I know natural hair is versatile So why are the only style options in magazines dreads braids, or weaves? In the spring of 2006 I left go of my creamy crack habit to begin wearing my hair as God intended. This may not seem like a big deal, as most of you have worn your hair as it grows from your scalp all your lives. Wash, blow dry (maybe) and go. You may wonder why all this natural hair hooplah calls for such thought and attention. The answer is complicated, my dear. People direct documentaries and write dissertations trying to explain the politics of black hair. I'll try my best to explain.
In America, beauty standards were (and still, to a large extent) extremely one tracked. Since the majority of the country is of European descent and had a controlling interest in the media, it is only natural that beauty standards would be derived around what is beautiful to them. That pretty much left my dark skin and tightly coiled hair out of the picture. You can only imagine what this can do to a young child's self-esteem. Society tells you "you're black, you're poor, you're ugly, you're a woman, you're nothing at all," as "Mister" so eloquently put it in the movie The Color Purple. Think I'm exaggerating, here are some recent stories that revolve around black hair.
- Malia O., President Obama's Daughter, Frees Her African Hair
- Chris Rock's Sundance Film Festival-Winning Documentary, "Good Hair"
The whole good hair/bad hair toxic way of thinking of not unique to the USA; I experienced it when I lived in El Valle del Chota, an AfroEcuadorian community located in the northern Andes of the country. There was extreme diversity among skin tone, hair type, physical build, all of which were beautiful. With respect to beauty standards, the most fact about the region was that ten years prior the community knew nothing of relaxers. Now women who longed for ”better” hair could not only buy the magic fix for themselves, but also for their young children. When I arrived, people were fascinated with me because they either never met a black American or never knew "my kind" existed. People wanted to know about everything I did. Some of the women were shocked that I wore my hair naturally. "Alisese” (go straighten your hair) was a constant request, because I would be "prettier." "Gringas negras no les gustan peinar” (Black American girls don't like to do their hair,) said a neighbor when she met a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer who was also black and natural. It was like they were drug dealers, trying to get me hooked. I kindly informed them that black Americans invented the poison, and we had been using it for decades before we became aware of the risks associated with using it. Sorry ya'll are so late! The fear of fibroids, chemical burns and balding did not sway them. Vanity is one hell of a sin and we pay its price right here on Earth. Women with no access to (hot) running water in their homes would perm their hair, some getting the results they wanted, others winding up with breakage or permanent damage (worn off edges.)
Now, as I'm readjusting to American life (I just finished 2 years abroad with the United States Peace Corps, happy and nappy) I was and still am faced with the dilemma whether to relax or stay natural. I am unemployed at the moment and wonder how the politics of hair will play out in me getting hired. Over this last month I have been turned down for employment opportunities due to a little something called "overqualification." I don't need any other factors making it more difficult for me; I already have an extraordinary resume and this recession working against me.
I tried my best to begin explaining this concept in this short rant of a blog. Like I said earlier, this is a very in-depth topic that requires more attention than is given. For those who want to go more in depth with this I've included a few links to catch you up on this topic.
- Tyra Banks had an episode conveniently titled "Good Hair." Here are the video clips.
- CNN's Black in America featured a segment on black hair.
- Oprah also aired an episode on Wednesday, September 30, 2009 about this topic as well. Unfortunately, Miss Oprah does not post complete episodes. Here is the link to the snippets and summaries of the show.