The other day I was in charge of coordinating, organising and physically carrying out a lice check from Kindergarten to Grade 5 at our school. Simple enough task…
We got through the youngest ones, I was starting a grade 5 class, these kids roughly 10 turning 11 years old by the end of the year. They are newly aware of the changes in their bodies and brain functions causing them to re think, overthink or over analyze their own reactions and behaviors. A time when we unfortunately become increasingly aware of our surroundings as well as how those around us may perceive us…
I started at the front of the first row, we decided going up and down each row in class with our tools better (faster) and less disruptive to instruction than calling each child out individually into the hall. I noticed a girl, more than the others were, watching me. I could feel her anxiety. I try my best to make the kids comfortable, I ask them their name, comment how nice their hair color, length, girth, style etc… is.
I finished the first 2 rows , she was still watching, waiting, I walked past her desk to put the wooden hair separators I had used already into the garbage and grab clean ones. she came close to me and said I have to tell you something. I looked at this beautiful dark skinned girl that was staring at her hands and smiled. She continues, as she is pulling the hood off her head, “you see, I used to have braids (her hair; very tightly curled black hair) and when you take them out its a bit of a mess…” She sort of points to the back of her head. I smile again and say ‘shall I just check quickly now, you have beautiful hair, it will be fine’. I grab my stick and easily separate some hair at the top, but as she warned at the base it was very much a large dreadlock hard to seperate. In that moment so many things flashed into my mind.
How nervous she must have been feeling, but brave she was to approach me, how different than the mostly white and asian students in regards to hair she obviously feels, the anxiety the notice of this lice/hair check clearly gave her as she tensed as soon as I entered the room. How I wanted to take her and spend the hours needed to detangle her hair, though I don’t even know if that’s possible, I felt naive to understanding what ‘black people’ need to deal with in regards to their hair. The shame society has placed on them because of it. She had it hidden after all under a hood. My heart hurt for this little 10 year old girl who deserved nothing but an education in a safe space but clearly felt judge and worry as well.
It also reminded me of the most embarrassing moment of my childhood. The reason I make my kids wash and brush their hair(because my mom didn’t). My mom, a mom of the 80’s whose motto was basically, “they(you) will figure it out” however vague and spread out in options that meant for us…
I was away at Girl guide camp (in grade 5 coincidentally enough) and it was a special weekend, I don’t remember specifically, mothers day, or easter maybe anyway, one of the leaders offered to give all the girls in our cabin of 6 girls french braids to go home in! We were all so excited at how nice we would look! I will never forget the feeling of shame and embarrassment when she got to me. All the other girls looked so pretty in their braids, she could barely comb to the middle half of my head because my hair was so knotted in tangles, she couldn’t or maybe didn’t want to bother, but I remember it was so easy and fast for all the others and she sat there for an hour trying to brush my hair and eventually settled on the top quarter being braided and tying the rest back in a ponytail. After the fact I remember analyzing, were they all laughing at me behind my back? Did she chose me last because she had already noticed my hair was so gross? I don’t remember if it taught me to want to wash and brush my hair more but it did teach me that my mom didn’t care enough about me to not keep me from being so embarrassed.
This girl who tracked my steps around her class, nervously waiting for me to check her knotted hair, I hope I calmed her nerves in how I reacted. I pray she felt relief.
It is an interesting thing in life to have random moments bring us back to old memories, good or bad.
I do believe kids need to learn on their own but they also need constant reminders and help and a little push especially if they don’t want to things they should like bathe, or wear climate appropriate clothing, eat vegetables etc. However, I have a feeling with this girl its not her fault her hair is so tangled. I really hope she didn’t feel shame that day. I was curious what it takes for her so I googled it and wow! Here is the link to what I see as an incredibly hard task on top of the rest of your life to deal with every day.
I have always thought black womens/girls hair is so beautiful and after finding out the lengths they need to go through for it to look that way! I am in awe and admiration. I thought I would include a few other links about detangling hair.
Thanks for reading,