How To Be a Plain Girl

Longreads

Lolly Bowean | Longreads | May 2018 | 17 minutes (4,414 words)

Prologue

Every black woman has a hair story. This is mine.

Good hair means curls and waves
Bad hair means you look like a slave
— India.Arie, “I Am Not My Hair”

1.

I had never even met John P., but there I was, on a bus in East Knoxville, riding to meet him where he lived in a troubled public housing complex called Lonsdale.

I should have been at school, sitting in homeroom with the rest of the freshmen. But instead, at 13, I had decided to cut class and take a journey across a town I wasn’t even vaguely familiar with, to meet a man I didn’t know.

John P. was my classmate Kayla’s uncle, and in the neighborhood and at our school, he was known to have “gifted hands.”

He didn’t have the proper credentials…

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