The Roots of It

By styling her daughters' hair each morning, she was attending to something deeper than a beauty ritual.

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lonnaeblackhair
Marvin Joseph/Washington Post

Soon now, these days will be gone from me. As I settle myself on the couch, my 11-year-old daughter, Savannah, brings me her hair basket: comb, water bottle, hair grease, barrettes. She plants herself on the floor, squarely between my knees, and I begin my work. There's the everyday hair-doing, but wash day takes more time, and slowly I separate the thick, kinky tangle growing from her head. I rub in a dollop of grease -- Kemi Oyl or root stimulator lotion, but mostly just dark blue Ultra Sheen (I like the standards) -- to make the hair obedient, and part it into sections, clipping each firmly to her head.

My hands are slower and gentler now than they were when she was younger and I was younger, with a career to chase, and an older daughter who had her own head of hair for me to do, and another baby yet to come.

Sometimes, if I was pressed for time, I could get by with a few surface brush strokes and a liberal application of gel to make the girls passably presentable, but it took 20 minutes of work to make them look special. Twenty minutes to make them feel pretty so that neighbors would comment on the straightness of their parts. Twenty minutes to be reassured that I'd sent my children into the world making clear that they were valued and loved. Twenty minutes. Every day. Minimum. Apiece. For me to feel assuaged that if one day, please, God, no, they suddenly disappeared, I could persuade the 24-hour cable networks that my girls really were worthy enough to be news-- because, after all, black mothers can't recall a time where missing black women and children got national media attention.

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