i do not remember my roots
by Kaylin Moss
No, no, I don’t want one, you pleaded. As if you had a choice. Are you sure? Your hair will be so long, she insisted. You heard beautiful, and were confused. You were not sure, you were adamant. The stupidity of her question left you dumbfounded. Don’t put your hand on active stove eyes, don’t look directly at the sun, don’t set fire to your hair.
Didn’t your mom get you a perm
Child, you got some thick hair
Your hair is too nappy
Didn’t your mom get
Child, you got
Mommy, I want a relaxer, you said. You did want one, your desire was genuine. You listened to their lies and deceived yourself. Later, you would learn, you just wanted the words to stop. Beauty hurts, but assimilation sears. As your hair ignited, the words burned, too. The beautician’s chair was the kind of plastic that screeched with every minute movement you made. Your hairdresser spewed garbage and contributed to the salon’s cacophony of untruths. By the time you reached 7th grade, you thought your hair had stopped growing. You didn’t realize it was your psyche that was stunted. Stunted, but alive. Living paycheck to paycheck was survival. Your mother wanted you to thrive. Language was another crucial role in your assimilation. Your mother taught you Ebonics, then banned it. This language could not be spoken at home, and soon you forgot how to speak it. A mirror reflected your chalky image. Your mother beamed. A perfect fit.
Your mother taught you life emerges from flames. Each day was scalding. You set your identity ablaze and poured it into a porcelain mold. The remaining hours you spent asleep. Racism and discrimination were like the murmur of a television show on low volume. The Star Spangled Banner was deafening. Racists were rednecks in rural towns. The Confederate Flag was in textbooks, not your middle class suburbia. When prejudice came from a black person, your porcelain shattered.
At lunch, when your friend asked you what classes you’d be taking the next semester, you replied with honors this, and honors that. The cafeteria: where belly laughs and smacking mouths masked the segregation. A stranger with a stranger posse strode past the whites only sign and stopped at your table. She blurted you taking those white people classes? You’re like an Oreo, black on the outside, white on the inside. Each smug syllable was accompanied by a swish of her waist length braids. You heard an insult and were confused. You heard high academic performance wasn’t in the definition of authentic blackness, you heard your experience was invalid, you heard you couldn’t exist without sacrificing your skin. Well, ain’t you got something to say, she spat.
A millennia elapsed, and, still, you didn’t have a response. She extinguished your internal hellfire in that small eternity. The bell rang. The moment whizzed by. You tried to relight your fire but were left with embers. You attempted to pour yourself back into porcelain. You remembered the mold was beyond repair. You couldn’t recall what else occurred at school that day. At home you rushed to the bathroom mirror. You rubbed off the chalky exterior. You severed all your scorched strands. You marveled in your reflection. You stopped wishing you were white. You questioned everything. How does race affect how you perceive yourself? Why do you have a narrow definition of blackness? In that moment in the cafeteria, you wish you could’ve told the girl with the long braids, “This is what a black girl looks like.”
Kaylin Moss (she/her) is a model, writer, and photographer from Charleston, South Carolina. Her writing focuses on belonging, and the pressure to conform to America’s idea of blackness. She is currently studying computer science at Marist College in New York, where web design is another medium for her art. Follow her on Instagram @justchillkay.