Like Gia, I’m biracial (black and white), so a big part of my childhood was watching movies while my mother braided my hair. That’s probably part of why I write, honestly, and I wanted to include that aspect of my life in Gia. A lot of time when we talk about diversity and representation in media, characters of color are expected to be seen and not directly talk about what makes their experience different. People of different ethnicities and races come from different cultures and heritages, even if they see themselves as American (who woulda though, right?). I think it’s time we celebrate those different experiences rather than expecting authors to mute them, even in fantasy and sci-fi stories. We’re definitely doing better, but it still feels like there’s a lot to do. Just a thought that hit me today. On to the excerpt!
“Actually, I was hoping you could braid it,” I say. “Last night was a one time thing.” Truth be told, I don’t have the patience to deal with my hair out of braids more than a day. I’d end up chopping it all out and an afro wouldn’t be doing me any favors. If Miguel thinks I try to be invisible now, ho boy. I’d try to disappear from existence all together.
“Sure,” Mom says. “Ethan and I are meeting some of his friends for a play date at the beach, but we’ve got plenty of time. Go get the hair stuff.”
Once I make some toast, I run up to the bathroom and get the usual instruments of torture: coconut oil, a pick, the parting comb, and the bag of tiny black rubber bans. With them all gathered in a small tote bag, I take my traditional seat on the floor between my mother’s knees, help Ethan pick out a movie to watch, and brace myself for the violent tugs and pulls of having my hair braided.
It’s a ritual as traditional in our house as Christmas. My earliest memories are of watching cartoons to pass the time and distract myself from my mother tugging at my scalp. Back then, it was a painful inconvenience. A mark of how I was different from everyone else (all my white classmates could rake a comb through their hair and they’d done for the most part). Now, it’s an hour to hide away from the world. No homework. No fighting with Miguel. No Oliver. No faeries. Everything’s right with the world as my mother massages coconut oil into my hair, gathers it up, and weaves strands together.
“Oliver seems nice,” she says two braids in. “You’ve never mentioned him before.”
“We just recently started hanging out. He was friends with Miguel for a while before, though. They had classes together or something.”
“You’ve never worn a dress to hang out with your friends before.”
“It was Zoe’s idea,” I lie. “You know how she is. She figured since we were going to the movies, we’d make a night of it.”
Mom takes a break to flex her fingers and rotate her wrists. “That sounds like Zoe, I suppose.” She doesn’t sound completely convinced. “Does Oliver have a girlfriend? Or a boyfriend?”
“I don’t think so. We haven’t talked about it really. Why?”
I can feel Mom shrug in the way she pauses mid-braid.
“Just wondering. I’m your mother. It’s my job.”
“I don’t like him, if that’s what you’re getting at.”
“I wasn’t getting at anything. It’s good to have different friends. You don’t seem to hang out with any of the other gay kids at school. I know Oliver isn’t gay, though. Or, maybe he is. I don’t know.” She gives a frustrated groan. “You know what I mean.”
I chuckle at my mother’s attempt to relate to me and appreciate her attempt to understand. “I know what you mean. Thanks, Mom.”
She kisses me on the head, then goes back to braiding.