“Did Big A get a haircut?”
I look over at my precious boy, fresh from the barbershop. His experience with getting a haircut so different at five than it was at three, when her would scream the entire time. Once, there was an entire patch of hair, the size of a quarter that just wasn’t cut cause the barber couldn’t take it anymore! But now, he loves getting his hair cut. It tickles around the ears, he tells me, but getting a haircut is no big deal. And getting to go to McDonald’s afterwards…well, that makes up for any unpleasantness.
So when a preschool “friend,” and I use the term begrudgingly, asked me this afternoon whether Big A had gotten a haircut yesterday, I happily said, “Why yes he did! And doesn’t it look lovely?” Because, of course, I think it does. I love the way the close cut makes little black boys look all grown up by allowing you to focus on their faces. I love how I can really stare into my angel’s eyes, with his long eyelashes and deep brown irises that really seem to look into his gentle soul.
But apparently, I’m alone in this appraisal. For this little girl said, “No. He has no hair. He looks like an alien.”
I was shocked. Taken aback. Then outraged. Angry.
For it dawned on me that this was not the first time some child had said something disparaging about Big A and his haircuts. I remembered him telling me how the kids at the other school called him “baldy-head” whenever he got a haircut, and how they were not saying it in a nice way. I remember him telling me that it hurt his feelings when they said that. I remember him telling me that he was never going to get a haircut again.
As I thought about this, I looked around the playground. As much as we lament what little black girls go through with regards to their hair, I never thought about the fact that little black boys face their own hair issue when surrounded by boys who are not black like them. As the only black boy on the playground, Big A was also the boy who has the least amount of hair. In relation to all the other children, even the boys, he WAS bald. All of the other little boys had a significant amount of hair on their heads – hair that flopped in bangs on their forehead, around their ears, on the nape of their necks. Some boys had more closely cropped hair, but enough to run a little gel in it and make it stand up or lay down. Certainly not bald. And, as we all know, kids DO have funny-shaped heads. When all the hair is removed, things can look a bit…well…strange.
Of course, though, to me, I didn’t see it the way this little girl did. All my life I’ve seen black men get haircuts, from high top fades to taking it all off. It’s normal to me to see men and boys with hair of all different lengths, from locs like my father’s to the floppiness of these little boys to the boxes that were popular in the 90s to Big A’s curly Qs when he was a baby to the close cut he gets today. I’ve seen it all, so none of it shocks me.
But these kids, raised in elite suburbia, have not. They don’t live around people who are different than them who do other things with their hair. So a little black boy with a close cut is a novelty to them. And when something is strange, they ridicule and “otherize” it.