Sunday, October 25, 2009


You're in the salon, you're head is in the shampoo bowl, your Stylist is massaging shampoo and conditioner on your scalp. If feels good, you zone out. If you're a white-anglo-saxon-protestant like me (from a family where they kiss the dogs, but never the children and the scent of a martini reminds you of Grandma), being so physically close to someone, especially a "stranger," is a little weird, but you make yourself relax and enjoy. Well this week I learned that from the other side it's a completely different experience. At least for this WASP-child-of-privalage. When I've colored friends' and family's hair they usually rinse the color out themselves; in the shower. But I did get a snapshot of the weirdness of washing someone's hair when I did a double process on Anna (niece) and then on Amy (best friend). Amy put it best, exclaiming with a laugh "this is different, it's like you're my mother." Anna, being 16 was blunt, "this is really weird, it's so.... so... subservient. I'll wash my own hair now."

"Shampooing" is tested for the State Board, so I needed to learn it. Miss Lisa asked if anyone wanted to shampoo Kennisha's hair (before she was getting a roller set by another student). I volunteered. I wasn't really sure what to expect. I had never even touched black hair before (except maybe when I was making-out with Tony Mitchell at Harvard weekend... and I certainly don't remember is Hair!....but that's another story). As soon as I put the towel around Kennisha's neck and draped the cape around her I knew this is going to be something completely different from anything I've ever experienced. Her hair is so soft, and full. Miss Lisa came over to show me the correct way to wash and rinse. Since when my head is in the bowl I really do love the massage, so I tried to do a lot of that. I squirted Kennisha in the face once (handed her a towel); but mostly I massaged her hair and tried to articulate (to myself) what I was feeling. What I felt was that she was a little child -- I had this surge of feeling protective and loving. I thought about how my mother was essentially raised by the Negro nanny/housekeeper, Beatrice. I thought of all the generations of privalaged white women in my family; and the Black women who took care of them. Now now here i was washing the hair of a black women. Did I mention that Kennisha is the woman who "couldn't keep no weave in there?" (see earlier post.) I got this big welling up of emotional ad gratitude. I thought of the washing of the feet at Lent. Which before I only understood on the most intellectual level. Now I felt it, really felt it. It was a transcendent experience.

Doing someone's hair is so incredibly intimate. The only other "stranger' who'll get that close to you is a doctor. On top of that, "hair," for a lot women is such an emotional area. It can make you feel wonderful and beautiful and sexy; or make you feel like crap.

Oh, and on Saturday (I have to go to school on Saturday's too) I wash the hair hair of some dumb-ass white girl before I used the Marcel iron to style it into awesome big, all over curls. It was somewhat intense, but I can see that by the fourth or fifth time, washing hair will be like doing the dishes -- maybe.

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