I was around 21 when I noticed the first colourless strand, stripped of youth and pushing through defiantly. By 28 I had my storm streak and chased the roots every month with thick, pungent liquid on the end of a tint brush – the promise of youth.
I tried going blonde like my mum, to help blend the grey roots. The expense was unattainable, and my beautiful textured hair was destroyed by the regular peroxide attacks. Mum was white though, and she told me I looked like a pint of Guinness with hair lighter than my skin. She’s ‘not racist though,’ she adamantly claims!
Some of the better comments on my blondeness was a guy telling me I looked like Shakira. What’s with this constant comparison of people of colour and Black people to celebrities? Not dehumanising at all! But never mind. Chin up, take the compliment, and don’t ask questions. Right…?
All of this is wrong. I don’t want to dye my hair. I don’t want to constantly chase a root to ensure that people I don’t know, don’t think I’m getting old. It’s absolutely pointless. Ridiculous! The defiance inside me grew steadily from that first strand of grey hair. Strong and true, it grew and multiplied. And here I am at 39 years old with more grey hair than dark. Grey hair, don’t care!
When around white people your hair is always a topic of conversation. If they’re not touching it, they’re talking about how they always wanted curls or how they envy your volume. Or the woman with the straightest hair in the room claiming she has curly hair too, ‘tight spiral curls’ she says, but she straightens it every day. That one really gets me, white women claiming to have curly hair because they have a slight wave, and this underlying assumption that curls must always be hidden, straightened. Diversity flattened, by eurocentric beauty standards is our societal norm.
Then come the haircare tips. How you should use mousse and a diffuser. Wear it down more often, it’s sexy. Wear it up more often so it’s not always hiding your face, being so bushy and all. “Why don’t you straighten it more. You look beautiful with straight hair”. Unsolicited advice is always great. Apparently… And don’t get me started on that mousse!
But when it’s grey and you’re only in your 30’s. Well, aren’t you a criminal! “You look so much older than your years.” “Why would you do that to yourself?” “When the fuck are you going to get rid of those roots?” “How can you go out like that.” “What’s wrong with you?” And my personal favourite; “You’ve let yourself go!”
Comments from well-meaning white people hurt. Their words crawl under the skin and live there, uninvited and unforgiving. Being autistic I tend to think literally and polarised. Giving people’s words much more weight than they ought to have. Then my ADHD brain goes into overdrive analysing and re-analysing while friends tell me ‘not to overthink things’. Like anyone would think this way by choice. Ignorance is not bliss. It’s a disease. Closing your eyes brings no protection.
The weight of expectations on women holds us down. While collectively we can rise, it’s hard to find the collective. Feminism and activism can be a luxury that we sometimes can’t afford, both demographically and physically. Stakes are higher when incomes are lower and skin is darker. It’s not merely a question of beliefs or passion. For women of colour, expectations are mixed with harsher judgements. Racism dressed up as compliments and othering disguised as good intentions. Even the strongest of us can doubt our sanity in this mentally exhausting chaos of never ending gaslighting.
I am an unapologetic feminist. As my grey roots grew, so did myself-belief. The more I wanted to be myself, the harder I had to fight for acceptance. I now know that acceptance has to come from within, and once developed, it can’t be taken away by anyone. These pretty words don’t change our lived reality though. I’m just a woman after all, with brown skin and big hair, which means I don’t have the privilege of openly showcasing my beliefs and passions without the real threat of aggression or worse. Another one of the many ways this patriarchal racist system can silence our words and our contribution to society.
I am a neurodiverse mother, daughter, carer, worker, partner, woman of colour. I carry my labels like trophies. Heavy burdens displaying both my achievements and responsibilities. When I think of society’s expectations and labels, my mind turns in gratitude and recognition to Audre Lorde’s words, ’There is no hierarchy of oppression’. There are just multifaceted women, breaking chains and smashing labels with our bare hands. Reading or listening to inspirational women such as Lorde, Angela Davis or Kimberlé Crenshaw, who’s Intersectionality gave legal life to Lorde’s repudiation of a hierarchy of oppression, lifts me up and gives me guidance.
We women all carry labels weighed down by the legacies of Empire. Feminist, Black, autistic, ADHD, woman of colour, lesbian, trans, mother, partner, warrior, carer, daughter, wife… However, labels can sometimes be validating. They can bring us closer to ourselves. As an autistic person of colour with ADHD, I am finding myself in the cracks of rejection. Like Japanese kintsugi, the broken parts of me are the best parts of me. Shining in validation of my existence while my silver roots reflect the light of the sun and the moon, unapologetically radiating wisdom, strength, compassion and love.
Our blog content is always free to read but if you enjoyed this piece, we kindly suggest a small donation to The Free Black University Fund: https://uk.gofundme.com/f/the-free-black-university
Nadia Maloney is a neurodiverse social entrepreneur, writer and book addict. Although she has a passion for social justice and human rights, Nadia can usually be found barefoot in local parks while home-schooling her young autistic son and running her social enterprise in the East End of Glasgow.