Embracing My Crown
As a child, I had aspired to be a Disney princess. I had the shiny pink dresses with the plastic hard heels to match. I knew the movies word for word. I could give my best Cinderella impression at the drop of a hat. When I looked in the mirror, I envisioned Belle, but my reflection revealed the beast. My tightly coiled afro mocked me. My hair didn’t grace my shoulders or tickle the back of my neck. It stood at attention like a soldier rather than curtsy. Evidently, Rapunzel and I had to be very distant cousins.
Wash days were the worst because there were no YouTube tutorials on how to properly wash my kind of hair. My kind of hair was pointed towards the “Just for Me Relaxer” section at the beauty supply store, where the black girls on the boxes smiled happily with straight shiny hair. That explains why I feared my mother and her signature weapon, the wide-tooth comb. Its red sharp teeth would rip through my coarse bush of hair until tears rimmed my bottom lids. She would claim I was “tender-headed” as she pulled and yanked my head underneath the running kitchen faucet. Trust me, there was nothing tender about my hair. It willfully came to blows against the wide-tooth comb. Its bold black tresses would even knock the comb’s tooth clean out! When I watched my tiny black spirals wash down the drain, I knew the wide-tooth comb had defeated the unruly ‘fro.
After washing, my mother would wrap my hair in a big tan towel to dry. Sitting me down in my tiny brown chair, I scooted close to the television and flicked to Disney Channel. My favorite show, “Hannah Montana” played on the screen in front of me. Her whiteness glowed like a lit bulb against her blonde bangs. She was so happy. She beamed with a twinkle in her smile. I gazed in fascination watching her transform from a brunette to a blonde by spinning around and singing, “You get the best of both worlds!”
I looked in the mirror and spun too. I looked down at myself, then into the mirror once more. The little black girl I saw was not happy. Her brows were furrowed with defeat in her face, as she cuffed the standing strands of hair. Out of frustration, I grabbed my hard-bristled brush and pulled down on my stubborn hair. It would obey by touching my face as a tease, then laugh as it rose like a cake in the oven. I stared at Hannah Montana in reverence. I was going to need more than a brush and a turnaround to become the Disney character I was destined to be.
When I was 9 years old, my mother came home with a surprise for me. The plastic bag she handed me read, “Party City.” With much excitement, I reached inside and felt strands that were soft and supple. It was a shiny, long, golden wig! Swiftly, I put it on my small head. I flipped my hair and rolled my neck as a test drive. Yup, it stayed on tight. My wig was destined for me like Cinderella’s glass shoe, and I no longer felt alienated by the Disney characters that raised me. On the outside, I looked the part. Though, underneath the wig hid a timid black girl, who couldn’t understand the beauty of hair that defied gravity.
Truly, I was a failed Disney princess audition tape. I carried this burden with me through high school. Rather than wear a “Party City” wig at 18 years old, I opted for a different cloak. I wore long---Rapunzel long---box braids. The hairstyle took over four hours to complete; I could still feel the throbbing from strands being pulled on my scalp. Still, I didn’t care though. My braids were on fleek and long enough to get caught onto surrounding objects. Upon request, I would have gladly let down my hair. However, I never intended for it to mean literally.
It was on a Monday morning when it happened. The halls were busy, but that was typical in a performing arts high school. There were sounds of vocal warm-ups and untuned instruments that penetrated eardrums. I was at my locker casually fumbling with my lock. With every turn, I slowly and dramatically swung my hair in the same direction. Suddenly, someone broke my rhythm. It was my locker buddy, Josephine, who was as white as the inside of Snow White’s apple.
“I like your hair, Alana,” she said.
“Thank you” I quickly replied.
“But---” she stammered--- “what does your hair look like naturally?”
I was appalled. This is my hair.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean---the hair you were born with. What does it look like?”
“It’s an afro. I don’t wear it out because it’s too much of a hassle.”
“So what?” She reassuringly smiled. “That’s your hair!”
Really? A white girl was telling me to wear my natural hair. It was like Rapunzel herself telling me to let down my hair---my real hair. When she left, her golden hair elegantly rode against the air-conditioned halls. That's when my braids lost their momentum. Her words echoed in my thoughts for the rest of the day. For some reason, I felt humiliated. I couldn’t stop thinking about our exchange. So, that evening after school, I decided I would cut my braids.
In the bathroom, I held the scissors in my hand and looked in the mirror. As I was about to cut, I saw a familiar little girl staring back at me. Although, this time she didn’t look sad or defeated. She laid against a rooted tree as her deep brown skin blended with its bark. Its strong branches cradled her in protection like a newborn infant. Her hair stood big and tall as if it were the crown of the tree. She proudly studied the endless roots and graciously traced it along its lines. It took me 18 years to understand that I was never meant to be a Disney princess. I was born to be a Queen. I always knew there was something royal hiding in my hair; I just needed some time to find it.