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I dont like doing this, my father frowned, fixing my hair. But he did it anyway

Growing up in a white family, Georgina Lawton faced a long and sometimes arduous journey of discovery about her racial identity. Here, she reveals how she learned to stop fighting her curly hair

My skin is too dark to show a blush, but I came pretty close a few years ago when, as a University of Warwick undergraduate, I was turned away from my campus hair salon because of my appearance. Oh, we dont do your type of hair, the blond, Brummie-voiced stylist said, smiling semi-apologetically, in a tonethat conveyed her reluctance to even try. Maybe go to an afro salon inCoventry?

I was 19 and wore a sweetcorn-coloured, straw-textured, Beyonc-inspired weave. Im not sure what the stylist expected to find beneath my wavy 22-inch remy hair extensions, but it became obvious that whatever I was sporting up there was simply too much work for her. I left that salon with my cheeks glowing as close to crimson as is naturally possible and waited until I returned home to London to get my hair sorted (thank you, Peckham).

Georgina
Georgina with her father.

Even years later, after learning to love the curls I once disparaged, I still find myself on the receiving end of weird hair-care practices in black spaces and discrimination in white ones. Mainstream chains charge more to deal with anything that isnt silky-straight and afro salons can leave me feeling utterly frustrated. Whats a confused curly girl in a white world to do?

I was brought up in a Caucasian community untroubled by kink, curl or wave. Although my 90s hair role models included Mel B and Angellica Bell, I didnt know where my own frizz and the dark eyes and brown skin that accompanied it ever really came from. When I was a child, my white parents styled my hair without complaint, because to speak about why I was the only one in our family with a thick mass of black ringlets would have risked a colossal upheaval for all of us.

Looking at family albums, I see a smiling white couple holding an afro-haired baby. My curls are the most obvious marker of racial difference between me and them; an unapologetic signifier of African heritage. But growing up, even the most difficult hair-mares werent enough of a catalyst to spark discussion about myrace.

I remember Mum meticulously picking nits from my head when I was in primary school and as I fell asleep in the bath. Its like combing three heads, she said. I remember going to white salons with her in Croydon, aged 11; sometimes they turned us away because of my hair texture, but we never spoke about why. By the time I was 14, Id already flirted with honey-blond highlights and begged for a relaxer (a permanent straightening treatment) to look more like my friends. My Irish mum, with her bone-straight auburn hair, didnt argue and a Caribbean woman came to the house to apply the burning chemicals. I remember how they stung my scalp but also how much more easily the straighteners glided over my hair afterwards. The relaxer sparked a relentless, arm-aching five-year cycle of bleaching, singeing, braiding and sewing.

At 17, I decided to wade into the world of hair extensions. My first weave was installed by a hairdresser in south London, but when it was finished, I felt stripped of a small segment of self. My lustrous new head of hair felt alien and I was embarrassed to go to school and explain my transformation to friends. Eventually, though, I started to look forward to the regular sourcing of Rapunzelesque locks from Peckham, but not to the cost and hassle associated with applying them to my head. I remember my father sewing more hair into my weave as we sat at the dining-room table. I dont like doing this, he frowned, needle in hand, but he always did it anyway.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jul/29/mixed-race-woman-curly-hair-white-family-racial-identity

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