By Diane Macklin
A chance encounter is an unexpected blessing for a teenager, who discovers that true strength is rooted within, extending down into the roots of the ancestors.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Just-Hair-Finding-Out-the-Importance-of-Your-True-Roots
- There are many forms of laughter: discomfort, joy, fear, amusement, sarcastic, etc. What type of laughter would you attribute to the students in the library? What dynamic did it set up between them and Diane? What are a few responses you would have had to the situation?
- Invisibility is a much-desired attribute among superheroes. However, there are times when we, too, search for the cloak of concealment. When have you ever wanted to be “invisible”? In what situation and for what purpose?
- The themes of belonging, identity, shame, and protecting one’s self can be found in the story of each human being. What other themes did you connect to in this story? Did the story help you to remember something that is or has happened to you?
- Every Tongue Got to Confess by Zora Neale Hurston
- African American Folk Tales for Young Readers by Richard Young and Judy Dockrey Young
- Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco
- African American/Black History
- Education and Life Lessons
- European American/Whites
- Family and Childhood
- Stereotypes and Discrimination
- Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Hi, my name is Diane Macklin and this is a story, Just Hair.
If you’re driving down Route 82 in Hopewell Junction, New York in 199… in 1986, you would go past this ranch white house with green shutters, and you would think it was just a house. No indeed. This was the place where anyone with African roots could get their hair done by my mother. And that was me because we were the second black family to move into our neighborhood. My mother was the oldest of 12 children, and she did everyone’s hair. So, my hair was always done perfectly. There was no need in town for a Jet magazine or even anyone who could do anything with my hair. But it didn’t matter.
And as I grew up, well, things started to change a little bit. In high school, I no longer wanted the perfect parts, the braids, the ponytails. I watched this show on TV called The Facts of Life. My favorite show and there was this character Tootie. Now she would roll around on her rollerblades. She had these cute little pigtails and she had a brown complexion like me but she looked young. But then there was Blair and she had this flowing blond hair. And she was sophisticated; she was so much older. I wanted to be like Blair. So, one morning when my mom was doing my hair I said, “Mom, can you do my hair so it’s out. This is my ninth-grade year, Mom. I really want to wear my hair out.”
Now, my mom is from Mississippi. She’s from the South. She never says, “No.”
She goes on about her back. She goes on about this, that and the other until you’re saying, “No, Mom, that’s ok, that’s ok. Don’t, don’t worry about it.”
But she looked at me. “No.” I thought maybe she had a bad night at work. Maybe she woke up on the wrong side of the bed. That was okay because I could wait her out. I did wait a couple of weeks.
“Mom, I was thinking that maybe you could do my hair so it’s out today.”
But, again, she looked. “No.”
Now, I’m in high school, ninth grade and I ride a bus. It takes a while to get to school. I knew that if I took my hair out on the bus, and remembered where she had parted it, how she had braided it (whether it was over or under), I could take out my hair on the bus and put it back. She’ll never know.
So, one morning I got on the bus and I scooted down in the seat and started to take out my hair. Now, my friend across from me saw what I was doing and she just watched, and watched. And then we pulled up at our high school. Now always in high school, you did not go inside until the bell rang. Whether it was snow, sleet, hail, rain, everyone stood outside the building until the bell rang. But as soon as the bus pulled up and stopped, I stood up. And I heard, “Aah!” ’Cause back then no one had seen hair like mine, this rich hair, out because you didn’t even see it on TV. You didn’t even see it on commercials, and I felt like a million dollars.
I even had my own music playing, my own soundtrack, ’cause as I walked on the bus everyone just followed me. “Uuh!”
And I was going, “Oom, aah, and, Oom, aah!” I just felt… I had never felt like that before actually. And I struck a pose before I got off the bus, and they just sat there staring. They couldn’t believe it. I walked off the bus and then, who0om, everyone parted like the Red Sea and my friends came over.
“Can I touch your hair? Can I touch your hair?”
“Are your hands clean?”
And all day, I rode this cloud nine. And then, towards the end of the day, though, I had to go to the library to get a book out for research purposes, and I saw that there were some lower-class rooms from the middle school. They were visiting. They hadn’t seen my hair. So, I walked in, I struck a pose, and they no longer stared at their teacher. They stared at me.
“Yeah! They never saw hair like this.”
I walked in and then I heard, “Ah, whoo, whoo, whoo, ha!”
It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Then the whole class broke out in laughter. Then I started to hear the words. “Afro Puff. Brillo Pad.”
They were talking about my hair. And there were other names, that, even now, I don’t want to repeat.
I couldn’t remember what I went in that library for but I wasn’t going to care. I went to the shelf, picked up a book, checked it out, walked out, had my head up high, looked at them, so they knew they didn’t get me.
But as soon as I left that library, my head dropped. On that bus, I remembered how she parted it. I turned my head a little to the window because, you know, how you do sittin’ down, it’s easier. A few tears fallin’ down. I went inside. It was as if I never took my hair out.
And I decided, I was going to wear an invisible armor and from that day on, I did. I pr… constructed an armor that you could not see me. Worked so well that, one day I was at the grocery store, and I was juggling more groceries than I needed to in my arms and there was a woman and her daughter. Her daughter looked, and young people can see past the invisible armor. They have a special vision. She saw that if she moved her groceries up, on the conveyor belt, I could put mine down. That’s what that young lady did. But the mother turned around and, well, I had my invisible armor on and she couldn’t see me, because she took her arm and she moved those groceries back in place, so I could not put my groceries down. The young lady, she turned beet red. She looked embarrassed. I tried to let her know it was okay because she didn’t know, I was wearing my armor. I wore it for many years and then one day, I was in that store and I heard someone comin’ up behind me. And this time I was smart; I did have a cart.
“Young lady, young lady.” But no one talked to me in the store.
“Young lady, young lady.” But no one talked to me in store.
I turned around. There was a woman with a rich, mahogany complexion like mine.
“Do you know where you’re from?”
“No! Where you’re from in Africa?”
My school didn’t teach us anything about Africa. And even during Black History Month, there was maybe a book in the library, on a shelf, but that was about it.
“You need to find out where you’re from ’cause when I saw you, I said, ‘She looks like a Mandingo warrior woman.’ Do you know that the Mandingo have warrior women?”
I didn’t know anything about Mandingo. I didn’t even know what to say. I was speechless.
“You need to find out where you’re from?”
And she turned the corner. And I stood there for a moment absorbing what she told me and then I went to find her ’cause, clearly, she knew more than I did. And she was gone. I couldn’t find her anywhere.
And to this day, I feel like she was a little angel, came to send me a message because now I could take off that invisible armor. And I now have as my defense, as my weapon of choice, to love, to love through story, as a storyteller.