Why Black Girls Can't Go In The Pool

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by Cal Radcliff

Recently I decided to get rid of my relaxer and start wearing my hair in its natural state. Now that I have been wearing it natural for about 2 months it dawned on me that for the majority of my 40 years I have always worn my hair straightened out in one way or another.

When I was a little girl my mother would press my hair with a straightening comb. Occasionally in the summer she would allow me to get my hair braided. But I could only wear it braided in the summer and never, ever to church. It was like wearing my hair "too natural looking" or perhaps worst of all "too African looking" to church was some sort of sacrilege.

What I realized is that I have never known what my hair feels and looks like in it's natural state. Even when I have cut the relaxer out in the past I have always put a texturizer in it within a few weeks. It's amazing what I have learned about my own hair since going chemical free. Turns out I like the way my hair looks and feels in this state. I used to think my hair had two textures, got a perm and need a perm. The tiny little curls that I used to call my need a perm hair (aka new growth) I now call my hair doing what it do. It took me 40 years to realize that I actually prefer my hair the way it grows out of my scalp. I like the tiny little curls, and I even like the fuzzy pieces on top of the tiny curls.

And one of the best parts about it is I don't have to be afraid of water anymore. Our burning desire to conform to Western standards of beauty has forced black women to hide and run in horror at the thought of moisture touching their hair. Hmmmmm....something ‘bout that don't sound quite right to me.

Black women are forced to be afraid of, run from, and treat water like the enemy. How crazy is that? We have to make sure that the shower cap is tight enough so we don't get any water on our hair in the shower. Some of us who prefer showers choose to take baths just to be on the "safe side." More important to not mess up your perm that to clean your body in the way that feels best to you. If it's raining outside then there is a strong possibility that we just won't be going out. Better to sit in the house with straight hair than to go out into the world and risk getting it wet. 

Black women have been known to refuse to have sex with their men, sleep sitting up, and stay off the dance floor when their favorite song comes on all out of all out of a strong dedication to assimilation. Stronger than the need to satisfy her man; stronger than the need for a comfortable sleep; stronger than the need to break it down to her favorite song is her need to have straight hair. Some women don't even care if their hair is healthy as long as it's straight.

And please, please don't even mention getting in the pool. You may have noticed us, sitting on the side of the pool with our feet in the water. Thinking "Nobody better NOT splash any water on me and get my hair wet". I mean after all it would take the rest of the night to do it all over again if it gets wet.

Meanwhile everyone else is in the pool swimming laughing splashing and having a grand old time. "O Well. Maybe I didn't get the exercise and exhilaration that everyone else did...but at least my hair still looks cute."

It breaks my heart every time I take my nieces to the beach or the pool and the issue of them getting their hair wet has to be a major part of the planning. It is not like this for any other segment of the population. Only us.  This "burden" is ours to bear alone. But wait! Oh yeah that's right. This is a burden that we choose to bear. When I wear my hair in it's natural state I can take a shower with no shower cap. I can walk in the rain and feel the drops on my face and head. And I can jump in the pool and I can swim, and float and splash and laugh without a thought of having to spend the hours following my time in the pool forcing my hair back into submission. Forcing it to look like someone else's hair.

I think the thing that I love most about my natural hair is how resilient it is. The way month after month and year after year through pressing, texturizing and relaxing it would come back time and time again. All nappy and new asking for another chance to be seen. I love this about my hair. Even though I tried to force it to be something it was not it continued to revert back to its natural state. When I let my hair be it's own true self, I am free to be mine.


In The Matter of Kinky Hair
The Roundtable: No, You Cannot Touch Our Hair

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