The laws of science say that you can take something and make
nothing out of it, but you cannot take nothing and make something out of it. In the case of Black people’s hair, you have live, woolly, curly, human hair where harsh chemicals and heat are applied to kill the hair until it lays in ruin like the white people’s hair or dogs’ hair. You took something and made nothing out of it. But there is no known chemical or application of heat that can change the dead, straight hair of white people to the live, lovely curly hair of Black people. You cannot take nothing and make something out of it.
Broken Promises – Mariposa (Maria Teresa Fernandez)
Pinches y ribbons
to hold back and tie
oppressing baby naps
never to be free.
Clips and ribbons
to hold back and tie
imprisoning baby naps
never to have the dignity to be.
broken ends / broken promises
activator and cream
mixed in with bitterness
Keep away from children
Avoid contact with eyes
This product contains lye and lies
Harmful if swallowed
The ritual of combing / parting / sectioning
the greasing of the scalp / the neck
the forehead / the ears
the process / and then the burning / the burning
“It hurts to be beautiful, ‘ta te quieta.”
My mother tells me.
“¡Pero mami me pica!”
and then the running / the running to water
to salvation / to neutralizer / to broken ends
and broken promises.
Graduating from Carefree Curl
to Kitty curl / to Revlon / to super duper Fabulaxer
different boxes offering us broken ends and broken promises.
“We’ve come a long way since Dixie Peach,”
my mother tells me as I sit at the kitchen table.
Chemical relaxers to melt away the shame
until new growth reminds us
that it is time once again
for the ritual and the fear of
scalp burns and hair loss
and the welcoming of broken ends
” There’s the ever present hair thing. That was annoying. My mom did our hair. You know she did the desrizados, the relaxers, every 6 weeks. like clockwork. It’s like having all of these black features, African features, and like my mom low key being like this is wrong…we’re going to do what we can to fix it, which you know also happens in Black American families, but sometimes the mother also looks that way.” -HER
I remember being no older than five or six years old, and I was just entirely fed up with my poofy hair that always ended up in a tight, slick bun. I was called a poodle, people said it looked like burnt macaroni and cheese. I just wanted to be…normal. I always wondered why I couldn’t be one of those Hispanic girls that had the really long pin-straight hair. Instead, I got unlucky and ended up with this mess. My mom worked at a big bank in Manhattan, and she ALWAYS had her hair straight. Why was I so different? So I asked her to do the same thing to me that my black friends in school got done. The one in the box with the girl that was smiling seemingly harder than I ever had. She agreed to do the relaxer, but what I didn’t know was that it burned worse than anything I had ever felt before. “You wanted it,” she said, “beauty takes pain.” That was the first time I ever heard that phrase. I hoped that she thought my curly hair was beautiful too, which she did, but I knew that this would wear off sooner or later.
After washing my hair out, I was so excited. My hair was a bit stiff, but it was better than the poofy, tangled knots that took almost a half of a bottle of detangler to comb out. My mom and I began to comb my hair, and some of it fell out. I thought it was normal, but as the days passed, the balls of hair that I was removing from my brush grew larger and larger. Why did I want this? Why wasn’t I happy like the other little girls? Why was I more devastated that it was possible that I could never do this again and my hair would never be normal? I still wanted it. The burn, slowly churning out each and every one of my kinks. It was lifeless, but no one made fun of it.
Why was it that I went to the Dominican hair salon to get these relaxers hand made, just potent enough so that my hair would lay flat but gentle enough that my hair wouldn’t fall out? Why did I sit in that soft, black chair for hours getting my hair blown out at a temperature so hot I would have to dig my nails into the armrests? What was I trying to hide? I’m trying to relax. Relax so that I can embrace my roots, but why should I because people embraced me once I relaxed my roots?
–Relaxed, stream of consciousness/reflection. Selena Castro.