It’s 7-something in the morning and the sun hasn’t even risen yet. The air in the kitchen is cold, crisp, and not warm enough to bear without at least wearing a long sleeve shirt. But none of that phases me — as I pull four wide packages of braiding hair out from its bag, my content heart warms my entire being.
This set of hair is special because there’s nothing natural or subtle about it. It’s loud. I chose a gorgeous, velvety red hair that glistened something so fierce and special in the light and a stunning butter-yellow set that complimented the red well. In all of the years that I’ve spent braiding my hair, this was the first time in a long time that I was so excited. This was also the first time I had taken to time to properly part my hair into over 100 sections, small and uniform.
The kitchen is where I usually braided my hair because its quick access to snacks, drinks, and sunlight were necessities for the many days I anticipated I’d be braiding. And for many days, just as I predicted, I sat in my kitchen with strips of red and yellow braiding hair stretched and laid out between the kitchen chairs. There were tangles of stray hair balling up on the floor for all the times the hair got tangled and I had to strip it and pull it away. Days came and went like beach tides as I braided my hair, growing ever more familiar with the sharp points of rat tail combs, took videos of the back of my hair to confirm my parts were neat, ran excitedly up to my room to see myself and my progress in the full body mirror, and ran back downstairs to keep my valuable schedule.
For me, these were some of the days I valued most in my life. Every hour I spent braiding and twisting and folding and wrapping until the tips of my fingers were sore and tired and red, and sometimes hurting, were the days that were the most rewarding in the long run. My hair has always meant the world to me because, before the makeup, the skirts, the dresses and the gold jewelry, my box braids were the first major craft I was able to grasp, understand, and master the art of. It was my first introduction of many into Black culture and the immaculate style that goes along with it, and as an Afro-Latina young woman, the abundance of my culture is deep and plentiful, and runs back centuries.
All the long hours and days spent braiding my hair to perfection are important because, in a world where Black people have been stripped or mocked or made fun of for our ways, I take major pride in the things that connect me to my Blackness. So, when Black people say to people of other races that it’s not okay or appropriate for them to wear box braids, it’s not us being sensitive. It’s not just a hairstyle. Of all the beautiful hairstyles in the world, braids are special and unique to us. And because of our experience in this world, box braids, among many other hairstyles, are sacred. Whether it be getting our hair done at the African salons or sitting between our mother’s or older sister’s legs while they detangle, grease, oil and weave in strands of braiding hair is almost every Black girl’s rite of passage.
Our hair, like glue binds paper, binds Black men, women, boys and girls together while we’re in this American world and society where many of us don’t even know where we come from. If you’re a non-Black person, I encourage you to explore your roots and cultural hairstyles. Whatever you discover is, without a doubt, a beautiful alternative to box braids. I’ve seen gorgeous women rock dutch braids, updos, bobs, bangs, high ponytails, and etc. And in every race, there’s a multitude of beauty rituals, traditions, and styles that go right along with it.