Elaine.

Elaine.

I remember holding back tears as the relaxer burned my scalp. I didn’t tell her it was hurting because I thought the longer it was in, the straighter my hair would be.
— Elaine

I remember holding back tears as the relaxer burned my scalp. I didn't tell her it was hurting because I thought the longer it was in, the straighter my hair would be, the more beautiful I could be and therefore I could be more worthy. And I participated in this painful ritual over and over, as if each new head of shiny, straight hair would bring me freedom. And yet every time I touched the ground of that hair salon, I felt that freedom being sucked out of my lungs. I found myself sitting in that chair over and over, willing protest out of my mouth, but all that came out were tears and the reminder that I still was not able to claim my voice - the reminder that my freedom was still shackled to a fear of rejecting the status quo. And so I buried myself in a respectability politics that makes a black woman’s body an open canvas for the white imagination; a respectability politics that robs you of your body over and over. So time spent in front of mirrors was time I used to unsee myself. And so every night when I attempted to speak love back into my soul I’d find myself gasping for air, grasping for God, longing for myself, until I finally said “enough”. Now my scalp is witness to kinky curls that spring out of my head at different angles and time spent in front of mirrors is time used to see myself, to love myself a little more. And every morning after I rubbed coconut oil into my scalp, my hair becomes a canvas for my own imagination - my own freedom.

Words by Mumbi Kanyogo

Mumbi.

Mumbi.

Milan.

Milan.