In the penultimate episode of Black Enough’s first season, “Beneatha, 2019,” Amaya has finally worked up the courage to do what has been on her mind since she first concocted the idea of a Black Girl Magic Potion in episode 1: The Big Chop.
For those that are unfamiliar with the term, The Big Chop refers to the haircut one gets to go from relaxed hair to natural. The Big Chop comes in a variety of packages. Some folks transition for a few months (or a few years) before cutting off their relaxed ends; some make the decision and the hair is gone days, even hours later. Some people go into salons, and some do it themselves in the bathroom mirror.
The reactions to chopping one’s hair is equally varied. It stirs up feelings of joy, release, anxiety or shame– sometimes all of the above and more. As Watson has explored over the course of this season, there is a lot of value and significance tied up with Black hair. It was never just hair. And for some of us that eventually undergo the Big Chop, we do so because we realize that we have little or no memory of our hair in an unaltered state. Though it’s unclear from the narrative, one might assume that Amaya falls into this camp.
As she waits for her turn in the salon chair, Amaya pulls out Ntozake Shange’s Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo to read while she waits. This choice is all too appropriate. Amaya is about to undergo one of the most important, most magical transformations of her life, and she holds in her hand a book about and made of magic. (Remember that first line: “Where there is a woman there is magic.”) Shange’s novel, like much of her writing, weaves together forms and stories to create Black women’s narratives so that we aren’t run into the ground under the weight of the narratives society tells about us. It pulls together pieces and bits to create something new, much like how Amaya has been quietly adding and crossing off ingredients to her Black Girl Magic Potion over the course of the season.
The salon becomes a cocoon, an incubator, for Amaya, as does the book. Both are spaces of retreat and refuge where one might turn inward, but also that of unbecoming in order to transform. When Amaya steps out of the salon, she is not, and cannot be, the same person she was before.
And that feeling of knowing that you can’t turn back is heavy. It’s mixed with things you didn’t even know you could feel. Amaya has to sit with the realization that she is different, the feeling of not immediately recognizing yourself when you look in the mirror– and dealing with why that is.
Anyone who has ever Big Chopped knows the struggle. It’s that awkwardness of trying to make your outward appearance match what’s going on in your head and in your heart. It’s that discomfort of stepping out what you knew and into the unknown. It’s the realization that you’re going to have to learn yourself all over again.
It’s all of that and more.
It was never just hair.
Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo by Ntozake Shange
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
“My daughter is the reason I wear my hair curly,” Taylor Harris, Washington Post, Feb. 2017
Ravynn K. Stringfield is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at William & Mary. Her research focuses on Black women and girls as creators and protagonists of futuristic, fantastic and digital narratives in new media. She often likes to say she writes about Black girls flying. When she’s not researching, you can find her writing for her blog, Black Girl Does Grad School; learning new yoga poses; or bullet journaling.