When KT and my wife came home last night, KT quickly brushed past me and headed for the TV. My wife had a grim look on her face. "Have a closer look at your son," she said. As I approached him, the first thing that stood out to me was that his hair was rough, like it hadn't been combed all day. He looked like he'd been in a fight. Then I noticed several dime-sized bald spots in his hair, on the right side of his head. It's Alopecia areata, an auto-immune disease that attacks the hair follicles, I thought. I know about alopecia areata because I had a bad case of it about 7 years ago.
But it wasn't alopecia. Turned out, he'd been pulling his hair out.
KT has very rough textured hair. He's "nappy-headed" as we called it when I was a kid. And he's very "tender-headed," too. He yelps like an injured puppy dog when I comb his hair each morning. Sometimes he cries.
For this reason, I've always kept his hair cut very low. It's just easier to groom that way. But for the past year or so, we've let his hair grow because he complained about having to wear his hair so short.
When I asked him why he'd been pulling his hair out, he wouldn't answer. It didn't make sense to me. How could someone so tender-headed pull their hair out. Whatever the reason, I certainly couldn't send him to school like that, so I marched him upstairs and gave him a haircut. I cut it low, almost bald. Hair problem solved.
Well, maybe not.
While I cut his hair, I pressed him for an answer. I worried that it might be stress. Or psychological. Could a well adjusted kid who gets all A's on his report card be crazy, too? Finally he said, "I pulled my hair out because it was so tangled. Because everyone at school has soft, smooth hair. My hair is hard," he said. "Everyone at school has light-colored hair [blonde]. My hair is black. I don't like my hair," he said.
It was the Black hair thing. I know all about the Black hair thing. The "Good hair" vs. "bad hair" hair thing. It's kind of like the eye thing in the Asian community, except that the hair thing can be fixed with a $5 box of lye-mixed chemicals. Here's how it works: If you have straight hair, like White people, you're considered by many to have "good hair." If your hair is tightly curly — nappy — you don't have "good hair."
The "Good hair" vs. "bad hair" hair thing is a Black thing. And since there are only, maybe, 5 African-American students in his entire school, I'm not sure where it was coming from.
So, after I finished cutting his hair, he looked in the mirror and cried. Apparently, he hates bald heads worse than kinky heads. There was no win-win there.
I've been past the "Good hair" vs. "bad hair" hair thing for years. My hair is kinky, too, but I'm proud of my natural God-given hair texture. But I must admit, it took wearing dreadlocks to get to a comfortable place. Then I talked my wife — who swore by perms and relaxers — into wearing dreadlocks, too. And now she loves her natural hair.
So I'm wondering, will dreadlocks cure my son of the shame he feels for his hair? The better question is, will my son's school (Christian, conservative) be open to his wearing dreadlocks? Guess we'll find out.