3.13.2006

State of Black America Part III: Hair

This post has been on my heart and mind for a long time. I have natural hair. But because in the south, I'm considered dark skinned, I've always been made to think and believe only light-skinned girls had long or "good" hair. But I had a good foundation. My mother, though light-skinned (relish the terms, people. get the message without getting caught up in that for now. we'll discuss "skin tones" in another part of the state of black america), never made me feel negatively about my hair. She always told me my hair was beautiful.

I used to want hair like my sister's because it was thick and long. Mine was short and "fine." Isn't fine a hilarious word to use for hair? Its like the consolation gift. Kind of like skinny people who like to be called "thin" or "slim." Call it like it is. I have thin and often weak hair. But its mine. I cannot and will not subscribe to the idea of "good hair." Believe it or not, there are people who still use this term. Its mine. My line sister has very curly hair, what most people would refer to as good hair, but she has just as hard a time controlling it as any other black woman.

I wanted to cut my hair and "go natural" for a long time before I did it. One of my male friends from home told me I should cut my hair because I have a great head shape. Isn't that hilarious?! Lol. That was back in high school. I just kind of laughed it off. I was afraid to cut my hair because I had been told I was ugly for too long. Then I started consulting people. All of my Hampton friends were all for it. My family was another story.

My father and my aunt tried their hardest to discourage me. I think that just strengthened my resolve. It made me stop and think for a while, then I did it. It took me the entire summer before my senior year. April 17, 2004 I did it. I went to my hair dresser and told her to cut it off. She was horrified. I think that made me want to do it even more. But by that point, I had made up my mind. There was no turning back. My hairdresser at home is in her 70s and couldn't do it. She just couldn't cut my hair. So the younger assistant did it and I loved it. The next week, I went to a natural hair place and got my hair twisted. My boyfriend at the time was so scared of me cutting my hair. Then he saw it and loved it. My mom loved it. Everyone I saw could not stop talking about how much they loved my hair. And it turned out my hair was soft and curly. Not at all like my new growth. And I had no idea what my natural hair felt like. But once I saw it again, I loved it. I wondered why I waited so long.

From Pittsburgh, my father asked why I would do that. Whatever he was trying to imply, I really didn't care. I was like forget it. It's done. I was scared to go back to school, though. I didn't know how people would react. But again, everyone loved it. Then I started, well continued to worry about how I would get a job in journalism w/natural hair. After I graduated and started looking for jobs in earnest, my aunt told me I should wear a wig to my interview. She and her husband tag teamed me. They said I could do whatever I wanted once I had the job, but I would not get a job with my hair like this. When I finally got an interview up here, I said, you know what? I don't care. I'm going to wear my hair naturally, and if I don't get the job, then its not meant to be, but I am NOT changing who I am. They loved my resume, the 6 stories I wrote in 30 minutes, and my personality. Exactly a week later I started at my current job. Without feeling like a sell out.

I hear all the necks and eyes rolling of the women with perms. Hear me out. That's MY personal journey and struggle. We all have our own journeys. That's the point. We have come a long way in our hair struggle, but we have a long way to go. Not only do we not accept ourselves, we don't accept each other. Embrace your hair, whether its natural or relaxed, curly, straight, "fine," thick, nappy. Whether you're tender headed or whatever. Its you and its your hair. Don't let anyone tell you what to do with it. Love it. You'll miss it when its gone.

So what's the state of black america? We're not there yet. We are still letting what other people think and feel sculpt how we think and feel about our hair. That must stop if we are going to continue to advance. Be who you are. One day, I'm rockin the fro.

35 comments:

So...Wise...Sista said...

I LOVE it! So well said. And the best part is that you acknowledge, without being obnoxious or self affirming, that we all have different journeys, and that this is a subject that ALWAYS sparks debate. I'm a perm girl, who loves the long-straight look, but hates perms. Go figure. I'm not ready to take the natural plunge just yet...I cornrowed my hair a few weeks back and learned I got a little peanut azz head! Like you, my fam is discouraging...you know how old school tends to be. But it's a shame that we still have such disparities and judgements among sistas. Now you gotta post a pic of the nappy! ;)

Peabo DeBarge said...

This is the first thing that came to mind when I read this:
"Straight Or Nappy" from School Daze

DP said...

I commend you on your stance. I think the saddest thing is that we brothers team up with society to drag sistas about stuff like this. Every woman I have ever dated I have encourage to do to her hair what SHE wants, not what I want. If I can be going on 25 years of getting pretty much the same exact haircut, surely A woman should have the right to do what she wants to her hair without hearing me yap about it. Sistas got enough going on in the world ALREADY without having hair drama to go ontop of that. If a sista wants to rock a fade as tight as mine, then she should be able to do that. I will either have to adjust, or bounce. But I cant go around putting my own preferences on her for any choice she makes about her hair...cause on a dreary Pittsburgh morning, (and there are MANY of those) I ain't the one who has to deal with getting the do to do right.

Handle yours darlin.

LaurenAshleigh said...

I love this post. People have always told me I have "good" hair and I never really understood what that meant seeing as how I still had to go through an entirely too long 3 hour process just to be presentable enough to go outside. I grew my perm out about 4 years ago and I've never regreted it. Often people think I still have a perm because I get my hair pressed but that's mostly because my hair is straighter, stronger and honestly, much more beautiful than it was when I had a perm. And when I wear my curls out, I love it and so does everyone else that turned their noses up at me when I first expressed my desire to go natural. And I never reallly needed a perm anyway; I was just taught that all little black girls were supposed to have one.

jameil1922 said...

sista... i almost had to fight my dad the other day b/c he suggested i put some chemicals in my hair. i was like this is MY hair. its not your choice. and i don't care what you think. that shit pissed me off. i couldn't even talk to him last night. i just couldn't be bothered.

miguel... HAHAHAHA!! that was one of my favorite scenes from that movie!! hilarious!! and so appropriate!!

dp... wow... speaking of pittsburgh. the weave capital of the world!! i've never seen so many weaves in my life!!! do you know someone asked me if i was from jamaica b/c i had natural hair?!! jamaica?!! what?? i don't get it!!

the funny thing is, i got a lot of attention before i cut my hair, but then i got even more from men once i cut it. but sometimes it was from the idiots. like i love your hair. you are so strong. one idiot said, your hair is so beautiful. i love it (ok here it comes) b/c i know you like jill scott and erykah badu and stuff like that. i was like, huh? my hair tells you all that? word? umm.. ok. i was like, no. i like them but don't get it twisted, i still like ugk and 36 mafia. (this was back in sr. year @hu)

clearly the opinion of men weighed into my decision. not like i asked their opinion, but i wondered if they would still be attracted to me w/short hair. yeah... not a problem.

lauren... that sounds like my l.s. and another of my friends w/curly hair. they were both convinced to get perms b/c it was the thing to do. and for no reason. we have to come to the decision on our own.

Ladynay said...

Miguel thought of school daze, but I thought of India Irie's I am not my hair. LOL! That's my jam!

I am feeling these Black American posts.

Honey-Libra said...

What a wonderful post. I've been natural for almost a year and have been locing my hair for almost 5 months...I love the fact that I don't have to spend $80 a month or $40 every other week to get a touch up or a relaxer, I wake up, shake my head and go lol

Duck said...

Well, I was gonna leave a comment... but Lauren wrote everything I was gonna write! (When I say that is the same story of my hair, I mean that that is the SAME exact story.)

What I've found interesting is that black folk are usually the ones to make a stink about going natural (for reason such as, "You can't get a job like that") but from what I've experienced, white folks seem to admire it. (Not that we should be looking for validation from caucasians, but I think the idea that white people only accept people with straight hair is rather misinfomed.) You wouldn't believe the number of times I've heard "Omigosh, your curls are so pretty! I wish my hair could hold curls."

My point being... the only ones who seem to be perpetuating the idea of "good" and "bad" hair are Black folks themselves... hmmmm....

K20 said...

i "relaxed" my hair again when i started my new job under the guise of looking more professional. now the issue is when i'll cut it off again and go back to my roots. thanks for your post.

jameil1922 said...

lady... india ain't neva lied! i don't even know the words, but i'm sure they apply.

redbone if that ain't the truth!! girl i can't tell you how the only comments from white people have been positive. the others might have been too scared to say what they thought. but black people love to spread their nonsense.

KHALLI 88 said...

All stems from lack of knowledge of one's culture, you have a ton of blacks in the USA who have decided or just out laziness that their roots go back to Africa like Alex Haley wrote it? WTF so that light vs dark divide has been in place and remains a pretty effective tool for those wishes to promote discord amongst blacks!

Stacie von Kutieboots said...

Get in where you fit in! I'm glad you finally posted about hair and I like that its in your state of Black America file. Our hair is our state. How we as BW feel, how our BM feel, how we feel our BM feel; all that, alllllllla that wrapped into one. You must be so down and deep cause you're natural right? She's a soul sista (with an 'a' please). Swing Phi has got to be for you right? Like so...wise, I'm a relaxed chick (Queen Mizani freak); love it but hate it at the same time. Its just hair right??? LoL

Mrs A. said...

ooh, honey, you ain't neva lied. the whole hair thing is so ridiculous, cuz what people call "good" hair is a pain the butt. what makes it good? i don't know. i've been told i have this "good" hair, but i call it difficult hair...cuz my joint holds no style, frizzes like nobody's biznaz and i have to put water on it for it to lay down (which is a problem in the winter), but its mine, so i works with it best as possible. i just dont get the judgments and envy behind hair..its just hair

nikki said...

TELL IT!

i had folk giving me the same grief when i cut my hair.

you make an excellent point about it being 'your journey'. the truth as you see it is to rock the natural and ain't a dang thang wrong with that.

mind you, about three years ago i was the sista who was blasting other sistas for rocking the relaxed hair, so i've had to grow alot in the last few years. hair is hair. i think as long as in doing the hair it's not because folk are wanting to emulate a european standard at the rejection of their ethnic identity, it's all good.

but when it's done because a sista 'trying to not look like she's black' then i get pissed, although i also pity the sista for wanting to deny her roots that way.

Karamale said...

"good hair" is bald...you can just wake up and be the fuck out. not that i'm trying to lose mine anytime soon, lol.

CNEL said...

I always say "To each his or her own". I mean it's okay to make on observation and to develop an opinion, but we shouldn't always feel the need to voice our opinion about a person or their personal choice to the person.

With regards to the hair we come in different shapes and shades, so people shouldn't be surprised that our hair is different. Even guys get fixated on the hair every now and again waves, no waves, fade, no fade, LoL. Braids, cornrows, or dreads.

Part of the reason we fixate on "good hair", "light skin", blah, blah, blah is because of these overromanticized, yet marginalized views of beauty.

Lean wit it, and rock what fits you.

ProfessorGQ said...

I love this post...there are some beefs I have about black hair...how is it that some of these "real" sistas think they are so "keepin' it real" with their "natural" hair over women with perms when some of these women with "natural" hair is bought and sowed or placed on their heads...I don't get it.

Aisha T. said...

'Kind of like skinny people who like to be called "thin" or "slim'

WHAT?! That's Ms. Chicken Bones to you, little lady. *chuckling*

I am embarrassed to say, I was a little in the dark here about the hair thing. I grew up in Montana--a state not exactly known for it's racial complexity. So as far as what is considered 'better' or 'not preferred' I am clueless. My friends all have their hair different. Buuuuut, what I do understand is knowing what's best for you and not letting anyone tell you what is the best for you. Good for you to go natural (as I go off to ask my friend Tomika if my definition for the term natural is the right one--I'm an idiot! LOL)

So...Wise...Sista said...

Ooooh true, true...that is a whole 'nother post...but how come there is this neo-nappier/holier-than-thou attitude wit SOME "naturalists?" There's spots in Brooklyn I can't even go with this damn perm! Fro's Only. lol

jameil1922 said...

khalli... ah yes. i knew there was something else i wanted to add. it originated as a term of divisiveness and yet we continue to perpetuate it. you know that will make an appearance when the skin thing comes up.

stace! you already know girl!!

miss a. i get the envy. it took me time to get to this point where i feel like its my hair and your hair is how you feel about it. hair envy is there for a lot of people. like i said its a personal journey and struggle.

nikki. i never had that one but i know a lot of other natural sisters (excuse me as stace says sistas!! lol) who feel that way. i understand it, tho. its like you had this struggle and so you wonder why other people can't get it, too. i just know how hard it was for me. i'll encourage other people, but i won't crucify them for their decision. but like i said, i completely understand it.

karamale... go ahead and shave it!! go bald! don't be afraid to lose your good hur!

prof... i hate the intolerance. i can't stand it. but there are a lot of sisters with perms who look down on the ones w/naturals. that shits not cute.

aisha... lolol!! just keep coming here. we'll get you up on the black people. lol.

DP said...

J, It's the weather, girl. That perpetually cloudy and rainy/sleetin/snowin. it just kills a good do, so sistas weave it up and put it in a ponytail...that and like everyting else, Pittsburgh is about 8 yrs behind.

Khay Renee said...

Hey Jameil. I love your blog. It has become a part of my morning reading ritual. You are so right...we are too obsessed with hair. It is not (or at least shouldnt be) that serious. If you have hair, great. If you dont, thats cool too. Just be you and stop worrying about everyone else. When will we learn?

the joy said...

i dont have a perm either. to certain degrees i can agree with what you say, because i had a perm since i was 5 years old when my mother had to make me presentable for school and couldnt "deal with" doing it every day.

anywhoo, i decided to go nat at 15. it was just vanity; my hair was falling out after chemicals. but people automatically think i am that "black hippie" girl. booo to that. i just cant be bothered t olive up to other people's standards. and i'm sure you look gorgeous.

Epsilonicus said...

I am growing my natural. I am in the process of locking my hair. I have been going at it for about 3.5 months. I like natural. I wake up and just get moving. I don't have to brush it or anything. I pick out the lil bit of lint and then I am on my way.

I hate when other people with natural hair try and knock those who get their hair processed. Thats stupid. Its only hair. It aint that serious. I just marvel at the creativity of Black people for being able to create so many different hair styles. If you are Black, there are an infinite number of ways to do your hair!!

spchrist said...

as long as I can run my fingers through a woman's hair...I don't care what she does with it as long as she's happy.

T Dot said...

Girl, you make me want to go to the barbershop right now and hack mine off! You know I'm on my journey to natural-land, but I'm enjoying the growing out process. I have about a good 3/4 of an inch now and I'm looking into some growing out options (straw sets, braids, etc) to help with the transition. And I'm so happy you said your real hair doesn't feel like your new growth because I was really starting to get scared!

P.S. You know Imma put you on blast on my site. I need people to read this post. :-)

The Daughter of Isis said...

I wrote an article about this subject from a slightly different vantage point a while back...

http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0KAY/is_4_8/ai_n15969931

My experience is a little different since I come from a directly (albeit mixed) North/East African background as opposed to an African American one, but it's essentially the same story. I really tried to wear my hair naturally when I started college...I did...but, unlike you, I'm a punk and taking care of it was too scary. It didn't help that my father asked me if I was a "lesbees" (you have to say it using Eddie Murphy's accent in Coming To America) when I cut off my hair to try to start anew. *blank stare*

jameil1922 said...

sp... you know i love you boo. but that's why women are scared to have their own hair. b/c men want to be able to "run their fingers through it."

talia... thanks girl! :) i don't really know grow-out options. b/c like i said, i said f-it and just cut it off.

isis ha! lesbees. i tell you. the older generation. i was shocked tho b/c my grandmother loved it. probably her denying her white grandfather. i think she hates that. b/c she sure doesn't like white people.

The Princess said...

I have had this same problem all my life. I still have to tell my grandmother my hair (and my children's and husband's hair) is not "good" hair, it's just a different texture than hers. I know she is older and all that but ugggghh! She actually cried when I cut my hair in college (do we all do that? LOL) which is part of the reason I cut it off. My whole life people have been so fascinated with my hair that for once, I wanted to be noticed for something else.

I can feel the post above by sista too. I have had some people wearing their hair natural try to preach about "natural". I had to school them on "natural" being different things to different people. My hair doesn't "fro" up but that doesn't mean I am putting chemicals in it..dammit.

As a side note, I have my hair issues like every woman in the world. The shit won't act right on picture days, first dates, interview days, etc. But when I don't have anywhere to go but the stupid law school it looks fly as hell for some reason. ROFL. Bad hair days don't discriminate! ha ha

Don't Oppress Me said...

I'm all late, but I feel what you saying. I was in the barbershop the other day and my barber told me, I had 'good' hair and that I should take better care of it. Or the hood rats around my way, would say ’Ooh, let me braid you hair, you would look so cute wit some cornrows [ATL accent for emphasis]. But I had a ‘fro for four years and when I didn't have it twisted or braided, people would tell me, I needed to do something with my hair because it looked 'nappy.'

Fuck em all! Oops, what I meant to say was, we have to teach people to let go of their slave mentalities.

I think I’m going to go back and finish reading the whole post, now! lol

Don't Oppress Me said...

I finished it.
And all I can say is Amen, Sista.
Let dem niggaz know, oh I just fucked up the vibe, didn't I?

Naw, I've learned to embrace my childhood fade, but either way, a brotha lookin' fly.[Pops Collar]
What?

sweetlime said...

girl this was a great post! GO NATURAL hair. i have been permless for about two years now. i guess i am a quasi sell out though because i get my hair blown out (for career reasons) but i think that all black women should lose the perm because its burning their hair out.

spchrist said...

that wasn't an Ultimatum...you can have natural long hair...

afrochelle said...

As someone who has been "rockin the fro" since 1997 I have to say that I loved this post.

Butterfly Jones said...

What a good post. I've had my dreads for ten years and I love them. When I started them I cut all my hair off and I never looked back. Me and my sister were influenced by Spike Lee's sister Joie to go natural, and despite returning to the perm once, I came back home. I used to get criticism from some older heads, but they never bothered me. And people said I should wait until I got a job (I'm a journalist) but I didn't, and I've worked for national newspapers, and television companies.

I am saddened by sistas who say: "Natural hair wouldn't suit me" and sistas who have not felt the naturalness of their hair other than half an inch of regrowth. It's the hair you were born with, why wouldn't suit you? I'm not a natural-hair evangelist, and agree each to their own. But I surely don't understand the current penchant for paying huge amounts of money to sew other people's hair into your head when you're born with a perfectly good 'fro of your own.

Well done you for going your own way. Isn't it sad that in 2006 it is still a big deal among our people to wear your hair natural?