Bryant ’15 on hair

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This is the second post from our new column highlighting the voices and experiences of students of color on Brown’s campus. In this entry, Raquel Bryant ’15 discusses her mixed hair. 

“I am not my hair.”

As a woman of mixed race—a “blendiva,” if you will—my life has been filled with the “What are you?” question, being called “exotic” and, of course, filling in the “Other” bubble when asked about my race/ethnicity. Full disclosure: I identify as mixed race: my dad is black and my mom is Peruvian,  and apparently when you mix those up you get me and my siblings. But, you know what else you get? A spectrum of hair textures that neither parent quite knows how to deal with: not as kinky as my dad thought it should be and nowhere near as straight as my mom dreamed it would be. I spent mornings before elementary school with a spray bottle, a wide tooth comb, tears in my eyes and a very frustrated parent. But I am not alone in my quest to understand my hair. Curly girls of all skin colors and many women of color, especially black women, have been experimenting, inventing and innovating in the realm of hair products for decades.

My friends love to ask me, “How do you know so much about hair?” and I think back to the hours I have spent reading reviews, watching YouTube videos, and listening to my older sister rant about hair. My knowledge of hair didn’t stem from general interest, it grew out of necessity. I can’t just walk into CVS and buy a shampoo or conditioner that is good for my hair. The same way that “nude” tights are made for a certain type of nude, most mainstream hair products are made for a certain type of hair. (Ever notice the “ethnic” hair care section? #problematic.) I had to do research and experiment and talk to other women of color with similar hair types to find out what would work best for me. In other words, I most definitely did not “wake up like dis.”

Most mornings before elementary school, the battle with my hair ended with a giant puff on my head. And right there, in elementary school, is where I first became aware of my “different” hair. What really stuck out to me was that my hair seemed to defy gravity while all the other little girls had straight hair that laid down flat.  My hair wasn’t controlled by headbands, I couldn’t run my fingers through it, and it was definitely not blonde. I found myself lusting after the silky, shiny, flat hair I was surrounded by.

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