“pelo malo.” it literally means “bad hair” in spanish. and in latin america (particularly the caribbean) it’s something heard not infrequently. so i’m trying to prepare myself for how i’ll react when i hear it in the dominican republic. i’ll be there for 27 months. my hair is natural. so i know i’ll hear it. at times, it will likely be directed at me.
hair tends to be a pretty touchy topic for black (american) women. we go through so much with our hair. it shapes parts of our culture. it dictates our schedules. and many of us have hair damaged so much so that we don’t believe our hair can even grow (by the way, this is a myth!). and in our society for the most part, that tends to be a part of femininity–long hair…or at the least, present hair. so many black women have hair issues, and are discontent, feeling that their hair has a weak presence (am i right, ladies?). so to talk about our hair, for many of us, is like talking about our mamas. i heard a yo mama joke once that said, “yo mama’s hair so short she curls it with rice!” LOL! i’m sorry, that’s funny! but it also proves my point. for many black women, it’s just one of those unspoken rules if you don’t want to be perceived as disrespectful: “DON’T TALK ABOUT MY HAIR!”
*sigh!* SO… “pelo malo.” this is something i’ve pondered from time to time since i started this peace corps preparation process. though dominicans have african ancestry like we do, there was a lot more mixing of the races in latin america than in the united states historically. so the european standard of beauty that took influence in the culture is far more infused and magnified in latin america than in the united states. (i have a love/hate relationship with latin american “race” relations…but that’s another post.) so it’s just an accepted thing:
african-textured/curly/kinky hair = pelo malo.
straight, long hair = pelo bueno (good hair).
(and hey, let’s face it, we as black americans definitely have our share of hair issues too, which is why this post exists at all, but i’ve never been told in the u.s. that i had “bad hair,” like i have been told in latin america.) now, to be fair, not EVERY dominican holds this view, but it’s pretty widely accepted.
i think in dealing with the youth, this will be a great opportunity to plant seeds of beauty in the young girls, letting them know that beauty is not found in the man-made standard, and teaching them to appreciate how they were made, whether their hair is naturally kinky, naturally straight or anything in between. it will be a chance to show them that kinky/afro-textured hair is not “malo” when you care for it.
but i think the adults are gone. it’s probably too ingrained. don’t get me wrong, i know black americans have had a history that facilitates our own disturbing hair biases, as this antidote depicts. but this will be a new experience for me because (1) the way the concept of “pelo malo” is so blatantly stated and nearly completely unquestioned, and (2) this is outside of my cultural context, without some form of reassuring comfort like the image to left coming back into play to balance it all out. so i’m trying to prep myself for the best ways to handle being told that i have pelo malo, and should go to the corner beautician for help. i will have to remain rooted in the truth of the Word of God, and in how he made me in order to stay grounded, reaffirmed, not prideful, and not angry. any other suggestions?
i couldn’t think of any better way to end this post than leah smith’s beautiful made. let it bless you. 🙂