By Suzette D. Harrison
India Arie sang it best. She told us she’s more than. As are all of us SisterGirl Women of African Descent with strongstrands growing from, glued to, sewn in, braided or otherwise latched to our scalps by all manner of Black Girl ingenuity and magic. Ours is a complex relationship with what the Bible and our grandmothers deemed our crowning glory. That heritage atop our heads that our significant others best not touch without permission. It’s that kind of conversation. Or is it?
Did you grow up in a household where haircare was a dynamic part of your existence? Pink sponge rollers. Barrettes. Knockers and satin ribbons. Hair Food. Ultra Sheen. Dixie Peach. Afro picks. That wide-toothed, black plastic comb that doubled nicely if we were acting up and Mama needed to pop somebody real quick. (That won’t resonate if you graciously grew up with TimeOuts as discipline). Were there Saturdays in salons, or your kitchen “getting those kinks” pressed for church the next day? Or maybe you were subject to creamy crack attacks, lye concoctions that stripped curls and bends, letting your mane blow in the wind. Regardless of your experience, Black hair care was (and is) serious business. A multi-billion dollar industry overflowing with myriad brands and products, it gets politicalized and sometimes hurtful: “good” vs. “bad,” straightened vs. natural. But what if you’re a Black female rocking these streets without crowning glory? How do you negotiate the demands of a beauty-obsessed world and remain relevant? When crafting Niyana Nichols, the heroine of my newest novel This Time Always, I entertained such questions.
So… about Niyana. Fifty-three, recently widowed, and the mother of adult she-things, Niyana’s an award-winning medical clinic administrator and that always-put-together girlfriend who keeps you laughing. Beautiful and vivacious, she lives with Alopecia Areata, an autoimmune condition that’s rendered her hairless.
Wait! Why craft a bald heroine for a romance novel? Real talk: that wasn’t my intention. Not until I sat down two years ago and started typing the first page did Niyana take over, telling me what she was dealing with. Her revelation left me speechless and diving into research in my desire to know Niyana and understand her hairlessness.
I gained insight and statistics, such as Alopecia impacts 6.8 million people in the U.S. and there are multiple forms of the condition. However, the real treasure was my subsequent conversations with Black women daily living with varying degrees of Alopecia. Graciously allowing me to view the world from their perspectives, I gained understanding, appreciation, and a fiery conviction to tell Niyana’s story. Then, as This Time Always neared completion, U.S. Representative Ayana Pressley did her grand unveiling. Niyana? Ayana? The similarities in their names was my divine confirmation that this novel was needed.
September is Alopecia Awareness Month. Let’s celebrate sisters whose beauty can’t be reduced by a eurocentric world prone to dismissiveness. We are more than our hair. We honor our queens whose crowns rest on bare heads.
Suzette D. Harrison, a native Californian and the middle of three daughters, grew up in a home where reading was required, not requested. Not only is Harrison a multi-award-winning author, but she is an avid reader as well. In addition to writing, Suzette’s career has afforded her opportunities to share her gifts through public speaking, as well as author-mentoring. A wife and mother who holds a culinary degree in Pastry & Baking, Suzette is currently cooking up her next novel…in between batches of cookies.