Expat Memoirs Travel

Black Hair Chronicles: Reactions I’ve Received at School

And if you’re a man or someone who has never really had an issue with how people react to your hair, still thank you for reading this. I love talking about hair and all the ideas of what i’d like to do, but living in Asia as a black woman who loves changing her hair is quite an adventure over the mountains and through the woods. So thank you again for taking the time to understand the #struggle .

Women whether they be black, white, purple or pink are well known for changing their hair styles and colors albeit black women can be fairly notorious in this field. Early on this year I was really craving something new, something I could be free with. While I was home for Chinese New Year I decided to cut off all my hair. Not like, in a Britney Spears type of way. More so like a “new year who this” type of mantra. While my tresses were falling I didn’t even flinch. It felt good seeing my old locs hit the ground like feathers. It was like that scene from “Nappily Ever After” when Sanaa Lathan was shaving her hair (although less tears and dramatics for me) and she was realizing that all the stress of worrying about peoples opinions were being flushed away. Only (this is not an obstinate opinion) in the black community is “wow your hair is so long” can be seen as a genuine compliment or insult if length is the only variable that equates “good hair”.

Now what came next I wasn’t entirely prepared for. I had requested a blondish, brown combination. When I got out of the chair my hair was an interesting shade of orange. Not Like a pumpkin orange but more sort of like a copper penny. And as the days wet on and I played with water and gels (Eco styler to be exact) I fell in love with my new cut.

A new cut, new color, new …

When strangers come up and actually ask for a picture, its all smiles with me

Now normally the idea of cutting all of your hair off is a daunting idea for most. What was really making me nervous was re-entering China and coming face to face with my primary students! Hell, some of my students weren’t even as bad as some of my co-workers.

“Oh!, your hair!…”

“Wow, that color!…”

“So cool, how did you get your hair to grow?”

and my favorite…

“Is it real?”

…Mei Lin, you are a grown, ass woman. You know damn well that this WIG on my head is not real…

I love having versatility when it comes to my hair and why shouldn’t ? Celebrities change their hair all the time right? Its all fun and games until I have to walk with my neck cocked to the side because grown folk want to reach out their fingers after leaving the bathroom in the attempt of wiping God knows what through my 300 dollar wig. True story!

Actual representation of how I feel on the inside when I show up with a new hairstyle

But the good news is, once you change your hair or color a few times, the remarks become less and you’re finally able to get through a lesson on Greek mythology.

The school that i’m working at now in China is an international school. Most of my students are French, or French and Chinese, or Chinese raised in France or the U.S….I promise I never would have imagined all the combinations here.

Recently I decided that I wanted to grow my hair throughout the winter time and in the meantime in between time, I would try new looks, such as a wig I bought through one of my online connects. The hair was better than I expected and did I mention I was in love with it? I fitted it in 7 minutes and headed to school where my first class would be a group of 4 year olds. I anticipated the shrieking and crying amassed from confusion as to “what happened to Ms. Shinnell!”


While sitting and waiting for morning recess to end I hear BANGING on the floor to ceiling windows and all the babies chanting “Ms. Shinnell!!” Their homeroom teachers let them finish recess early so they could all run inside and give me a hug and told me how pretty I was.

A hug more secure than my 5 year plan

Guys…I was so touched. It was a complete 180 to what I expected.

Now my 5th grade class, that was a circus. I walked in, braced myself for the double takes and wrote my name on the board as always….

“Is it real!?”

“Of course not Alex, it is not real. You just saw me yesterday with a hair cut, why would my hair be real all of a sudden?” I’m starting to believe that the whole #blackgirlmagic movement is being taken entirely too far. The notion that black women of color can tap their scalps with a magic wand and produce hair…I mean we are pretty cool but nah, haha.

Where things went south however is when one young boy thought he could sneak and lift my hair from the back and had his classmate soon follow in what lead to 3 more outstretched hands in hot pursuit.

You ever wonder why black women get so hostile when it comes to their hair?

Everytime you touch a black womans’ hair without permission flashbacks of women in slavery prance through our my mind. We recall being on display not to be admired but ridiculed and taunted like animals at the zoo such as the well known Sarah Baartman.

Instead of commencing class with “Le Passe Simple”, my students sat through a 10 minute lecture on respect; respect for my body and everything that entails, my hair included followed by a few minutes of questions and me promising to show them how I indeed curated my wig (masked by a lesson on beauty regimes around the world lol) .

So check this, while I totally understand that Black women’s hair is a mystery (to many), there are just some things you do not do and some questions that leap past the borders of ignorance and land on just straight up rude. Being the educator I’ve been for the past couple of years, I’m all about education and meeting new people in an attempt to close the gap but please let us be couth ladies and gentlemen.

When they go low, we go high

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