Fear & Braiding in Mount Laurel

Okay, so I have the start of a great politically incorrect joke. It goes like this: a white English woman walks into an ethnic hairdressers in New Jersey wearing a swimsuit…

…except it isn’t a joke. I did that, today, at around 5 pm.

The back history goes like this: my daughter Becky turns 9 tomorrow and she asked me if she could get her hair braided for her birthday. I put it off (having other things to do, including finishing my MFA packet, getting my au pair to Philly airport at 7 am this morning and preparing for said birthday/party, all in the typical absence of my husband) but this afternoon she asked again and so I made some calls.

Hair 4 Kids said they didn’t do braiding but there was a place two doors down called Visions that specialized in it. They weren’t listed in my yellow pages but I resolved to stop by on the way back from the kids’ swim lessons and see what they could do. Hence the swimsuit scenario.

I didn’t even know there were such things as ethinic hairdressers. Of course it makes sense now I’ve been to one. And to be fair, while myself and my kids were the only white people present as we walked in, by the time we left (two hours later!) there had been two other white women around who looked like they’d been in for hair straightening.

I have several observations to make: firstly, and most importantly, these guys were great! They totally treated us like any other customer, and the manager is a perfectionist who manages at the same time to have this quirky sense of humor and be a really cool guy. By the time we left we were pals with about half the staff, who kept coming in to watch B get her scalp tortured, and Lorna had distributed Twinings US/UK flag pins to all the hairdressers, (I’d picked them up when I dashed home after settling Becky, returning in actual clothes!)

Secondly I got chatting with the braider and the beader involved with Becky’s hair, and I ended up leaving them one of my home-printed poetry broadsides. The beader loved “Tan Sandals.” I know I’m not in BAP or the Pushcart Anthology, but somehow that means as much to me.

Finally Becky could easily pass as colored, with her hair like that and the swim club tan she’s developed as usual so far this summer. I think that’s fantastic. I’ve read a number of historical novels which talk about the era in which the importance lay in the ability of blacks to pass as white. No-one has ever talked about it the other way around, as far as I know. But isn’t this what we need, if we want a truly non-prejudiced society? So, here’s my daughter, at least three generations of English English that I know of, and she could convince you she was…hmm…at least a quarter black?

I’ll try and post some pictures.


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