Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Failure of the Natural Hair Movement


Honestly, I've never considered myself to be a part of the natural hair community. Yet, I've been sans chemicals all my life except once when I made a poor decision in ninth grade and got a perm. Never made that decision again because I lost a lot of my length.

For practically all of college I didn't alter my hair texture at all. I wear my 4C hair in all its natural splendor. Including when I graduated and I had to make it fit under the graduation cap that clearly wasn't made with my hair in mind.

While I love how my hair looks aesthetically, it's also a political statement. I realize that my hair is looked down upon by mainstream culture. I know that many Black women are discouraged from wearing their hair the way I wear mine. And all of that makes me even more enthusiastic about stepping outside my house with it in an afro. It's like I'm saying I'm Black and I'm here. Deal with it.

And it's because of this that I've side-eyed the natural hair movement ever since I heard of it because I immediately noticed that it was about embracing loose curls and not hair like mine. I also noticed that for girls who do have hair like mine the movement was primarily interested in altering hair texture... albeit not with perms.

But it's just a testament of my privilege that I don't feel like I need a natural hair movement. I didn't need it because I was fortunate enough to be raised by a mother who also didn't alter her hair texture. My mother taught me how to care for my hair. I was never told it was unmanageable or ugly.

In fact, I was expressly forbidden from altering my hair texture until I was around 13. So even in my pre-teens when I was receiving and somewhat accepting messages about my hair being inferior I was forced to work through it instead of changing it. And I'll be forever thankful to my parents for that.

But even though I personally have a very minimal interest in the natural hair community as a whole I'm still angry about its hypocrisy.

I'm angry because a lot of 4C Black women didn't grow up in a household where their hair was affirmed. A lot of Black girls grew up without even knowing the natural hair texture of their mothers, aunts, grandmothers. Without even knowing their own hair texture. It was destroyed by perms before it even had time to fully develop.

A lot of Black women are constantly bombarded by the anti-Black and sexist opinions of Black men (and men in general) who claimed that natural hair was unattractive. They are discouraged by their jobs that tell them their hair is "unprofessional."

These women are looking to the natural hair movement for affirmation they didn't receive at home. They are looking for visibility to encourage them to embrace their hair in its natural hair texture. And yet, the movement keeps letting them down time and time again.

The natural hair movement is about a lot of things. It's about optimal health for hair. It's about feeling good about your hair. But if it's not fundamentally about refuting white supremacist messages that categorize hair like mine as unmanageable and ugly then what's the point?

And if it's not honest and bold enough to grapple with the historical and present reality that kinky-haired Black people continue to be marginalized in schools, in professional contexts, and within their own families and interpersonal relationships then I don't want anything to do with it.

You can't turn everything mainstream without watering it down, without looking over or even actively harming the people you claim to support.

But that's why I've never been about the natural hair community life. I don't have time to be a second thought in a movement that claims I'm its first thought.


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9 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. The focus of this article wasn't about whether or not Black men find natural hair attractive. I don't think that's a conversation that can even be had since Black men aren't a monolith and clearly some love natural hair and some hate it.

      But what I believe is fair to assert is that some Black women have been discouraged from wearing their hair naturally by the men in their lives who have straight up said they'd prefer to see them in weaves/ perms/ etc.

      I don't think that's the main reason why many Black women feel uncomfortable with their hair by any means. That's just one problem out of many. And the overriding problem is of course that white supremacist standards marginalize Black natural hair.

      I don't think it's about feeling the need to impress whites. It's far beyond that and many Black women are trying to impress other Black people... since the Black community has in many ways firmly internalized the idea that natural hair is bad.

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    2. I went left field with that comment therefore I erased it.

      So you believe its fair to asset that some black women have be discouraged from wearing their hair naturally by the men in their lives. To me that seems to be a matter of control more than anything. Or it could be this fetish that most blacks have with people who are mixed with black and other ethnic backgrounds, race, etc. which is another topic I feel someone should cover.

      You also said and I quote "I don't think it's about feeling the need to impress whites. It's far beyond that and many Black women are trying to impress other Black people... since the Black community has in many ways firmly internalized the idea that natural hair is bad." So the question that has to be asked is why does the black community internalized the idea that natural hair is bad. When you say black community you are including both men and women which I would argue is not really the case. I don't think the men have as much to do with it as the women do, at least not in my community. But I do agree with you in regards to the natural hair movement to be nothing more than finding an alternative to make the hair look less natural using chemicals that don't damage the hair. But that's the damaging effects of white supremacy and European culture as a whole and your average black isn't aware that they are very much "white washed".

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  2. If your question is why has the Black community internalized the idea that natural hair is bad? That's because according to white supremacist beauty standards natural hair is bad. I am still learning about the history of this. But I know that in many cases natural hair was even illegal (back in the day) hence the head scarf.

    I do not know where you live but it doesn't really make sense that Black women can have this negative attitude about Black hair and it hasn't also been internalized by Black men.

    Black women and men are in the same families and in the same communities. It's just that hair (and beauty in general) is not a real focus for Black men (men are judged primarily by other standards... such as profession, wealth, power, etc.).

    But Black men most certainly participate in keeping maintenance of what is considered beautiful within the Black community. This is true for hair but also skin color. Colorism is a HUGE issue in the Black community. The documentary Dark Girls is a good introduction to it and how Black men (even dark ones) often don't appreciate dark skinned women.

    I feel in reading your comments that you are very defensive of Black men. I don't feel like there's any reason to be, I am not saying ALL Black men do this. I am just saying that this stuff happens and it can't be ignored or explained away by saying *I know Black men who aren't like this* or *I myself am not like this.*

    I personally only surround myself with Black men who #1 aren't sexist and #2 are progressive thinking and don't have these anti-natural hair notions or anti-dark skin ideas. And I have a lot of Black male friends who meet this criteria but that doesn't mean there isn't a prevailing culture outside of my friend group that has these issues.

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  3. I agree with this. Overall I'm grateful for all the information and visibility that the online NHC provides. But any affirmation about my hair texture tbh comes from God, myself and those around me, because it's not truly there on the internet. I'm uneasy with the way looser and longer hair is given more visibility than shorter and fluffier z pattern hair. Or how the new naturalista aesthetic favors 4a hair more than B and C. At the end of the day I feel like we are still trying to bring out the properties of our hair that white culture likes the most, not so much the realest.

    But this wave is still new, so I can't help but be optimistic that things will change over time for the better.

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    1. So far as I can see every race has their preferences when it comes to hair. So what if our group prefer 4a to 4B-C hair? Just love yourself and stop depending on other pples validation. Hair envy is universal for women. I love the look of 4a hair but just have to be content with my 4C hair

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    2. I think it's wise to examine why these preferences exist. And why do we uphold them? It's not about depending on other people's validation. It's about recognizing when a movement that claims to support all Black women actually doesn't.

      And you shouldn't just be "content" with your 4C hair. You should love it because it's what you've got! That's how I feel about mine!

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  4. You all may wish to note this. I'm Caribbean so I'm sharing http://www.guardian.co.tt/lifestyle/2014-07-27/natural-hair-it’s-not-trend-it’s-movement

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