Twist and Shout

Why Malia's hair speaks to me.


Then, I smiled at memories of holding down my ears to get my hair pressed for Easter Sundays and funerals. That’s just how we do it.

I’m a mother of a soon-to-be, 10-year-old daughter who got her first twists on her 9th birthday. She made the decision. I knew it was time to transition from little-girl ponytails, and she had grown tired of the cornrows. I suggested a Just For Me relaxer. She told me: “That’s not for me.”

I’ve been wearing twists since I was pregnant with her. So like mother, like daughter. But with my versatile daughter, twists soon turned into a faux-hawk with cornrows cascading into twists down the middle of her head. Funky. That’s something I would have been afraid to do as a fourth grader.

I was always one of a handful of black students in white-filled advanced classes in Texas and later Kentucky. One of my worst memories was a game of hot/cold in which a hidden object is found by listening to other kids chanting “Hot!” and “Cold!” My classmates thought it would be funny to hide a pencil in my ‘fro. My white teacher didn’t object.

I couldn’t wait to grow out of the afro and into something more mainstream. Don’t get me wrong; I loved to throw my braids around when my older sister put the clear and blue beads on the bottom. (Think Peaches from Peaches and Herb.) But I also didn’t mind getting in that chair and awaiting the hot comb. Sparks would fly from the comb, cooled down by a paper towel. Then the singe and the scent. Put your head down! Get the kitchen! Finally, hair just like my classmates. (Thank goodness we’ve moved to the flat iron.)