Before I came to Indonesia, or even applied to the Peace Corps, I felt an anxiety that focused on one unrelenting thought: “What about my hair?” This dread battled with the joy I felt at having the chance to go on a life-changing journey. The trouble was that my hair, in all its curly coiled goodness, was a loud, proud symbol of my blackness. There was no way I could hide it and my fear was rooted in the fear of rejection. I convinced myself that I was over-reacting and tried to push these unwanted concerns away.
Now,I admit it seems that some of those feelings were justified. I am picked apart and assessed ,by some people I know and don’t know, before I can speak a politically correct, PC-approved word. The tough skin I had starting out gets thinner with every question of “Why can’t you just straighten your hair?” or “Are you absolutely sure you’re not from Africa?”,the skin lightening indoctrination that makes me feel like I am the Anti-Everything, and the people trying to help me out by telling me that I should use an umbrella outside because “you don’t want to get any darker”.
There’s a wonderful song by India.Arie called “I am not my Hair” and the chorus reads,”I am not my hair/I am not this skin/I am a soul that lives within”. I have always lived by this mantra, hoping that if I repeat it enough times, it would become a magical incantation that, when said, would make people see past my skin, or at-least attempt to be as conscious/open to my culture (or even me) as I try to be of theirs. It hurts that you are defined & judged by some people entirely by the summation of physical features that you were born with and are beyond my control. Still, I remain steadfast in my commitment because of the open & encouraging words of fellow PCVs and Indonesian friends who overwhelm unfortunate experiences with support. I am taking it one day at a time.