"This hair is my shit, I rode the ride and paid the price. This hair is mine." --Solange
photo credit: D'Janai at D'Janaimadeit.com
For centuries, black women's hair has changed in length, style, color, and in the last ten years, a lack of chemicals. In some cases, by force and others by chance.
Black Creole women were once forced to cover their hair under the Tignon Law in the 1700s. White women were upset with the attention black women received from white men because of the adornments of jewels and feathers in their long hair and in styles they created. Once the law was enacted, Black Creole women covered their hair in wraps. However, it did nothing to stifle their uniqueness; jewels were still fastened to their wraps along with feathers as bold as peacocks.
Madame C.J. Walker provided an opportunity for women of color to manage their hair by creating the hot comb, that's still widely used today for California Presses. I remember vividly the routine before any important event or the night before church service: sitting in the kitchen by the stove waiting for the hot-comb to leave the fiery orange-colored eye. Then braced myself as the hot teeth pressed against the roots of my hair generously slathered in hair grease--Blue Magic--going from kinky to straight in a matter of strokes. A painful experience at the price of beauty once the grease starts popping against your scalp.
Later, around the '60s, wearing an Afro was seen as a revolutionary statement often associated with the Black Panther Movement. Since then, young girls and boys across the world are being criminalized for wearing their natural hair; Locs, box braids with added color and head wraps are deemed non-appropriate for school.
Recently, there was a video on social media of a young woman who wore her natural hair to work for the first time. Her (white) co-workers were fascinated by her "new" look. So much so, they reached out and touched her hair. Not just one person, but two people. At the same time. I cringed. I'm still cringing just thinking about it because it could not have been me. Our hair is not for you petting pleasure! Like, how do you, consciously, reach out and touch someones hair without asking permission first?
In all fairness, she probably didn't mind her coworkers touching her hair (I'm cringing again). Maybe they were all familiar with each other for this not to be a big deal to her.
I can understand their excitement. I, too, have shown up for an interview with straight hair or curls from having then in rods the night before. Then, after having the job for a few weeks, BAM! Hit them with my natural curl pattern. Some of you have done the same thing. It was a conversation starter, but NO ONE touched my hair.
On one occasion of me wearing my hair wrapped in a turban, a regular patron of the library (older white woman) asked why I was wearing my head wrap. "I like wearing it this way," I said. To which she replied, "I'd rather you wear your natural hair than to wear that thing." While keeping my eyes locked in with hers, I took a deep breath and asked, "Is there anything else I can assist you with besides this conversation?"
A couple of things here:
1) Yes, she did "know" me because she was a regular patron of my workplace and we often engaged in small talk.
2) She has seen me with different hairstyles to which (without touching my hair) she inquired about.
Giving her unwarranted opinion on how I should wear my hair was completely crossed boundaries. Her fine hair could never fathom the difficulty of trying to learn a curl pattern. Determining if it's all 3A, 3B, or 4c can be a struggle. Only to discover, you can have three different curl patterns at one time. Let's not forget all the hair products collected to support said curl patterns that may or may not work. We've all become product junkies in our natural hair journey--some of us are still collecting shampoos, conditioners, leave-ins, twisting creams, AND edge control.
*Moment of silence for all the edge controllers we purchased that didn't work.*
Caring for natural hair is not for the faint of heart or weak arms. However, the real strength comes from maintaining our composure when bombarded with questions and comments: "So, it really grows like that? Why would you go natural, your hair fine the way it was? What do you do with it? and my favorite, "Is that a wig?"
Can't forget about when you decide to switch things up a bit and straighten your hair to see how much it has grown: "Wait, you relaxed your hair, I thought you were natural?"
Protective styles are also a gem; passion twists, sleek ponytail, box braids, lace fronts, and faux locs--you name it, protective styles relieve us of hair duty for at least 4-6 weeks. To this day, one of my brothers doesn't understand the purpose of a protective style. "What are you protecting it from?" He often asks in bewilderment. I've been natural for nine years--I've given up trying to explain the concept.
Sis, whether we wear our hair natural or relaxed, short one day or in a long ponytail to our backside the next, a twist out today and knot-less braids tomorrow. One of us will be approached by a Karen expressing her strong desire to have her hair like ours.
Really, Karen? ok.
Let us remember to breathe in those moments when our nerves are being tip-tapped on. Our hair is an extension of who we are; our culture and beauty. Hair, that grows from our head and fashioned for self, should never be a topic of discussion. Especially, not when education and career advancement is in question.
Also, to the men, your early morning (or afternoon) appointments with the one barber/Salon you trust are not in vain--we see you. Crisp line-ups and fade done to perfection, the impeccable swirl or faultless part, and locs re-twisted to reveal a beautifully oiled scalp. We see you and you are appreciated.
To those of you who are bald, melanin free, or simply don't understand what it means to have and care for black hair: respect our hair by not restricting us to your standards of appropriateness or beauty and, for your safety, DO NOT touch our hair.
Ode To Natural Hair
From the roots, you grew
condemned and underappreciated.
Masked in thick white cream
lined with neutralizer and
styled in tight curls or bone straight.
New growth returns--yearning to extend towards the heavens,
for coils to bounce, to soak up the energy, and to feel the wind softly caress each strand before being tamed again.
The pressing down of hot iron stops,
the chemical restricting patterns cease.
Glory returns in all sizes of coils, curls, and kinks.
Deep conditioned with care.
Trusting our arms not to give in as we twist or braid our hair
and then pick our way to volumes unmatched.
Braids of tribes return adorned in colors and jewels.
Hair twisted and locked and accented with wraps.
We are nurtured with water and oils
of almond, jojoba, grapeseed, coconut, and olive.
We are loved again.
Before you go, take a look at 100 years of black hair. What era is your favorite? How has your natural hair journey been? Have you considered going back to the creamy crack?
Always and Forever!