I wrote this as a guest piece for a site about relationships with black women, but the site owner seemed to have lost it, so I thought I'd run it here...
If you want to love a black woman, you've got to love her hair, because it's almost a third member in your relationship.
I'm a "nice Jewish boy," married to a black woman for six years now. In the early days of my relationship with my now-wife, she took me to see a production of Black to My Roots. She told me that if I wanted to understand black women, I had to understand their unique relationship with their hair.
With a mother who took great pride in her hair, I grew up knowing that women had a different relationship with their hair than men did. Still that didn't begin to prepare me for what I would learn when I fell in love with a black woman. For black women, it wasn't just about the fashion or style of the moment. There was this much deeper undercurrent of conflict between what God gave them and what society told them was beautiful. For my mom, it was just a matter of some dye, a good cut, and a few styling techniques so she could maintain it at home. For black women, hair can be a second religion.
I learned about "naps," "the kitchen," and most importantly "good hair" (check out a a musical number about good and bad hair). "Good hair" is about black women holding themselves to the standard of beauty of the dominant white culture and why many black women, including my wife, will apply dangerous chemicals to their hair to straighten it out and spend hours on maintenance of that style. The importance of hair is also passed down from mother to daughter, reinforced by countless hours of mothers styling their little girls' hair... painful combing, intimate braiding, talking, togetherness. Hair is, for black girls and their mothers, what sports and tools are for boys and their fathers.
I would ask why she didn't just get a short "natural" (a.k.a. a short afro) and wear a wig when she felt the need for something longer and straighter. She's a beautiful woman and has the bone structure that could pull off a short natural with elegance. But she had tied up so much value in her hair, both the look and the ritual of it, giving that up was something hard for her to even imagine.
The funny thing is that I learned I loved naps. When her hair was freshly washed, moisturized, and dried, before she assaulted it with a curling iron -- especially when she was due for another visit to the salon and she'd grown out some naps that were untouched by those chemicals -- I loved to put my fingers in it. It was springy and soft, and felt good against my fingers. Once it was straightened, it would become drier and harsher. I didn't really enjoy running my fingers through her hair when it was straight and processed. I loved it when it was freshly washed, nappy, and soft.
Despite her need to have "good hair," something about the fact that I loved her naps endeared me to her. I think it was that I could love her as God made her, and accept her as she remade herself. The things that attracted me to my wife initially were her smile, her way with words, and the fact that under all that black woman fabulousness, she was as much of a sci-fi and mythology geek as I am (if not more). But as I've grown to love her, I've learned to love many different things about her, including and especially her hair.