Thursday, July 20, 2006

I Am NOT My Hair

"Good hair is the kind of hair that stays on your head," is often what I say in response to any kind of hair discussion, unless of course, you are bald by choice and proud of it. Michael Jordan is an excellent example of that.

Unfortunately "good" hair versus "bad" hair, the debate - often heated and always charged - continues. "Good" hair normally describing hair that is close to the texture of a white person's hair and "bad" hair referring to the extremely curly hair that is also referred to as kinky or nappy. I was reminded of the insecurities and inconsistencies of the issues that black women have with our hair during a conversation I overheard in a local Starbucks. Apparently Latte and Locks; Pastries and Press n' Curls were on the menu that day.

In the eye of the story was a women who hadn't been hired for a job because of her twisted hairstyle. Last time I checked braids and other natural styles were often associated with socially conscious and self-confident black people, the kind who would fit nicely in corporate settings that like to say diversity is a priority. But companies tend not to hire them, and black people with those hairstyles tend to gravitate toward work that's necessarily non-corporate. Yet surely we have all earned the right to wear our hair as we please.

Not so says one popular public figure. Mablean Ephriam, the black TV judge from Fox's popular "Divorce Court" - who says she lost her contract this year partly because of irreconcilable hair differences with the company - perhaps said it best in a slightly bitter parting statement that concluded with a quote from Maya Angelou: "And still I rise." Do you think she was talking about her hair?

Also consider this: A Louisiana sheriff said this month that anyone on the streets in dreadlocks "can expect to be getting a visit from a sheriff's deputy" because a murder suspect answering that description remained at large. In April, Susan L. Taylor, the editorial director of Essence magazine, canceled a campus speech when she discovered the college forbids its students to wear "unusual" hairstyles - including braids, which are Taylor's signature look. This was significant because the college was Hampton University, one of the nation's oldest historically black campuses. Then it was discovered that Black Enterprise magazine had a similar ban for student interns. Talk about adding insult to injury.

But not only is it an emotional issue, it's an economic one as well. African-Americans spend billions of dollars every year on their hair, whether on wigs and extensions, moisturizers and relaxers, curling irons and hot combs, sheens and gels, scalp and follicle conditioners, shampoos and lotions, or cocoa butter and other oils. In fact, although blacks comprise only 10% of the U.S. population, it is estimated that they consume over three-quarters of the country's hair care products. No wonder Koreans and Egyptians have moved into our neighborhoods at such an alarming rate. They know a lucrative market when they see one.

But while they've moved in - the majority of us have remained stuck, rooted (no pun intended) in old fashioned ideals and shaky self esteem issues relating to our texture of hair.

Think about it: when a song entitled, "I am not my hair" is considered controversial to sing in 2006 - we've still got a long way to go.


  1. Anonymous2:17 PM

    I've had girls threaten to cut my hair when i was in school. They hated that my hair was long and I didn't do much with it.

  2. Sad but true we still have a ways to go toward acceptance and embracing our features,hair,body,history,etc.I teach my little nieces and nephews to not buy into such stereotypes.
    The Good hair Bad hair thing is just one of many dividers in the african american community.Yet it's such a superficial thing.

  3. Anonymous7:03 AM

    I agree. We need to embrace our African heritage. be proud of our beautiful bodies, different textures of hair and the many different shades. We are a beautiful, strong race of people.

  4. When we can reduce people to certain "categories" based on hairstyle alone, it does indeed say that as a race, as a country, as a universe, we have miles to go before we sleep. I did a similar post a while back called "I am not my (Fill-in-the-blank)" cause we tend to stereotype people based on what we "think" about how they wear their hair, their physical size, etc. We have much work to do....

  5. In my 20's, I permed and cut regularly, very aware of how my hair was viewed in corporate America. In my 30's, I permed, cut, and colored but not as frequently as I probably should have, the harried working wife and mother of a young son. I still knew how my hair was viewed but I honestly began to resent it. I even went through a ponytail stage because I didn't have time for anything more. Now in my 40's, I could care less. While pregnant with my last son, now age 1, I grew out my perm and have remained natural, wearing my hair in simple twists I can do myself. It's cheaper and requires less time. And it's empowering because I feel as though I'm meeting my needs, not someone else's expectations.

    I get interesting comments on occasion, as I still work in corporate America but I was surprised to get so many compliments. I have to acknowledge that 20+ years into the game, my priorities are different as far as my career and where I want to go with it so it doesn't matter to me that the execs might not like it. (I don't know for sure but it wouldn't surprise me to find out that they don't all think it's appropriate.)

    I like my natural texture. I still color, because I really went gray early, but that's a choice I make. I could go either way. I only wish I knew other ways to wear my hair so I could have the ability to change it on a whim, as I could when it was permed.

    I love Indie Arie's song because I found it re-affirming for this stage of the game.

  6. I need a perm but I don't want to be judge by my hair.

  7. Good hair is just well-groomed hair to me, whether its natural, weaved, or quote on quote "white folks kinna hair" that is too funny. But I embrace my nappy hair with chemicals that make it easy to comb through.