By: Breanna Y.
I can remember my older sister coming home from school, with a smile on her face. She happily told my mom how a boy at school “thought she was Dominican”, because of her hair. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why that made my sister so proud, and happy. Looking back on it, her hair wasn’t anything necessarily special. She had nice, thick, shiny, shoulder length, relaxed hair. Compared to many black girls in our area, whose hair had started to thin, experience breakage, or took a lot of effort to maintain, my sister’s hair was something special.
Heck, I liked her hair as well. However, I still didn’t understand why that guy from my sister’s class didn’t know she was “just” black? My sister’s skin tone…hmm, I would say is dark brown, she had no “exotic” features that would make one assume she’s anything else, her eyes are almost almond-shaped, but not quite….so, I concluded, it had to be her hair. Her hair would easily be classified as 4B now, which would be “nappy” by old folk’s standards, but because it was “long”, this guy automatically assumed that my sister had to be something else, besides “JUST” black.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen black women proudly glow when someone compared them, or mistaken them for anything but “just” black. People would happily tell my mom, who does show similar features to some Native tribes, that her long, natural hair was “because of her Native American side”. Knowing what I know now, my mom’s hair had more to do with the fact that she didn’t relax her hair, rather than her “Native American side”.
How many black American people attribute anything beautiful on them to their “Native side”, that they can’t necessarily prove they have in them? I was really confused as to why many black women would happily explain what was in their “bloodline”, what other race, or ethnicity someone compared them to, etc, but hardly ever did I see other races happily exclaim how they were mistaken as being a black person.
I was proud to be black, not saying these ladies weren’t, but I always told myself, that if anyone EVER called me something other than black, or African-American, I would quickly correct them. I was unsettled, though I couldn’t explain why at a young age, at how I saw other black women react when someone did compare them with another race. I guess I knew that no one would ever compare me with anyone, I mean besides my almond shaped eyes, that most Asians have, which I think many black, or African-American woman have as well, I looked “just” black, with my short, relaxed hair that needed work. And a medium to big-sized nose. Well it isn’t THAT big, but it isn’t THAT small either.
I remember a time in class when I pulled my hair into a short ponytail, and a black male classmate exclaimed “Whoa, you look lighter with your hair pulled back. With it down, you look like a “regular” black girl”. I jokingly shoved him, realizing, but at the same time not realizing, what his comment meant. I mean what on God’s green earth is a “regular” black girl!? Short, thick, or thin, relaxed hair? Long, thin, relaxed hair?
Fast-forward to 2012, I was about 2 years natural. My older sister, who I mentioned earlier, is natural as well by now, she has her hair flat ironed, while my hair is in a blowout, but nicely braided on the sides, and pulled back in a half-up, half-down type of style that I wish I had pictures to show for. We were shopping, when an older black woman stopped us, and asked my sister, while looking directly at me: “Excuse me for asking, but are yall part Japanese?”…..so many thoughts rushed through my head in that moment: “I’ve never been mistaken as another race before”, “I do like Asian culture, and people, but doesn’t mean I want to be mistaken for them, I love being a black person, why does this woman think I’m Japanese?” “Can’t she tell I’m: “just” black?”
Then it hit me, as to why she thought I was biracial; my hair. Mind you, natural hair wasn’t as common in my area, like it is now, back then. My eyes, almond shaped remember, has always been the same, but no one ever made the “mistake” of confusing me with being part Asian or anything else. So, though my hair was 4c, the “nappiest” as my aunts called it, this lady still assumed I was biracial.
I can’t help but think, well actually I know, that had I came in that store, with my short relaxed hair, that woman would’ve never asked me that question, even with my almond shaped eyes. And, if my eyes weren’t almond shaped, and I came in with my 4c hair, if I looked “just” black, she would’ve probably looked at me with disdain and a “you need to do something with your hair” type of look.
All these thoughts, and realization hit me, in a quick second, before my sister and I both responded proudly with a smiles on our face: “No. We are “just” black”, as the woman took this in, we said good bye, paid for our items, and left.
So, how do you all feel? Have you ever been proud of being mistaken for another race? Did you ever dislike that you were “just” black? I would love to hear your responses.