Legend: Burning My hair

Title: Burning My Hair
Summary: A young teenager uses her hair to rebel against her conservative parents.
Disclaimer:  This is a work of fiction. Not intended to represent any real persons, places, events, or things. This story is copyright Dawn Kelley and all rights to these characters belong to me.

At some point I rejected what the world considered their “pretty” standard and I thank my parents for that. Not because they taught me to reject it, but because they tried to force on me the exact opposite. My parents were both bi-racial republicans who lived in the suburbs. They were the “good” black family that the white folks knew. When white folks said “I’m not racist, I have a black friend” I just knew they were talking about one of my parents.

I honestly think my parents biggest motivation to be married was to have “pretty” babies. When I was very little I remember my mother grinning as she took me to church and white folks remarked “what a pretty little girl”. Of course, this was usually after a long and intense session of my mother burning my hair. In my early childhood the tool of my torture was the hot comb.

“Legend, sit still,” my mother would yell as I squirmed uncomfortably in the kitchen chair.

Yes my parents named me (of all things) Legend. They named my baby sister Destiny and my brothers Future and Majesty. I hated our names. It was like our parents were proving something about their status in naming us. It was the only thing that made us stand out in our little community. Everyone else had names like Joe and Billy, Sara and Jane, Michael and Nate, Vicky and Patricia. But we were Legend, Future, Majesty, and Destiny (born in that order).

Of the four of us, I had the lightest skin and golden brown hair that lightened even more when it was exposed to a lot of sun. My mother sometimes said it was blond and I hated it. I wasn’t white and I didn’t want blond hair. Despite my light skin and light hair, the negro genes showed their face in my hair texture. It was very very unmanageable, kinky, and just a downright nappy mess in most cases. My mother hated that. In her mind a straight or at least a manageably curly crown had to come with light skin and light hair. But that’s not what she got. So as soon as she could sit me up in a chair, she started putting that hot comb to my head. I hated it. Then she’d get the curlers and I’d hear my hair frying as she forced it into a curl that was not it’s own.

She was quite shocked that the two boys she had after me had the “good” silky curls she wished I’d gotten. Her own hair texture in fact. But the boys were quite bit darker then she liked. Certainly not the darkest kids on the planet, but about three shades darker than herself and my dad. And five or six shades darker than myself. I once heard her joke that it was no fun having boys with ‘good hair’ when all she had to do was keep it trimmed.

One bad effect of the two boys that followed me out the birth canal (and something my mother hated) was my interest in “boys activities”. It started when dad got Future into Basketball. Future was only a year and a half younger than I was and by the age of three we were the same height. By six, he was taller and dad just knew he had a star player on his hands. It was the only time he fell victim to a black stereotype. When he signed Future up for basketball, I insisted on trying out as well. He thought I wouldn’t be any good at it, but much to his surprise I was a lot better than Future.

My mother was not happy about this, but she couldn’t stop me from playing ball with Future after school. Dad didn’t like it much either, but thought I would grow out of it. So since my mother couldn’t control my interest in sports and she couldn‘t make my father control it, she controlled my hair. She graduated from the torture of the hot comb and introduced me to what black folks call a “Perm”, but what my mother properly called a “Relaxer”. Well, there was nothing relaxing about the relaxer. It felt like my head itself was being scorched into straight submission, I hated it more than the xcomb. But it gave my mother what she wanted, a baby with straight hair.

But Majesty came along with naturally straight hair three years after Future. He looked more like a young boy from India than my mother’s and father’s child. Majesty, despite his deep brown skin, was so pretty that my mother couldn’t help pampering him. For a little while she even let me be and I became a fan of jeans and t-shirts. I wanted to burn everything pink, purple, and mint green in my wardrobe, but buried them in the back of my wardrobe instead for fear of getting in trouble. But Majesty soon became an active walking, talking, boy and my father geared him away from baby things and toward “boy things”.

My mother then started to fuss about the state of my hair again… and my clothes… and my shoes…. and make-up. I felt like a clown at the circus when she brought me make-up to celebrate my “womanhood” (how is bleeding every month a celebration?). But I realized on that day, no amount of playing basketball and football in the dirt with the boys would make me one of them. I honestly wished in my heart Majesty had been born a girl and I had been born a boy. In fact, for awhile I was sure God got it wrong and I gave him a list of reasons he should change it. I felt justified in God being wrong as Majesty got older. It became clear that my baby brother didn’t have half the athletic talent of my other brother or a quarter of mine. Majesty was a thinker. He couldn’t sink a ball in a basket or hit it with a stick or throw it in any game with any sort of accuracy, but give him a game like chess and his talents were revealed. Dad was okay with that, surprisingly. But neither mom or dad loved my talent. Well actually it wasn’t my talent, it was my love for sports that unseated them.

“Don’t worry about little Legend, she’s just a little bit of a tomboy,” Mrs. Jones from down the block assured my mother. “I had a little tomboy in me myself. When she wants the boys to start looking, it will change.” (If only she knew)

“Legend is a pretty little girl and one day she’ll realize it,” my paternal grandmother assured my mother.

“I played softball on a girls team,” my aunt told my father. “There’s nothing wrong with a girl into sports. She’ll just be able to relate to her man better.” (My what?)

But even with this long list of assurances, as soon as I started developing from a little girl into a woman, they snatched me from the community boy‘s basketball team that I was on. And even though I was ripped from my spot on the boys team, they couldn’t stop me from going to the basketball court no matter how many pastel colors they made me wear.

When it came time for high school, I sought out a school that would get me away from home. I just couldn‘t wait for college, I had to escape. I applied to a school for gifted kids on the other side of the city. It was there I was exposed to a new side of black culture. I only think my parents let me go because they finally had another little girl to dote on. In my last year of junior high my mother unexpectedly got pregnant with my sister. Destiny was born with hair my mother liked and she was perfectly happy to let her primp it to her design. Unfortunately, Destiny was the darkest of us all. When she was born, my mother actually said “she’ll lighten a bit as she gets older”. That is perhaps why Destiny tried so hard to please my mother, she was trying to make our mother forget about the undesirable part of her, her skin. But I thought Destiny was gorgeous.

At fifteen I met my first and only boyfriend, Mitchell. Mitch was like a God to me. In fact, whenever I see an image of a black Jesus I still think of him. He was tall and had long locs that his mother had started in his early youth. He’d cut them off only once to rebel, but had been growing them back since he became “self-educated” as he called it. They swept past his shoulders. I use to love to play in them. My impression of Africa was that of savages running around naked, but he showed me different. After every history class, I got his historical corrections. I’d walk down the hall with him talking for hours and hours about what the teacher got wrong in history class. When he told me the first black people who came to America were actually free men and not slaves, I didn’t believe him. When he showed me a book that backed it up, I was hooked on him and a whole new world of knowledge. I was absorbed into black culture through him and a year after meeting him, cut off all my chemically straightened hair. My mother blamed it on “that boy” and “that school”, but even ripping me out of “that school” didn’t change the fact that I was seeing “that boy”. So I began the process of locs despite my mother’s objections. She was never going to burn my hair again.

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