I spent the first few years of my life isolated in rural southern Oregon living with my white mother and black father. My parent’s split up when I was four years old and shortly after my father left, my mother decided to leave Oregon. We went to Mexico for a visit before landing in Arizona. This era was the beginning of my cultural education in that I was suddenly aware that everyone else viewed me as part of a group that I didn’t really have any experience with.
For example, one of my earliest memories of arriving in Arizona was a children’s birthday party where the girl who lived in the house (who happened to be a little blonde haired white girl) was surprised that my hair wasn’t done like the little black girls she was used to (I was the only brown person at the party). She then took it upon herself to correct my style. She went and got every barrette she could find in the house and proceeded to put my hair into what for most Black little girls was the norm:
When Blondie held the mirror up to show me her handy work, I was HORRIFIED. I had never felt so ridiculous and silly looking in my short natural fluffy headed life. This wasn’t the end of the lesson. Later back at the motel room when my mother was telling some ladies (who happened to be white) about the incident, one felt that if the barrettes ethnic style didn’t suit my taste, she would give me another more appropriately ethnic hairstyle: cornrows.
I was MUCH more pleased with this braiding. I think it was the lack of matching that put me off to the other style. If all the barrettes had been the same color, maybe I wouldn’t have balked quite so hard. Either way, my mother did not have the patience or the skill to maintain either of these styles so I spent most of my childhood with a fluffy sort of fro. My lessons in “Black hair” were short lived and it would be over a decade before I tried any “ethnic” styles again.