This is a first-person column by Xaiver Campbell, a writer living in St. John’s. He was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, but calls Newfoundland and Labrador home after living here for over a decade. For more information on CBC’s First Person Stories, please see the FAQ.
Actively choosing to do something that makes you feel good is amazing.
I love to ride a bike — even in the winter, even in St. John’s. The hair tied back and helmeted head because the brain damage is real and the windswept hair is for movies only.
For me, cycling is fun, terrifying and fulfilling all at the same time. Like getting a glimpse of traffic, hills and gates as I drive through town.
Dipping my hands in dry ingredients and involuntarily making people scream after eating my treats brings me immense joy.
The morning 50 meter swim in the pool gives me time to reflect on my job and all that needs to be done. I haven’t found the perfect airtight swim cap yet, so I have more thinking time while I wash the chlorine out of my hair.
However, these are things that I have the privilege of choosing to do because I can often switch from cycling to swimming and be satisfied in some way. In the summer, I choose to do different things that I love and that make me feel amazing.
I do morning swims for pond dips, but also add hikes along the cliffs of the East Coast Trail. And if you know me, you know that I think nothing beats waking up undisturbed in that camping mindset.
Choices, choices, choices, and I’m happy to have them.
There are things that make me feel amazing that aren’t a choice. Some things are inalienable. They contribute to making you a whole person just as the choice to do certain activities helps to compose your personality.
One thing I have to do that makes me feel amazing is do my hair.
On another level, the fact that others have now deemed my hair worth styling and providing people like me with the proper products we need is beyond amazing. This recognition after years spent in oblivion can be invaluable.
My hair is on the complex and forgotten end of the spectrum. The curls are tight. They often get sucked in by the chlorine and it’s always gnarly. I love my hair even when the wash days are tough.
My hair, when I can do it, feels really good. He comes to life. I come alive and it’s amazing.
As it shrinks and settles in, I don’t have to worry about knots. Well, at least not for another week — then it’s time to start all over again. But maybe this time I’ll choose to do a twist, canoe it intricately, or just do a wash and go.
The ability to pursue all of these options, this freedom of expression as a black male in North America is *the leader’s kiss*.
Creams and mousses for curls
Like I said before, my hair has a lot of personality. With a great personality, there must be a lot of care. When he is Saharan, he needs something moist. A nice glide that will help my coils and curls relax and let my fingers get to work. For this wash to last longer than a minute while battling Newfoundland humidity, my gel or mousse’s hold should be 10.
Curly creams for twist outs, yes, yes, yes. Access to these different types of products for my quirky hair becomes crucial.
However, society has often shown that when you are blessed with more differences than major demographic groups, your needs are often overlooked, ignored.
There are too many ignored needs to count. My hair is also complicated beyond the surface.
I grew up going to schools, from base to high school, who watched my hair. The rulebooks all preferred my hair to be no longer than an eighth of an inch for it to be considered presentable. I grew up in a nation riddled with societal norms that equated my blackness with inferiority subject to separate and unequal treatment. There was and continues to be hard work to free myself from those years of mental bondage.
This freedom to grow my hair out is exciting, but the ability to find the products to achieve any look I choose – it’s more than exciting.
But I love my hair in all shapes, forms and styles. It defies gravity in its own way, and I like to celebrate that. This freedom to grow my hair out is exciting, but the ability to find the products to achieve any look I choose – it’s more than exciting.
Now, when I walk into a Shoppers Drug Mart and the hair aisle, there are brands that meet my hair needs. To be seen like that seems important to me. Pharmacy is a unifier; we all go there for various things besides filling a prescription.
Early last summer, I went to Shoppers in Corner Brook one night for some snacks and found myself in the hair aisle hoping to stumble upon a discount shampoo. After grabbing the bottles I needed, I was surprised at the four rows of black hair products I had browsed. I visit Shoppers regularly so thought this must be a Corner Brook thing.
Without the extra shipping and import fees associated with these brands, I was able to walk away from those shoppers who needed to purchase a bag, afraid of never seeing these products again.
After this trip, I went to my usual buyers to pick up a prescription. I walked down the hair aisle holding my breath. I gasped when I spotted, on the bottom two rows: Twist Creams, Braid Oils, and Styling Butters. The selection was not as diverse as in Corner Brook, but someone in the company had seen the numbers and decided to let the products represent the diversity of the population.
This should be noted because two further moves in the composition of the same claim cannot be made, nor should Shoppers and Dominion be considered one and the same on this issue.
I’ve lived in St. John’s for 13 years now, and I wasn’t the first black person to decide to make this place my home. That being said, I haven’t spent the last 12 years with my messy hair either. Luckily Toya International was always near me and they always carried what my hair needed. Buying in bulk during the Black Friday sales was also decisive. If all else fails, a schlep at Sally Beauty would suffice.
While these did the job, just being able to go to your local pharmacy like everyone else, and not needing a specialty hair shop to serve you, is an amazing experience.
Now when I do my hair, there’s a “Wow, other people see me too”. Not just the suits in their offices, but also my neighbors, colleagues, friends. They can see our hair products mixing with their hair products. A conversation about the bittersweet history of black hair can assure. They may or may not buy it, but it kind of normalizes the fact that black hair, white hair, is just hair.
We all cultivate it.
We are just people.
So the laundry drama may bring it because the zhuzhing started before I even got into the shower.
Anyway, it’s time to do my hair, and it’s amazing.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
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