black woman, posting in a group called Black Girl Magic, say to a black mother that she don’t like the hair on her black child? Please explain.
After dozens of comments back and forth, someone posted a screenshot from the member’s personal page where she’d written, “I don’t like no mf picky headed afros.”
And there we had it.
The words that were there all along under phrases like ‘we each have our own preferences’ and ‘I just think it looks extreme’.
The words that are ALWAYS there.
When I was little, I’d sit wincing, wedged between my mama’s thighs as she pulled a comb through my hair. She’d plait it up, put little barrettes and bubbles on the ends, and I’d swing my head trying to make my hair move.
But picky hair doesn’t do that.
My hair didn’t bounce or curl or lay flat. You couldn’t run your fingers through it. It didn’t cascade in silky tresses. It wasn’t soft.
So I got my first perm when I was 10 years old. My mama scooped some relaxer out of a giant tub that all my sisters shared and applied it to my head with a butter knife. Finally, I had hair that would blow in the breeze.
I have no way of knowing how many perms I’ve had since then.
Once a perm burned my scalp so bad, my entire head scabbed up. In Malaysia, after camping in a small village for a few weeks, I scrounged up some from god-knows-where and slathered it on in a small hostel bathroom, rinsing it with cold tap water. Even when I would stop perming my hair, saying I was ‘going natural’, I’d end up texturizing it with an S-Curl (aka perm lite).
But three years ago, I began obsessively following the new trend of natural hair. And even though the photos on the blogs showed girls with big curly manes cascading and bouncing and doing things ‘picky’ hair does not do, I was still inspired to do a Big Chop and cut off all of my perm. For the first time in 25 years, I saw the true texture of my hair.
As it grows out, I repeatedly tell myself to let go of any expectations. And, even though at times I find it tough to care for my hair, frustrated on days when it just will not do anything I want it to – I’ve come to love it.
I stared at the words ‘picky headed afro’ for a long time. She wasn’t talking about me… but she was talking about me. And, while I knew that centuries of racism and colorism and every other ism led her to feel what she feels, it dredged up awful memories for me and many other women in the group who’d heard that insult so many times as a child.
The community swarmed in like a SWAT team, and in a moment of true Black Girl Magic, we reclaimed the word. Members began posting photos of their wild hair, both in the group and on their own pages, using the hashtag #pickyheadedafro. When we saw a member on the street, we’d ask ‘How you like my picky headed afro?’ and laugh with each other.
It was a start.
A key moment on our path to healing, to abandoning history’s opinion of what is beautiful and embracing our own.
A time to actually remember how far we have come as black women.
And maybe most importantly, a time to surround that mama with our love and support, so she can look in her beautiful daughter’s face and know there is a community of women here that embraces her black girl magic.
Kristin is an avid story-teller, dreamer, writer and reader who loves yoga, St. George’s, hula hooping and riding her famous bicycle Shoshanna. Follow her adventures on her blog www.kristindotcom.com.
The article originally appeared in www.todayinbermuda.com.