Lets talk about hair. Black hair.
Natural black hair typically falls into one of six categories of curly or coily hair types; ranging from 3A to 4C. 3A is the loosest curl pattern, and 4C is the tightest coil pattern. As a black woman, with a 4C hair type, I’ve peeped many things over the coarse of my life [haha, get it?]. I’ve peeped the negative attitudes and ideas surrounding my thick, kinky and coarse hair type. I peep the shade, when people use the terms ‘good hair‘, and ‘nappy‘, and most, if not all of it comes from other black people.
It took me a very long time, but I am finally happy with my hair and my hair type. I’m Nigerian, and its apparent in my facial features and my hair texture [Alexa, play “A Millie” by Lil’ Wayne, where he said “I’m a young millionaire, tougher than Nigerian hair”] I grew up with natural hair, as my mother refused to use chemicals to alter my hair texture. As a child, I was not allowed to get texturizers or relaxers. My mom would take the necessary 4 to 6 hours out of her day every week to wash, blow dry, and press my hair with a hot comb. Relaxers were out of the question, because those products contain harmful chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide, calcium hydroxide, sodium peroxide, phosphoric acid, and ammonium hydroxide. These chemicals cause neurotoxins, as well as respiratory toxins, skin burns, irritation and redness. My mama was like “Oh no, not my baby”.
So if these products are so harmful, why did 95% of the other black girls I grew up with get their first relaxer before age 7? Well, because their mothers did, and their mother’s mothers too. Black women (and men) have a history of relaxing our kinky hair, in an attempt to get it as straight as possible. This is because our hair in its natural kinky/coily state, was always deemed “unprofessional”, “unkempt”, and “unruly” by American society. We could have a clean and hydrated Afro, newly re-twisted locs, or cornrows braided neat with the edges LAID, and they would still say our hair was”unprofessional” or “ghetto”. The standard of beauty throughout the western hemisphere, was and still is very Eurocentric; straight or fine-textured hair, fair skin, light eyes, and small/narrow facial features. Black girls and women have always had to assimilate to those beauty standards, in order to survive. In the early/mid 1900’s, it was hard for us to get jobs, loans, housing, etc BECAUSE of our hair. Even now, in the modern-day 2000’s, you have black girls getting suspending from school for wearing braids, black boys being forced to cut their dreadlocks in order to participate in school sports, and women in the workplace, like myself, reprimanded for wearing head wraps [which are strongly rooted in black culture, and are considered hairstyles; I SAID WHAT I SAID]. Only in 2018; did ALL of the US Military permit black women to wear their natural hairstyles (twists, braids and dreadlocks) while in uniform.
White people and other people with fine-textured hair don’t have to alter their hair in order to navigate through or be accepted by American society. They have always been able to choose to dye their hair, to get extensions, or “edgy” hairstyles. This is why a white girl in cornrows is cultural appropriation, but a black girl in a blonde wig is not. Its kinda like how black people can’t be racist, but we’ll save that discussion for another article.
Now in today’s world, Black women (for the most part) have the freedom to choose what we want to do with our hair; whether its braids, wigs, twists, locs, weave, color, shaved, Bantu knots, etc., and we get treated perfectly normal by the rest of society. But we still have a problem within the community; texturism.
Texturism in the natural hair community fosters the idea that certain types of hair patterns are more desirable or beautiful than others.Aimee Simeon, Refinery 29 (December 6 2018)
A lot of people within the black community hate kinky and coarse hair. They call kinky/coily 4C hair “nappy”, yet say black people with hair texture closer to that of white people have “good hair”. I know based on first hand experience, because I got bullied for having natural hair 4C hair in middle school. That’s right folks. I got made fun of, because of the way my hair grew out of my scalp. In 6th and 7th grade, all the black girls had relaxers; and were rocking that swoop and wrap (black girls reading this know what I’m talking about). You’d get a roller set after a fresh relaxer, then after sitting under the dryer for a thousand years, they’d comb your hair around your head in a circle, before combing/brushing it down past your ears; leaving a swooped bang and slightly bumped ends. I guess everybody wanted to look like late R&B singer, Aaliyah. Meanwhile, 11 and 12-year old Zaenab was still rocking her natural hair in twists, plaits, or braids, and was constantly getting made fun of for it. Even black boys, with peas-ey hair, and uneven hairlines would pick on my natural hair. They’d constantly ask me “when are you gonna get a [perm]?” (and I’m looking at them, like “when is yo’ daddy gonna take you to get a hair cut, lil’ ugly ass boy?). People who I sat around in class, or on the bus would constantly ask me the same question, “when you gonna get a [perm]?“, and my answer went from “I don’t get those” to “whenever my mama let’s me.” As time went by, I started to hate my hair. I wanted it to flow and shine like the other girls’ hair. Every single day, I would go home and beg my mama to relax my hair, and she would always tell me no. Even my grandma, who still relaxes her hair to this day, would ask my mom if she could take me to the beauty salon with her to get my hair “fixed”. Mama wasn’t having it. I began to feel so ugly, I started to come home crying, because my hair didn’t look like everyone else’s.
Finally, my mom let up, and allowed my grandma to take me to the hair salon. She let my grandmother know, “you’re going to pay for every single trip to the salon from now on, because I’m not paying for it.” My grandmother didn’t mind. After I got that first relaxer, she and I were so happy! I could finally wear the same hairstyles as my friends, and people were so impressed. I never got made fun of for my hair after that. Long story short, my hair didn’t respond well to the chemicals in the relaxer, and overtime, all the hair in the back of my head fell out. So, I shaved my head in 2010, and have been natural ever since.
The black community has a huge obsession with hair; granted it is a large part of our culture, so I get it. But, damn why can’t we just be sometimes?
My mother had warned me about relaxers being bad for my hair, and I didn’t listen. If only I had stuck to what my mother was telling me; I would have been ahead of my time. I would have remained unique and different, up until the Natural Hair Movement in 2009. I would have not had to shave my head. I would not have had to repair my hair’s texture and health. Looking back, it makes me very emotional, because, my mother was the only one in my corner, telling me that my natural hair was beautiful; encouraging me to embrace and love my crown. I didn’t get that from my grandmother. She was so used to assimilation, that it became her own personal beauty standard. She was born in 1947, so I can’t even be mad. But even now, as an adult, my grandma asks me when am I going to get my hair “fixed.” I tell her it’s already perfect, and move on; no hard feelings. I now have beautiful head full of locs, but if I’d known then, what I know now, I would have started my locs in 2003, instead of 2013. Can you say INCHES?! Thankfully, natural hair is now the standard for black women, as it should be.
Despite the majority of black girls and women rocking their natural hair in 2019, I can’t help but feel like we’re not quite all the way there, when it comes to embracing all natural hair types. There is still a general preference for loose curls, and gelled down edges or “baby hair”. There’s been a slight cultural shift, so much so that even 4C hair is acceptable and celebrated, but that shit better be done. The black community has a huge obsession with hair; granted it is a large part of our culture, so I get it. But, damn why can’t we just be sometimes?
This attitude against “unkempt” natural hair on black people is made highly apparent by the responses to an H&M ad that recently went viral. The ad featured a beautiful little dark skin black girl, with short, coily hair, modeling a hoodie for their Back to School campaign. The theme of the shoot was “after school”, which depicted a group of kids from all backgrounds, with messy hair, modeling H&M’s clothing. Now, even though one girl had a lopsided bun, and another girl look like someone had maliciously rubbed a balloon on her head before the shoot, the black girl was specifically targeted by a large portion of black Twitter. Her Afro was brushed back into a messy bun. To me, her hair actually looked the neatest out of all the other girls’, yet they were saying her hair looked unkempt and raggedy.
They demanded answers as to why her edges were not gelled down. They took closeup images of the girl’s hair, and were nitpicking every pixel, calling this little girl’s hair dry, thin and unhealthy. First of all, you cannot look at an image of someone’s hair, and determine whether or not it is dry. ‘Dryness’ is a feeling, and usually can’t be seen. Moisture shows up differently on kinky hair, than it does with other hair types, especially when things like lighting and angles come into play. Everyone’s hair isn’t shiny, and everyone’s hair is not thick.
One of my favorite Bloggers, named Eloho (a fellow Nigerian queen), took to Twitter to say this:
She’s right. Our hair looks very different from other hair textures, so mind your business. Notice, that nobody bats an eye when they see photos like this:
Personally, I didn’t see anything wrong with the H&M model’s hair; that’s how my hair usually looked after school. Regardless, the little girl’s hair is very beautiful. In other photos (because she ain’t new to this, she’s true to this), she is wearing her Afro out, and it is gorgeous, thick and healthy looking. I can only imagine how this little girl feels after being so excited to model in this campaign with the other kids, just to go online and see that she was singled out and ostracized for her hair, by her own people. Hopefully she isn’t paying attention to any of this negativity.
There is no denying that this whole issue with natural hair is rooted in white supremacy. There were so many anti-natural hair laws against black people, but this ain’t even them this time. In fact, several non-black people responded on Twitter, commenting that they were confused, and didn’t understand what all the controversy was for. In my opinion, this is one of the FEW examples of black people just wanting something to be mad about. I’m not gonna sit up here and say that black people love playing the victim or playing the “race card” (especially since the term ‘race card’ is often used to gaslight POC). I even understand where some of this rage comes from; as oftentimes, these production companies don’t always make it a priority to have a hairstylist, who can do 4C hair. Therefore, we end up being neglected and left to look a mess, while the other models are able to get their hair done up just fine. But in this instance, all of the models had messy hair, and people were reaching. Now H&M does have past of promoting racist, anti-black merch’. They tried the black community in 2018, with that photo of a little black boy modeling a tee that said “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle”. I will admit, that was cringe-worthy, and we had every reason to be outraged. But this? This is the representation I’ve always wanted to see. I was happy that for once, a black girl with my hair type was included in an accurate depiction of what kids look like after school. I felt included in the concept of messy hair being stylish; usually an ideal that only holds space for people with straighter hair. Personally, I felt as though H&M did good with this one.
All in all, most of black Twitter were quick to call-in their peers, and the whole H&M issue was pretty much nipped in a bud. I hope that as time goes on, 4C hair will be celebrated just as much as looser hair textures. After all, it was sisters with kinky hair who started the Natural Hair Movement. Overtime, we have been erased and pushed to the back; while women with 3B and 3C hair have been pushed to the forefront, as the face of natural hair. I even remember reading some ignorant posts on social media a few years back, saying that ‘nappy’ hair and ‘natural’ hair were two different things. Curly hair was ‘natural.’ Coarse hair was just ‘nappy’. Black people were even saying “natural hair ain’t for everybody”. Can you imagine being told by someone who looks just like you, that the hair that grows out of your scalp isn’t for you? And of course, even though we can all agree that Black Lives Matter, in the eyes of some people, only some of us have “good hair”. According to Chris Brown’s song “Need a Stack” he only “wanna fuck the black bitches with nice hair.” What an honor. He received backlash for that lyric, yet responded by saying he will not apologize, and that only “uglies” are mad at his lyrics. I’m not sure who this man thinks he is, but he isn’t an attractive person. On top of being abusive, he’s anti-black women and has some serious issues with substance abuse. Not exactly Mr. GQ, but I’ll probably elaborate more on that, when I write an article about societal standards for men, and how the bar is literally on the floor.
Until then, let’s keep the discussion going! Please comment your thoughts, sentiments, experiences, and opinions under this article.
I will be posting a video, discussing this topic on my YouTube Channel VERY SOON. To tune in, go to YouTube.com or the YouTube app, and search me: XPOZA. Please be sure to subscribe!
Until next time.
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