Flipping the switch to reset seemed simple and instantaneous. However, I didn’t immediately feel that the goal had been accomplished or mastered. Over the course of the week, laughter proved to be a useful tool to keep me moving toward an existence that felt less constricted, less chaotic, and less abnormal.
Earlier in the week, I ate lunch with some colleagues in the conference room on our floor. We were spending time with a colleague on her last day in the office. As we engaged in casual conversations about random topics our attention shifted unexpectedly to a specific topic never discussed in great detail. One of my colleagues changed her hair style over the weekend and I commented that I liked her new do. (“Do” is short for hairdo.) I said something like, “I really like your hair” and “I wish my natural curl was more like yours.” Who knew that the conference room would become a classroom. The students were one Latino woman, four caucasian women, and two African American, including me. She and I became lecturers on the subject of Black hair care. She was what we call on our campus the faculty member of record and I was her teaching assistant. Who knew that an observation about her hair would result in about a thirty minute class on cornrows, faux dreadlocks, weaves, and wigs? I don’t either of the seven would have thought it would happen, but I think this will rank as one of the most fun and engaging college classes of all time for me.
I believed that my compliment and wish triggered the first question: “So, that wasn’t your hair?” Before the last word of that question was heard the next question came. Another colleague asked something like “How does that process work?” My young colleague whose hair had become the focal point of what had become a working lunch began a clinic complete with drawings on the whiteboard and a very descriptive lecture on the science and protocols associated with these hairstyles. I think I got the biggest laughs from another young colleague who obviously had never broached the subject of Black hair with anyone. She believed that whatever hair do we had on a given day was due to some overnight beautician magic performed by us. I literally laughed out loud after she answered my question, “So you thought that was her hair?” in the affirmative. No only did she say something like “Well, yes,” but she continued with another question like,”So, that really wasn’t your hair?” She continued along this line of amazement like a child who goes down that proverbial rabbit hole of questioning the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the elf on the shelf. She started asking about the hair do’s of other African American women on campus whose hair styles change.
In her defense, some of the women don’t always make drastic changes, but there’s enough change that one might think there was just a beautician who spiced up their looks. I had to ask if she noticed changes in length that might not be possible overnight. That made me chuckle out loud. The shocked look on her face made all of smile. We stole her innocence by telling her that the quick hair changes often came courtesy of human hair that was either glued in, sewed in, or made into a wig. The final question was “How long did that process take to complete?” Our teacher without hesitation explained the range of time for each style at issue. The teacher also discussed the quality of the hair purchased and it impacted the texture, the hair style, and the cost payable to the hair technician.
The colleagues who had this discussion worked in a department that I supervise. I was proud that I hired all of these professional who wanted to talk hair care with me. There is much talk on college campuses about inclusive spaces and I was thrilled that a group of women I hired felt safe enough around me to ask questions, then listen and learn. This class came complete with a braid demonstration, drawings, and the shocking revelation that some of us rely on other tools to create illusions of curls, length, and color. My colleagues are definitely more woke now than before this impromptu class?