A few weeks ago, I performed a spoken word piece entitled “An Honest Letter To My Future Black Daughter.” Full disclosure: summer of 2018 was the summer when my baby-fever peaked, so it’s only right that I was grappling with the question that in the highly unlikely event that I had a baby-girl, what would I have wanted her to know about being a black woman. It was from this place that I wrote a piece that not only celebrated black women, their power and prowess, but also called-out the systems that relentlessly denigrate black women.
On my long list of things that I’d love my future black daughter to know is this: her hair is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it’s beautiful and it carries so much historical significance. A curse because not everyone sees its beauty or understands the pain that has been inflicted on black women as a result of their hair being far from the “ideal”. In order to dismantle these antiquated ideas, that black hair is nappy and ugly, we have to take a historical dive into how these ideas manifested.
Once upon a time there was a West Indian man named Willie Lynch. You probably never learned about him in history class because our education system is trash and it wasn’t designed with black people in mind. BUT… you’ve probably seen the term ‘lynching’ while glossing over your history textbooks. Lynching, the act of killing black people by hanging (without a legal trial) , got its name from this dude because he was supposedly knowledgeable in The Making Of A Slave. He laid out the principles that became the cornerstone of how slavemasters throughout the South treated their slaves. In fact, most of the principles he laid out are still being used today to keep black families at the bottom rung of the social ladder. But I digress. In one of his speeches that he delivered in Virginia in 1712, he explained that he had used small differences such as skin color, height and type of hair to create envy among slaves. In essence, by creating envy among the slaves, it became easier for slavemasters to control their slaves and make them feel inferior.
Flash forward to the 21st century. There is still curl-envy in the natural hair community. If you’ve never heard of curl envy, allow me to enlighten you. It’s the idea that looser curl-patterns are more acceptable than more tightly curled curl-patterns. This is a major problem, especially in advertising, television and film. First, black women were fighting to appear on television. And now that the doors have been opened for them, most black women still have to struggle to get gigs because their hair is considered undesirable. Hollywood is no exception. Their rhetoric about diversity is primarily lip-service and empty promises: lighter skinned women with loosely curly hair or straightened hair are still the prefered choice. Hollywood needs to get it right because the gospel that black women have been preaching for ages is that representation matters–to the young black girls, and to the parents who are raising them. Black people come is all shapes, tones and hair-types, but for some odd reason, Hollywood can’t qWhite seem to figure this out.
But what about the average woman, you ask? The one who’s not on the big screen, how is she affected by how the world views her natural hair? See, I already like you! You’re smart and you ask intelligent questions. Let me start by asking you to google “professional women’s hairstyles.” Now, look at the images and scroll down until you see a black woman with kinky (tightly curled) hair. Warning: your fingers may hurt from scrolling before you find her. To say the least, no black woman is safe from hairscrimination, but if straight blonde hair is the Mecca of all hair, then by that standard, kinky hair would be equivalent to hades. For this reason, black women have had to subject their hair to harsh chemicals and heat, all in an attempt to fit in. And you know who profited from black women’s hair misery? The same people who hammered the idea that black hair is ugly, wild and nappy.
I cannot think of one system that has not discriminated against natural hair. Even the US Army had some outrageous policies that targeted natural hair and dreadlocks, only revisiting them in 2014 and 2017, respectively. The Navy just recently caught up, but they’re still on the fence about dreadlocks. I don’t know about you, but if you were a black woman, would you spend money on a wig to cover up your natural hair so you can serve a country that has consistently shown it doesn’t care about you or people who look like you? This is why I admire every black man and woman who has ever served this country: they flourish in spite of the odds being heavily stacked against them.
I could write on, but like a good student, I need you to do your homework. I need you to fully understand why black natural hair is as important as I claim it is. But most importantly, I need you to see the bigger picture: black hair is beautiful, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
For your homework, I need you to read the following linked material, and what you do with this information it totally up to. My hope is that all black people, especially women, see their hair as blessing–not a burden or a curse.
- How much do black people spend on hair and beauty products?
- Finally, the army takes an inclusive stance on natural hair!!
- So, is Shea Moisture still cancelled?
- Learn the rich history of natural hair.
Until next time, may your skin glow and your Afro grow and you flow through life.