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The Westfield Voice

The Color of Silence: Naturally Curious?


Written by Lisha L. Lopez

It was the first week of my first year of college. My hair had only been fully natural for a little over a year and I was still in the beginning stages of learning how to take care of it; most of my life my hair had been relaxed and straightened.

I was walking past the Dining Hall when I saw a professor who I recognized from the Urban Education’s Summer Bridge Program a few months prior. Although I had not taken her class that summer, many of my friends and peers had, so I waved in her direction and stopped to chat. We greeted each other and she immediately tilted her head in surprise.

“Wow, I’ve never seen your hair down before!”

As soon as the words left her mouth, she reached her hand out to my head and stopped before her fingers could touch my hair, pulling her hand back as if she had just become aware of its movement. We stood there, in silence, looking at each other. I gave her an awkward smile and nodded, assenting that yes, she hadn’t seen my hair down before. She blundered her goodbyes, told me it was nice to see me and left, visibly embarrassed. I felt bad. For her, for me… I knew she didn’t try and touch my hair with ill intent but having someone you barely know touch your hair is a tinge uncomfortable on its own, never mind when hair like mine has been marginalized by society and seen as undesirable, bad and ugly for centuries. Plus, I was (and am) just starting to get to know, love and accept my hair for what it is, and having my hair attract so much attention, especially attention that could potentially be negative, was, and still is, uncomfortable and scary.

Natural hair has a huge historical importance, especially for women of color. I mean, in the 19th and 20th century black and indigenous people were placed in petting zoos, and let’s not forget about Saartjie Baartman, a South African woman who was exhibited in a London circus. For years, women of color have been chemically straightening their hair to assimilate into white society, and only recently are some of us finally taking the beauty and meaning behind our hair back. When someone reaches out to touch my hair, I feel like I’m an attraction on display. I feel abnormal, exotified and ugly even if the person isn’t being spiteful, and it’s like I’m nine again, sitting in front of the mirror as my scalp burns, putting up with the pain for “just five more minutes”, erasing the bad and the ugly out of my hair so it results as close to white hair as possible.

When I came back to my senses, I realized that the professor was gone and I was still standing in front of the Dining Hall. I turned around, let go of a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding and continued walking.

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  • H

    H Zahra CaldwellFeb 22, 2021 at 3:57 pm

    Awesome, insightful, and brave

    • L

      Lisha L. López SánchezFeb 23, 2021 at 5:29 pm

      Thank you so much Professor Caldwell!