“You look like the black dude from ‘Miami Vice,’” said my older brother, only minutes after my tresses landed on the kitchen floor.As one could imagine, those weren’t the first words I wanted to hear after allowing my mother to cut my hair back in 2001. You could say that looking like Philip Michael Thomas, the actor who played Detective Rico Tubbs on the ’80s cop series starring Don Johnson, was low on my list of priorities with this big chop. Ergo, that experience with my new hair was short-lived and short-loved: I was back to my quarterly relaxers, also known as creamy crack, after less than a year.Yet here I was again in 2008, mulling possible hairstyles while writing news stories from a startup on Wall Street. My hair no longer resembled a wet jheri curl; instead it had been relaxed into the submission of straightness. By all appearances, it was healthy, and required minimal upkeep. I no longer needed to drive home the point I am not my hair, a belief which had encouraged my decision to cut it nearly a decade earlier.
But figuring out how I could pull off my new look was going to be a pain. You see, I chose to go natural long before the black hair documentary “Good Hair,” long before black hair communities became a movement, and long before The New York Times hopped on the late train with an article announcing “Curls Get Their Groove Back” (making brown people a footnote in something they have led). Additionally, the prospect of going to my job and being asked to explain my “new” hair during the transition also scared me.
At least this time around I came armed with the previous experience of having gone natural before, albeit briefly. Based on my hair resume, I knew one thing: I’m not Rihanna and I can’t pull off short hair. No matter how many weird old men tried to pick me up when I had my short 2001 ‘do, I decided I would let my hair “grow out” instead of doing the big chop. What this meant is that I had to take a pair of scissors to my head frequently as the new growth —curly hair — came rolling in and the permanently straight ends made their way farther down my scalp. It also meant going to work with two different textures on my hair.During this grow-out phase, I wore my hair straight more than curly at the beginning. Though it looked unusual, it was far more appealing than looking like a chubby-cheeked Obama. Yes, when I posted a picture from the first iteration of my natural hair, the comment section on my Facebook page addressed my striking similarities to President Barack Obama. (Thanks, guys.)Like most women making the big move to go natural, the process was difficult. It’s not easy; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If your hair is similar to mine, you’ll spend lots of time detangling and spend lots of money on the appropriate products. The search for the right conditioner — dryness is the enemy of natural hair — becomes a lifetime pursuit. During the most difficult times, the creamy crack will call you. Even six years later, I sometimes twitch when I see a picture of the no-lye concoction. These thoughts echo in my head:Your hair would be so much easier to maintain.You won’t have to detangle your hair.You’d spend less money.Maybe you look better at interviews with straight hair.Today, it’s easier to ignore those thoughts because I have years of being relaxer-free under my belt. And if I really want to, I can mimic the relaxer experience with just a blowout or a flat iron. But I roar at the skies if it rains on a day that I decided to have my hair straightened using a device versus a chemical. The drops of water and humidity from the sky will instsantly return my hair to its natural curly, Afro state, adding a bit of frizz, which defeats the purpose of the two hours I spent in a salon chair making my hair straight.But what’s important is that I love my hair. I don’t care what people think or whether my hair has high societal value; I love my hair because it’s MY hair. And, well, it keeps me from looking like the black guy from “Miami Vice.”