Published on October 27th, 2019 | by Candace Simpson
Ritualizing the Big Chop
I will never forget what my Sunday School teacher taught me about baptism.
“It’s an outwardly display of an inwardly change.”
Of course, it’s deeper than that. But at its core, baptism is a public affirmation of what you have claimed privately. For us, baptism is a reminder of what we have committed to in private.
As a Baptist, I only get one baptism, and mine was almost 20 years ago.
I remember the feeling of the plasticky swimming cap over my doobie. I remember hearing my Dad (also my pastor) whisper “hold your breath.” I remember sharing this special day with my younger brother. And I remember thinking how weird it was to sit in service for half the time in my baptism clothes, only to emerge in my church clothes.
But I don’t remember thinking theologically about it.
While I do not have access to much of my memory on that day, there are other ways that I remember what matters to me. There are other memories that I can access that remind me of who I am trying to be.
When I think about the “outwardly display of an inwardly change” I do remember, it’s around hair and The Big Chop.
In our tradition, you should only be baptized once. I can understand why this is the case for a Baptist Christian. If God’s grace is sufficient, we only need to encounter the fullness of baptism once. Because if we had to keep coming to the pool every time we felt out of fellowship, or in need of a re-up, the baptism pool would be full every day.
But sometimes you do need a public affirmation of what you believe in private, and you need it more than once. The Big Chop gives me space to do that in my own personal way.
I’ve cut my hair completely off four times. And as I look over the Instagram feed, I find that each chop marked a significant moment.
Summer 2012, graduating from college and moving into my first apartment.
Fall 2014, beginning seminary and finding the writing of Assata Shakur.
Summer 2019, my first time quitting a job with no *known* prospects.
Summer 2017, graduating seminary, negotiating “the world beyond the library,” and the end of a very meaningful relationship.
Each time I cut my hair, I remember a few simple truths.
- I must prioritize ease and wholeness.
My hair takes too long to do in the morning. I found myself spending hours in the week just doing hair. What was the purpose? Was chasing “fro goals” a healthy habit?
While discipline is a good thing to cultivate, I refuse to learn discipline for the wrong reasons. And in this ritual of chopping it all off, I have learned that I often make things more difficult for myself. I have a habit of holding onto length and not health. I’ve stayed in relationships past their expiration date. I’ve held onto professional connections because I was told to “wait it out.” I’ve got several dresses taking up space in my closet that should be worn by someone else.
While we can’t always just drop everything and dip, we also do not adequately normalize leaving “for reasons of health.” And when people do prioritize their ease and wholeness (especially when they’re between the ages of 22-39), then it’s “millennials never stay at jobs, they are so sensitive, they have weak constitutions.”
No, sis. We just don’t want to stroke out due to work. Sometimes it’s just time to go.
If Imma be admitted to the hospital, I want it to be because I passed out upon receipt of an e-mail from Beyoncé saying that she wants me to lead a Black Feminist Anti-Oppression bible study for her crew on a new solo-tour. I don’t want to be admitted for any other reason.
2. White Heteronormative Beauty Standards are trash, and I have to actively rid my life of that stench.
WIth shorter hair I feel more compelled to wear makeup. Or big earrings. I feel silly for it, because I know I’m “supposed to be better than that.” But even for those of us who imagine ourselves to be Black feminists, womanists, followers of the Combahee River Collective, we are still prey to a world that administers rewards and consequences for adherence (or rejection) of beauty norms. None of us can ever say, “I have arrived.”
We are all still working through internalized oppressions on some level. The most hashtag-Woke among us is still swimming in toxic waters. It takes intentionality and awareness to name and reject those ideals.
3. I don’t care who has an opinion, because they don’t have to deal with the consequences I do.
This was the most difficult truth I have to relearn. Black Women are socialized, trained, programmed to care about other people’s opinions. Even the most confident woman knows that public opinion of her will impact her check. And while all Black women have to face this reality, there are many among us who are even more vulnerable. Black trans women, Black queer women, Black undocumented women, Black women with disabilities or chronic illness, Black single mothers… We have to negotiate the ideas people have about us. Those ideas can range in consequence from being “an inconvenience” to being deadly.
It’s why we teach ourselves to smile at men who call themselves “just saying hello” in public. Sometimes we do have to lie to get home. Sadly, even these “please don’t escalate this” lies are not 100% effective. There have been nights when I’ve walked home alone and a man says something sideways. I lie and say, “I’m going to my boyfriend’s house” hoping that this lie will get him to leave me alone. Still, I know that it doesn’t matter how much I stroke his ego or rely on the protection imaginary man, if he wanted to harm me, he would. He could.
And even beyond that, I haven’t had a boyfriend since 2017. I’m engaged to a woman. Ain’t no boyfriend’s house!
But the lesson I need to learn, ritualize, make flesh is that I am still the boss of my own body.
Even in the barber’s chair, ole boy tried to talk me out of it.
“It’s so beautiful, you look so righteous, you sure?”
As if to say that I didn’t know what I wanted. As if cutting my hair off would be a bad idea. As if he could talk me into something else. As if he knew better.
I get to be the boss of me. Even if there are consequences. I refuse to surrender.
As I write this, I’m concerned that I’ll be read as superficial. Or that someone will roll their eyes to say, “Really, another Black hair story?”
Yes. Another Black hair story.
Hair tells on us.
And for me, it’s an outwardly display of an inwardly change.
Candace Simpson is an educator, minister and writer. She believes that Heaven is a Revolution that can happen right here on Earth. She invites others into that philosophy at www.fishsandwichheaven.com.