Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Thinking 'Bout Good And Bad Hair (A Facebook Rant)

I don't have much to write about today (other than my serious Hand-in-Hair sickness), so I thought I'd share something I wrote on Facebook -- the image black women have of their hair.

I touched on the subject a few weeks back, hoping to illicit a discussion with my girlfriends... but apparently, they don't read the blog. As one told me, she's not natural, so what's point?

*le sigh*

So I needed to write somewhere else -- Facebook, of course -- where it would be seen.

Still no response from the girls. But... hey... at least I got it out.

The story of Black people’s hair begins where everything began – in Africa. Not surprisingly, the birthplace of both astronomy and alchemy also gave rise to a people in perfect harmony with their environment… The variety of hair textures from western Africa alone ranges from the deep ebony, kinky curls of the Mandingos to the loosely curled, flowing locks of the Ashanti. The one constant Africans share when it comes to hair is the social and cultural significance intrinsic to each beautiful strand.
(from Hair Story)

Do you know your hair? Like, really know your hair? Do you know if she's curly, coily, maybe wavy? Does she lie flat at the crown, or stand straight up, as if she's reaching for the sun? Does she like to drink up water and oils, or would she rather be bathed in creams and butters?

When's the last time you really saw YOUR hair?


I ask out of frustration and, I suppose, necessity. As girlfriends are wont to do, we talk about hair -- a lot. The conversation begins with someone's latest cut, color, or salon horror story. But at some point, the conversation turns. And then, they do it. Somebody says it.

"I would love to go natural. But only if I had hair like Veronica's."

Or even worse.

"Well, it's easy for you to be natural. You got good hair."

Cue cringing.

I don't know if you guys can tell or not, but I really, really, really hate it when I hear that. Seriously. It makes me want to change the subject. It's uncomfortable. It's awkward. And believe it or not, in those few words, I hear the end result of 400 years of division, derision and degradation of a people.

Reading to much into it? No, not really. Because when someone says they would only go natural if they had my "grade" of hair, it implies that any other grade of hair -- whether it be "nappy," "kinky," "crinkly" or other -- is something to be loathed, hidden, and never allowed to see the light of day.

I hear the tools of slavery playing out in 2009.

But hey, that's just me.


Someone made a point that I considered quite profound -- Black women are probably the only race of women who can go their entire lives without knowing their true hair texture. Almost always, we're fried, dyed, laid to side, and we run back to the salon four, six or eight weeks later, to get that pesky "new growth" under control. We loathe, fear, are ashamed of our own hair so much that we spend hundreds of dollars and use caustic chemicals just to get it to "lay right." And we "have" to do it, because not doing so would have us "looking like a slave."

And we go our wholes lives knowing absolutely nothing about the hair we were born with.


Common refrains:
"My hair can't do what yours does."
"I wouldn't know how to deal with it."
"I'd just look like a slave."

If you've said any of the above to me, I likely ended up with a million thoughts running through my heads, with the fastest being: "You don't even KNOW your hair! You haven't even given it a chance!"

When was the last time you saw your true texture? New growth doesn't count -- the hair growing out of your scalp may still affected by chemical residue, and therefore may not even be a true representation of your hair. So, honestly, when did you last see your real texture? Do you even know what your hair can do? What it wants to do?

"Of course!" you say. "My hair was natural when I was little. And my mom had such a hard time with it!"

Hate to say it, but momma, grandma, cousin, sister and auntie had to fight with your hair because they didn't know how to take care of it. Oh yes, they could comb, brush and cornrow with the best of them, and I'm not questioning their intent to make you beautiful. But just like our ancestors were stripped of their language, music and religion in the days of slavery, they were also stripped of their grooming rituals. Consider this excerpt from Hair Story:

Without the combs, herbal ointments and palm oil used in Africa for hairdressing, the slaves were forced to use common Western household products and equipment to achieve certain styles. Instead of palm oil, the slaves took to using oil-based products like bacon grease and butter… cornmeal and kerosene were used as scalp cleaners… men would slick axle grease meant for wagon wheels over their hair for a combination dye job and straightener.
Our grooming techniques: lost. Our hair dressing recipes with yummy oils and natural butters: lost. Our unique methods of braiding and twisting to make intricate and regal styles: lost. And we end up, 400 years later, sitting between grandma's legs with a too-hot pressing comb and a jar of marcel wax, among bottles of products made for anglo hair, thinking these tools are the only way to ever make our hair "pretty."

The sad part is that the pathology is passed from generation to generation. And with all the pulling, tugging, detangling and brushing, little girls are quickly indoctrinated with a complex about their hair.

We try to make our hair "good." And if won't be good, it becomes the enemy.


Good hair isn't straight, or silky, or wavy or curly. It's not the result of a press or a process. Good hair is hair that's pampered. It's soft. Supple. It's strong, and properly moisturized. It's fed well, not with junk like mineral oil and petroleum, but with yummy gifts from nature -- water, oils and butters. Good hair reflects light even in a dark club, and simply shines in the sunlight. Good hair is soft and luxurious. It's a joy to touch and it begs to be played with. Good hair is cherished. Good hair is loved.


I have to make clear that I'm not being a natural hair Nazi. Far from it. I don't say all this in an effort to make everyone throw out their boxes of Affirm (or Motions, or Elasta, or African Pride -- I can't help but to see the irony in that one) and shave it all off, a la Zhane. If like enjoy relaxing, relax away. If you press, press to your heart's content. But I am wondering if you'll change you mentality; if you'll stop treating your hair like the enemy, and take on a spirit of exploration when that natural texture does grow in. As the saying goes, God don't make no mistakes. Everyone was blessed with good hair -- it's just a matter of seeing the good for yourself.


T Dot said...

My bad. We approve. Solidarity and hair, castor oil!

Nah, I mean, I ain't even about to lie and say I haven't had hair envy once or twice during my journey (can I get some HANG TIME?!?!). But I still love my hair because there are some curlies who'd long to have a fro like mine. I used the "i don't have hair like yours excuse" all through college to keep me from going natural. Then I realized that I didn't know what my hair looked like -- as you said. Good post - here and on FB. :-)

Candice said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bronze Trinity said...

That was great!!! I thought I knew what my hair would be like, but I was surprised at it now. All of my hair is in the form of tiny coils. When my hair sheds they appear as flat black circles on the floor. A hair 5 inches in length, when wet, can shrink down flat!!! So I have a lot of shrinkage. Its weird having to pick up little circles instead of long hairs. I found that with gel I can twirl my hair around my finger and make tiny spirals around my head. I didn't know I could do that.

Anonymous said...

"Our grooming techniques: lost. Our hair dressing recipes with yummy oils and natural butters"

"the loosely curled, flowing locks of the Ashanti"

Great post, I agree with everything you say. However as someone who has spent a great deal of time emmersed in both East African and West African cultures, I am amused by the quotes from Hair Story.

Total myth. Unlike Somalian, Nubian and Fulani people, I've yet to meet an Asante person with loosely curled hair and apart from great expertise in braiding/cornrowing, I've never witnessed these wonderful hair recipes either. I have found that Ghanaian women often have beautiful hair -long and thick, just not of the texture that the author describes.

Many African women traditionally didn't have such a fixation with trying to keep their hair soft and moisturized -that came with slavery/colonization and us trying to make our hair 'manageable' i.e less African. Shea butter was typically used for skincare not haircare. In fact many African girls would have their hair cut off in the hotter months -because its cooler and less hassle than braiding. This still happens a lot although is less common now.

Nowadays African women are influenced by American/Caribbean culture and you'd be hard pressed (pun intended) to find many black women embracing their natural hair. Wigs, weaves and relaxers are the norm. In countries like Kenya and South Africa there is a slow shift towards natural hairstyles, which is encouraging, but West Africa is not following suit...

Urban Sista said...

I know I'm late on this post -- I recently found this blog -- but amen, sister! Amen. I'm enjoying reading your thoughts and seeing your styles. Keep it up:)

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