I am not my hair

The power of a song has to tell your story to others:

The first time I heard this song I thought, ‘Finally! Someone out there understands me!’. Someone’s been through this: I am not alone. I went and bought the album that I would play week after week on repeat, singing the lyrics “I am not my skin!’, out loud and proud, driving in my car, my heart open and free.

I lived in the Essex countryside until I was ten. The rest of my life I’ve mainly resided in London suburbia. My parents originally immigrated from the West Indies in the 60’s. After I was born they wanted me to have a ‘better life’ and good education, so we moved out of London. We moved to a place where we were the only black family in the community.

Growing up as an only child I had limited access to my parents’ Caribbean roots. Both of them immigrated in their late teens, adopting with vigour the English culture, and they immersed themselves fully into the British way of life. This meant the only exposure I got to black people was on visits to family members, trips to visit my Grandparents in the West Indies (where I never felt I belonged), and the few television programs with black people where no-one represented me.

I have to say that living in suburbia most my life I have hardly ever experienced blatant racism. The prejudice I have felt has been more subtle, perhaps you could say ingrained in ignorance, society’s stereotyping, negative assumptions and perceptions. I learned to embrace my difference and see it as unique, and I coped by shutting myself off from acknowledging negativity.

My friends and people I associated with never really  mentioned my colour, but my hair was forever a topic of fascination and conversation — the good, the bad and the ugly.

I remember being eleven: fringes were in fashion and because I had thick afro hair I couldn’t get a real fringe so I had a puff ball of hair sticking out. This got much attention and my friends repeatedly touched it as if I was an exotic animal. It was these comments that made me feel I would never be ‘normal’ and whatever I did I couldn’t be one of them.

The story of my hair explains my search for identity: I wanted to be accepted and to belong. I hope that, for my readers, by listening to the words of the song it will help to tell my journey of finding and embracing ‘the soul that lives within’.

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