“I Am Not My Hair…Or Am I?”

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Over the past year I have seen multiple postings on social media by and about Black women and their hair. No other group has had a feature that is common among most human beings that has undergone so much scrutiny. To write this post I am compelled to go back to the 1960s. I was a college student–so I officially qualify as an “O.G.!” My generation was in the midst of the modern Civil Rights Movement. We had lost Malcolm, Medgar, and would soon lose Martin! We were the generation who declared, “Say it loud…I’m Black and I’m proud!” Indeed, we called our own selves Black! Before that we were “Negroes” and “Colored.” Black had been a pejorative. People would fight over someone calling them Black.

The Black Pride Movement asserted that our skin color, our facial features, our body shapes and body types were beautiful and should be celebrated. The greatest affirmation of that assertion came in 1966 when Robyn Gregory was named Homecoming Queen at Howard University. Before she was announced, she sat behind a translucent curtain. When the spotlight shined on her the student body could see the shape of her natural hair crown and erupted in joy. This was a moment of affirmation for Black women’s beauty!

Later, Angela Davis, Kathleen Cleaver, Maya Angelou, Sonia Sanchez, and other icons of the movement presented themselves with natural hair. To my generation Black was indeed beautiful! I recall the first time I walked into my mother’s house with my freshly cut natural do. Oh, the horror! How dare I cut off my hair and walk around with “nappy” hair. But like many young Black women of the day, natural hair became our most liberating moment. For the first time we would define beauty on our terms. Yes, our hair was a political statement. I maintained a natural hairstyle for decades. And, yes I fell prey to “creamy crack” (chemical relaxers) at one point in my hair journey, but by the mid 1980s I returned to my natural hair. I have had an big afro, a teeny-weeny afro, and twists (incidentally, because of a bout with breast cancer I have also been bald). Today, my hair is straight without chemicals primarily because one of life’s little luxury for me is sitting in a stylist’s chair and allowing her to massage my scalp. My post-chemo hair is much straighter than what I started with.

Today, Black women continue to demonstrate that they have the most versatile hair of anyone on the planet. They can wear it straight or curly, short or long, dreaded or twisted, braided or knotted, dyed, fried, or laid to the side! That’s our gift…versatile hair. However, having versatile hair is NOT an invitation to have people touch it to satisfy their curiosity. Despite comments that we are “post-racial” I contend that nothing is as racialized as Black women’s hair. Only Black girls and women have been excluded from the workplace or school because of their hair styles. Only Black girls and women have had “rules” written into workplace and school dress codes based solely on THEIR hair styles.

I don’t think that most Black women wearing their hair in natural styles are making a political statement in the same way we were making such statements in the 1960s. No, I think many Black women are choosing natural hair styles because they find them attractive and they see them as a healthy way to care for their hair. I also think many Black women are tired of paying hundreds of dollars for relaxers, weaves, and wigs. I think Black women are tired of scheduling their lives around their hair–exercise, swimming, going out in inclement weather are all mediated by hair when it is not in its natural state.

And, to my relaxed or weave/extensions wearing sisters…how you wear your hear is YOUR business. You are entitled to as much choice as anyone else. Just know that you are NOT your hair!

Stay Smart & Black!

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3 thoughts on ““I Am Not My Hair…Or Am I?”

  1. Thanks Dr GLB! Although I am not a black woman and certainly cannot claim to know about black hair, I have always had thick and curly hair, even by Indian standards. For years, especially as a kid, I did all I could to flatten or hide the thickness and curls wishing to be like the white girls I saw at school or in popular media growing up. A few years ago I finally found some good product and started wearing my thick curls out and proud and it’s been a wonderful and liberating experience, though there have been the occasional folks who touch it without asking :/

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  2. Love the article. I really do marvel how VERSATILE our hair really is. As I type this I am having my LAST “creamy crack” applied to my hair and will eventually translation to what my NATURAL hair pattern will become — hadn’t “seen” it since I was a child in pigtails.

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  3. Great article !! I, too, marvel how VERSATILE our hair actually is. As I type this I’m having my LAST “creamy crack” applied to my hair. I want to eventually learn to love my NATURAL hair again — hadn’t “seen” it since I was a child in pigtails.

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