Twisted: Choose Your Door

It was an absolute joy writing Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles, because black hair is such a rich, complicated cultural text. And part of what I love about observing, thinking about, and writing about black hair is its rank indeterminacy. Take the cultural act of black female hair-straightening, for instance. Not the physical act, the cultural act—what the gesture means in terms of American culture in general, and African-American culture in specific. Some black folk see black women with straightened hair and immediately and decisively insist that their straightened hair indicates a white-identified, poisoned mind beneath that hair. Such black observers feel black women with straightened hair are “unconscious,” and simply aren’t aware of the vast array of destructive Eurocentric forces that are causing them to wear their hair that way. Other black folk see black women with straightened hair as affirmatively “playing” with their hair, taking control of their hair the way they see fit—often using straightened hair in rotation with other, more “natural” hair styles—and feel these women have minds no more “poisoned” than any other black person raised in Western culture, that these women are excising their personal agency, and nothing more.

Re-read, for instance, the “Cousins” chapter in Twisted (77-80). How does that delicious tension between personal, individual agency and the inevitable influence of Europeanist culture on African Americans play out, in your mind? When my young cousins executed a dramatic hair gesture and I wrote, near the top of page 80, “Kobena smiles, Jill Nelson frowns,” think of their respective positions as being rooms, with doors that have their names affixed to them: the “Kobena Mercer” door, the “Jill Nelson” door… Which door are you walking through? What sort of cultural event do you see taking place when black girls “flip their hair” in a way that would seem to recall white-girl hair-flipping? Craft a first-person response that shows where you come down on the issue…

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