Saturday, December 5, 2009

Black Girls, Can We Talk? A rant about hair.

I've had it.  I've had it up to here.  Yes, here.  Can you see where I'm marking the air with my hand? High above the ends of my big crazy fro?  That's how over the whole discussion of hair, I am.  There are some things that just should be done with and exited as resolved, but we cling to the fake controversy as if controversy is our one true treasure left to hold on to.  Why do we discuss this as if we don't know better?

Did you see the movie Good Hair?    Let me say first, I am not anti-straight hair, and that I enjoyed the movie.  I did laugh.  Up until a certain point.  You see, at some point it is not at all funny to hear a woman (of any color) say that they feel they must spend exorbitant amounts of money (often money they cannot afford, sometimes money that would be better spent in other ways... perhaps on getting some ethnicity related therapy of some sort...) to use dangerous chemicals to straighten their hair, or attach someone else's hair (usually much longer and of a genetically incompatible texture) to their heads, because they think it will make people feel more comfortable around them.... in other words, naturally kinky, nappy, curly, frizzy hair is somehow socially discomforting to the general public.  I don't find it at all entertaining to hear women talk about how they are willing to burn holes in their scalp for the quest for straight hair because straight hair is accepted by the general public as more beautiful.

I have a 27 year old friend who wears wigs... that make her look like she's got some serious issues.  She hates her real hair, thinks it's ugly,  because she does not know what to do with her hair and hasn't taken the time to figure it out.  27 years old... wearing wigs.

Listen, I'm an artist.  I love variety.  I love self-expression and creativity... and I have been known to use my hair to exercise both of these.  I have a wig that I adore.  It's a Betty Page style wig.  I don't sport it often.   You may never even see me in it.  It's just for fun.  It's not an image corrector.  You get what I mean?  Everybody knows I spend half the year in braids down to my buttocks and that those purple, green, blue, red, yellow, and fuschia braids, dreds, and twists are not my natural hair.   But I'm sure you also know darn well, that I'm not doing that to make ANYBODY more comfortable with my appearance.   I'm not concerned about whether or not anyone finds my hair to be unfamiliar, strange, unruly, wild, anti-conservative.  I think my hair makes that perfectly clear.   But this kind of self expression is a whole other subject that perhaps I'll touch on at another time.

I want to state my position regarding self mutilation, economic self-oppression, and the act of surrendering to a centuries old degradation of who I am as a woman, and further as a black woman, and I have several points that I want to make in that vein.

1.  I am not my hair, as the lovely India Arie so eloquently put it.  How I wear my hair is MY business.  It is just as personal as whether or not I polish my nails, or use lotion on my skin.  It is just as personal as whether or not I like lipstick or prefer lipgloss instead.   NO ONE has the authority, expertise, nor ordinance... WAIT.  I DO NOT GIVE ANYONE  the authority, expertise, nor ordinance to decide how I will wear my hair.   I will not risk my financial health, my physical health, nor my emotional health to change how I wear it in the quest to lure a man, to impress a woman, and CERTAINLY NOT to thwart someone's racial, sexual, or classist prejudices against me.   The history behind this kind of prejudice is so deeply seeded that we don't even acknowledge anymore that it has anything to do with our choices.  But the truth is, the programming was established centuries ago, long before we of African decent even knew it was happening.  Back when people spoke of us in their faraway lands as if we were exotic, but nevertheless inferior animals, with strange and wild behavior, and physical appearances to match.   This image created in the land of barbarians and inquisitors... the land of slave trading and paganism...  When did we decide to adopt this as our own self-imposed image, that we might pursue, as one of our most invested endeavors, to change what we look like to change the minds of those who created that image?  

The irony amongst us is so thick you could not get through it if you tried.   Look at how we scoffed at Michael Jackson for the changes he made to himself physically.  We scoffed, as we looked at pictures in our favorite gossip magazines, while sitting our asses in the beauty salon chair for half a day, getting the hair of some poor girl in India sewn into our heads, or while our favorite hairstylist slapped that sodium hydroxide onto our hair to literally break down the molecular structure of the hair's strand, dissolve the interior bonds, and replace it with new, artificial ones, wincing as it sizzled on our scalps, spending our last dime... scoffing at Michael Jackson for trying to look white (which I can personally attest, because I was there, was not what was really going on with him...).  Same thing with how we scowl at women who get boob jobs, botox, facelifts and other forms of body mutilation for false vanity.  We talk all that mess probably the most whilst sitting in the salon chair mutilating our hair.  The hypocrisy astounds me!!!! 

2. NEWSFLASH:  Black girls with nappy hair have jobs.  High ranking executive type jobs.  Jobs as scientists, astronauts, doctors, lawyers, Ivy League university professors, philosophers, politicians.   Some of the most influential black women in the history of the world were black women with nappy hair!  Those of you worried about catching a man, black girls with nappy hair have romance, marriage, companionship, and I'm here to tell you we enjoy phenomenal sexual experiences just like our straight haired sisters... and in the cases of those who are still oppressed, I argue perhaps better because there's one less thing to be self conscious about when we're in that naked, vulnerable state! Our lovers can put their fingers in our hair, massage our scalps, grab a fist full in the throws of passion... You get the idea...   Black girls with nappy hair have friends of all colors, races, cultures, and creeds.  We are not all angry (though just like anyone else, we can be angered...), we are not all militant, and whatever we are, whoever we are, you canNOT assertain based on the texture of our hair.    (As you read this you might think I'm talking to white people here.  I might be talking to some, but I'm more talking to those of my sisters who are inflicting this oppression upon themselves by defending against this false stigma.)

3.  My mother started taking me to the hair salon when I was around 12 years old and I got my first permanent relaxer treatment.   Before that my hair was pressed into submission with hot combing so that it was easier to control and "looked good".   My mother spent hours to do this... once or twice a month.  Both me and my sister!!! Eventually she cut my hair off so that it would be easier to control.  The irony is, my mother is about 3/4 Native American Indian, and my hair is what they called "good hair" back in those days.  Compared to most, my hair was easy.  I just had a lot of it and it was easier for her to deal with if it was straightened, and that's just what people did  back in the day.  You only went natural if you were either trying to join the black panthers or you were a muslim or something.  Everybody else was straightening their hair.
In 1992 I cut off all my hair when I began training at the world renowned Vidal Sassoon Academy as a haircutter and stylist.... a UK based company with 4 academies at the time, worldwide... the most respected place to train in the profession.   They were not your average beauty school.  They had philosophies and standards above and beyond state safety and hygiene regulations and basic skill acquisition.  They had doctrine about what beauty was.   Beauty was a combination of inner qualities and the synergy between all of your outer traits.  In other words, each of us is made up of an architecture of physical traits that work together to make us beautiful in our own unique and natural balance.   They believed that if you had curly hair the ideal look for you would incorporate those curls, not torture them into mutation.   They believed that beauty was a matter of authenticity therefore if you're Chinese, don't try to look like an African, and if you're an African don't try to look like you're Chinese.  

4.  WOMEN!!  ALL WOMEN!!!  When will we wake up and stop this foolishness, starving ourselves, cutting ourselves, torturing ourselves, all in the name of so-called beauty.  This culture of beauty is perverse, shallow, and it is extremely unhealthy!!!   It is a LIE that we tell ourselves when we bend over backwards and obsess over vanity in the name of being attractive so that we might be more desirable to men.   I am hear to tell you today that if we stop this madness we will STILL have the same chances of finding a good man, and perhaps a BETTER chance because the boneheads will be eliminated from the pool of potential suitors.   
This is not about men.  This is about how we feel about ourselves.  It is about a loss of rejoicing in the God-given beauty and magnificence that is WOMANKIND!  Your beauty and desirability is NOT about those things you can change about your outside.  I know it sounds cliche, but it's the truth.

I am living proof.  I found the love of my life at a time in my life where I wear little or no makeup unless I'm putting on the rock star, I don't dress up unless I have to, I'm thick and not particularly worried about it outside of for health purposes, and yes, I have been sporting my naturally curly/kinky, frizzy hair since 1992!!!   It's like having an anvil removed from around my neck after years of being a slave to the hot pressing comb and a junkie for the creamy crack (permanent relaxer).    That's not to say that I will never straighten my hair again.  It's to say what people think of me, how my hair makes them feel about me is of absolutely no consequence at all.  I am free.  100% free when it comes to my hair.   We should all be free like this!  Hell! Save the money for something extravagant like say.... organic groceries, an eco-friendly vehicle, and hey!  Perhaps some THERAPY!  I'm telling you, our priorities are way out of whack!

To me this should all go without having to be said, ergo my frustrated tone.  This is a new age we are dawning upon.  We have to let go of those shackles.  They are barely even hanging on anymore.  And we've got keys, ladies!!!  But listen, this is not about me.  Please don't stop there, and make this about my tone or attitude and choose to be offended.  This is not about what I think of you.  This is about how you feel about yourself!!!
If you have searched your soul, and you're sick of being in those straightening comb, $1000+ weave, ammonium thioglycollate shackles, and you feel trapped into something that's costing you in more ways than you want it to,  but you don't know what to do with your natural hair, there are fantastic resources out there now.  God Bless the Internet!   Here are some of the sites I find useful for my own hair:


  1. I still haven't seen the flick, but I've come across some interesting conversations about it:

    It's a personal choice, but there is a historical and cultural context to our decision. I'm not sure how some are able to discount that especially when they decide to burn their scalp and destroy their hair with those chemicals. Anyway, I love the point you made about being able to grab hair...just work out all that aggression like yeah..yeah...yeah! Terrific point. That would effectively end any debate for me. Give the trophy to Brig. Rebuttals aren't necessary.


    There's a picture of Madame CJ Walker in this hair history, and ironically even her edges are breaking off. That has to tell ya something. ;)
    Love your post here.. well said, and BRAVO!

  3. a great point!
    i'm going to check out your blog now, as i have many afro-deutsch family, including my son whose father is german.

  4. Hey dear, I don't have a whole lot on my blog yet as it's still a work in progress. Don't know if you have heard of it but there's also Afro-Europe which is another blog that covers the diaspora scene over the pond. Thanks for checking me out!

  5. Your post is soooo beautiful, bold, honest, and refreshing. Loving yourself only makes you more of who and what you are - radiant light -prisms of light walls reflections of our own illuminated sol. Power. your readers can also com to and get information about healthy hair and scalp. We, at Mahogany ahve a newsletter and we hold classes. EACH ONE TEACH ONE, if you know nothing, KNOW THYSELF.

  6. Brig, I really appreciate your expression on this topic of women and our hair. I too have fallen into the pit of wearing false hair and taking on the image of someone outside of my culture.
    It began early on in my youth for personal reasons, however, now as an adult I am having hair conversations with myself and doing the dance of learning where my hair journey will lead me.
    I whole heartily believe that our hair is an expression of who we are. The issue is (for me anyway) is the expression we're displaying an authentic presentation of our true selves and if so is contributing to the false hair, chemical pool beneficial to our inner beauty.
    Something 2 think about!



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