Leaving My Black Stylist for A White OneS

One of the most intense and intimate relationships in our lives doesn't involve the words love or sex, but does involve the word hair. As I recently discovered, parting with a hairstylist is really not that different from a divorce...

While you entrust a man you love with one of your most prized possessions — your heart — you entrust your hairdresser with something just as important: your head. (I once read that the reason our hairdressers engender such trust, and we confide in them, is because along with doctors, they are among the only professionals we allow to touch us on a regular basis.)

Like any "marriage," there's a shared history of laughs and milestones, the occasional tiffs, possibly some breaking up, followed by making up, until finally one of you has the courage to either confront any underlying problems in the relationship head-on, or to break the co-dependent cycle by moving on.

Or until one of you does what I recently did: Leave your hairdresser for someone else.

Without telling him. And did I mention that the stylist I left him for is White?

The irony is that despite being known for my optimistic outlook when it comes to the politics of racial progress (something that occasionally rankles my critics), I actually struggled with my choice to start seeing a White stylist.

Let me start by explaining how I ended up here.

For years, I had been seeing the same stylist, whom I will call "John" to protect his privacy. He gave me pep talks through various job changes, lifted my spirits through a broken heart and most of all gave me one hell of a perm. And when my career began to transition into television and we both became concerned about protecting my natural hair (a concern that was soon validated when thanks to some overzealous flat ironing at a certain network, pieces of my hair fell out), he introduced me to the world of weaves.

As my schedule became increasingly crazy and unpredictable thanks to the 2008 election, and his became more complicated as he juggled multiple professional commitments, we fell into a comfortable arrangement. While he remained my go-to-guy for my relaxer and weaving needs, I would visit other stylists for general upkeep, particularly if I had a round of TV appearances coming up.

It was during this time that I first experienced having someone of a different race "do" my hair. I figured that since a large portion of "my" hair was now likely Indian or Japanese anyway, and that was the part I had the hardest time taming by myself, it wouldn't hurt to see if the Japanese salon in my neighborhood was willing to take a crack at taming it for me.

To my surprise, Mariko, the Japanese stylist I began seeing at Dlala Salon, had apprenticed with Black hairstylists and was excited to welcome me as a client. I soon discovered, however, that I was far from the salon's only Black client, with some regularly making the trip from different boroughs to have their hair styled there too (among them Jonte, a dancer best known for his work on "Single Ladies" with Beyonce). But despite liking Mariko a lot, I still wasn't quite ready to take the plunge and have someone without my kind of hair on her own head, relax mine.

Besides, my heart still belonged to "John."

But then he and I began having problems.

Because of our scheduling craziness he began coming to my apartment, a luxury I didn't realize I valued so much until the first time my mother told me to fire him and I said, "but who else is going to come to my apartment on a Sunday night to do my hair?"

"It's New York. You'll find someone," she replied. Of course, she was right.

The issue was this. Apparently shifting to the more casual environment of my home seemed to impact "John's" professionalism on the job — actually his ability to even get to the job. He started by arriving at my apartment a half hour late, which eventually turned into forty minutes then forty-five. Over the course of two years there were more than a few heart-to-hearts about this, which usually began with me saying, "You know I love you to death but..."

He reminded me that I once rescheduled an appointment the day of because of a television interview — something that I did feel guilty about and therefore allowed him to get away with his tardiness for well over a year. Then came the straw that broke the camel's back — well, actually two.

I rearranged my schedule to accommodate him, then after waiting for a half an hour I called and was told that he was near my apartment but "could not find adequate parking" and would therefore need to reschedule our appointment for another day. Before our next appointment I sent him a text to confirm the time and asked him to let me know well in advance if for any reason we would need to reschedule.

He confirmed the time and then the next morning I waited. After fifteen minutes I called and received the usual reply, "I'm here doll just looking for parking." When I was still waiting ten minutes later I called back and was met with the following reply, "I'll be there in a sec. You don't have anywhere else to be do you?"

That did it. I had had enough. "John. You know I love you and wish you the best in everything you do but this relationship is simply not working for me anymore."

That was that. Or so I thought.

I forgot that ending a meaningful relationship is never that easy. "Keli, darling I sent you a text saying we needed to push it back by an hour, so by my watch I'm actually half an hour early." I was so caught off guard (and frankly impressed by his nerve) that I didn't know what to say, and five minutes later he was at my door. And like a lot of lovesick ladies out there (who are fellow gluttons for punishment) I let him in.

He did my hair that day, for the last time.

After an illness and an accident, I found myself looking anything but camera-ready when I arrived to CNN to appear on "The Joy Behar Show." I often call the CNN beauty team miracle workers, but they really had their work cut out for them that night. Because of my health woes I had actually lost track of the last time I'd had a perm, but Christopher Fulton, the stylist there, was undaunted and told me to "Sit back and relax. You're in good hands," and I was.

When he finished, I was pleasantly surprised and asked him if he'd ever done Black hair before (because I've seen what happens to my hair when network stylists who haven't try to). He laughed then proceeded to pull out his camera phone. Most of the clients in his photos, including some celebrities, were Black.

"So you do perms?" I asked with a puzzled look on my face.

"Of course! It would kind of be a problem for my clients if I didn't."

And then little Miss Open-Minded when it comes to racial issues (or so I thought) said the words that Christopher has sworn he will never let me forget, "Hmm. I've never had a White person give me a perm before."

He laughed. A week later Christopher came to my apartment and gave me a superb relaxer.

And he showed up fifteen minutes early.

We're still in the honeymoon stages, but I must say that I haven't been this happy in a relationship in a long time.

This post originally appeared at Essence. Republished with permission.

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