Embracing My Identity, Hair and All: Part I by Nia Campinha-Bacote
By The National Chi Alpha Ministry Center in Diversity
This post was originally posted on prettyforablackgirl.blogspot.com titled “How Did I Get Here?” that shares Nia’s testimony of how she made the decision to do the “big chop” and her journey of discovering her identity as a black woman in the Lord. Nia Campinha-Bacote formerly served as staff for Chi Alpha at Yale University.
Several people have asked me if there was a reason why I did the big chop. The answer is yes and it’s a long one. I want to use this post to share part of my life story, and I hope others who have had similar experiences will know they’re not alone and may be encouraged to fully embrace the person God has created them to be.
I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, school system, and church. I was the only black person in my accelerated and AP classes, and I was constantly deemed as “the white black girl.” The Oreo. To be fair, I very much bought into this jargon and these beliefs. Often times it was me calling myself an Oreo and feeling proud as my jokes about being the only smart black person brought about laughter.
For a majority of my life, I didn’t see people who looked like me. I’m not just talking about not seeing a black person in a position of power or leadership (save a few high school teachers—shout out to Mr. Harris and Dr. Kennedy). I’m talking about not being surrounded by any peers who looked like me. When I looked around my classes I saw White, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Pakistani. But no black. Naturally, not being surrounded by anyone who looked like me meant not seeing anybody with hair like mine. So when my mom started chemically straightening my hair with a relaxer, I had no qualms. As a 10-year-old, I wanted to fit in and have long and straight hair like the rest of my friends. I wanted my hair to be “normal” and my kinky hair with curls and coils galore most assuredly did not fit that mold.
For the next four years, I used a relaxer to chemically straighten my hair until my scalp became too sensitive and the relaxer began leaving burns and scabs on my head. My hairdresser suggested I switch to Keratin, a protein treatment that loosened my natural curl pattern, but there was one catch—I had to wait two years to grow my hair out because using the Keratin on previously relaxed hair would completely break off my hair. Those two years I spent growing out my natural hair caused me to resent my hair like you wouldn’t believe.
Though I look happy in the picture, those two years of growing out my hair were the worst. Those two years were my freshman and sophomore years of high school—crucial years, y’all. To make matters worse, freshman year at my high school was the year swimming was required every week for gym class. EVERY. WEEK. I will never forget that class. Fit to Learn. Week after week, I struggled fitting swimming caps over my ever growing fro, and week after week, my hair always managed to get wet and messed up. I remember trying to fit my hair into a nice bun or ponytail like all my other friends with the tiny elastic bands, but my hair ties were so quick to break, and even if they didn’t, my hair never looked right. It was too thick. Too curly. Too frizzy. Too nappy.
As soon as year two hit, I was in my hairdresser’s chair ready to do whatever I needed to do to get my hair back to “normal.” After she did my first Keratin treatment, I remember seeing my silky soft, smooth hair return and feeling a wave of relief pass through my body. Those two years on the wild side had made me terrified of my natural hair, and never once would I think I would return natural.
All views expressed on this blog are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, U.S.A., U.S. Missions, and The General Council of the Assemblies of God.