What are the Politics of Black Hair?

by Evette Dionne

What are the Politics of Black Hair?Black hair is controversial. Our coifs can be political statements, assimilations into mainstream culture, and even odes to ancestors. Some black women purchase their hair while others wear it chemically-altered. But no matter how we style our tresses, our hair is a visible representation of our identity.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Africana Studies and Tulane University’s Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race and Politics in the South convened some of academia’s brightest scholars, including Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry, Dr. Tanisha Ford and Dr. Noliwe Rooks, to interrogate the political implications of black women’s hair. The day-long symposium will also investigate and deconstruct the social cues and messages black women receive about their manes.

Academic conversations about our bodies as space for contention are important in the “natural awakening” era. But it is also vital to engage these questions as black women and girls are assaulted in the media and on neighborhood blocks for not conforming to perpetuated notions of beauty. A symposium of this stature is in honor of the Nina Simones of the world that faced the criticism and still strutted with pride. These conversations are essential for our self-esteem and that of our little black girls who will contend with these issues in childhood and reconcile them in adulthood.

The politics of black hair are extensive, complex and consistently evolving. I hope this conference highlights the importance of having these dialogues at universities and dinner tables and sparks a national conversation outside of the academic tower.

You can live-stream the event here and tweet using the hashtag #BlkHairPenn.

  • http://www.clutchmagonline.com jenn dunn

    I wish we as black women could just embrace each other for who we are on the inside not for how we wear our hair.

  • http://www.urbanexpressive.com J. Nicole

    You’ll know we’ve come full circle when a Black womans hair is no longer a topic of discussion.

  • Anon

    What we are on the inside, as compared to what any one else of any other race is on the inside?

    Even on the inside, we’re all very, very, different.

    Conflicts abound.

  • Anon

    …@ this event being hosted at a traditionally white institution…

  • http://gravatar.com/keimia Kam

    Livestreaming starts at 1pm for anyone interested.

  • Angel

    Massive porn spam on #BlkHairPenn. Don’t know why, but beware!

  • OhPuhleezee

    Little black girls are constantly being bombarded with the message that the hair that grows out of their head is bad. They’re given relaxers at ridiculously young ages, they’re surrounded by women with relaxers and weaves, and “nappy” is still a negative word in a large part of the black community. Im sure someone will say “it’s just hair” or something to that affect, but to ignore the mindset of relaxing hair as an adult does a serious disservice to the children. I would like for adults to rethink their thoughts on Black hair, but Im most concerned about the thoughts of the children, and to reach them we have to talk to the adults in their world.

  • Perspective

    I had this argument the other day with a women. I sent her a video of Chescaleigh having an interview with Tracie Ellis Ross and they were talking about hair and Hollywood.

    Her and I went back and forth about black beauty standards. She argues that black women try to look a certain way because that’s what black men want. I argue that black women conforming to the standards of white media, having internalized self hate, and only portraying themselves in the “acceptable negro fashion” only contributes to initiating her what the “what black boys want” argument.

    I don’t see a small boy, who only sees 95% of the black women he comes across, in combination with how media portrays women with natural hair, preferring natural haired women. Example – Natural hair equals Whoopie, rather than Meagan Goode with natural hair. There are no examples of that or they simply aren’t shown. You have to go out of your way to find those images. A lot of natural women tend to be lesbian, or over the top Afrocentrics. Rarely, only in select cities do you find natural women who have “normal style” (Please get past the semantics of “normal”) rather than it being affiliated with some deep cultural meaning. Natural and girly do not go together in the minds of many men, because rarely do you see women who are natural and girly. BOHEMIAN – is not considered girly by most black men other than black male hipsters themselves, but most black men do NOT fall into that category so that’s going to present a problem.

    Anyway, I asked her why don’t all the black women go natural in Hollywood, she said, because they wouldn’t get work.

    I said, “No they just think that. I said if ALL black women went natural, like a boycott.”

    She said – “Well, that’s unrealistic and not going to happen.”

    I said, “Well, there is your problem.”

    She said, “Well we shouldn’t have to conform to what white media wants, (and here it comes); if you black men controlled your own media then MAYBE we could do that but you black men don’t control anything!”

    My response: “Point taken, however, THAT would require a patriarchal community that many black women don’t want ANYWAY, (which is a whole-nother argument). In order for black men to control a media machine like white men control theirs, that would automatically mean that black men are economically and financially, collectively, your superior. You all don’t want that. You want black men in control but not controlling – responsible but not leading – handling business, but taking a back seat to your opinions – and promote your image and your beauty when that beauty wouldn’t be attached to any sort of infrastructure that black men build, maintain, or control.” (This is obviously paraphrased)

    Her response: “But you all don’t promote natural hair, because you don’t like it.”

    My response: “Again, we are not in the POSITION to deny you anything. You can’t simultaneously slam black men for NOT having a media engine, but then charge them for what white men deny you, but black men CLEARLY can’t deny you. I can’t deny you a voyage on a ship that I don’t have, let alone don’t control. If you are going to STAY in white HOLLYWOOD and seek validation for your beauty and hair from them, well… then you are going to CONTINUE to have these problems. It is not the white man’s job to promote you, nor should it EVER be expected for him to promote you above his own woman when he is building and maintaing the community that HE CONTROLS. Submission is what white women exchanged for being put on the pedestal by white men as well as other financial and structural benefits, whether they want to acknowledge it or not! White women are NOT promoting themselves. It is not to the white man/Hollywoods benefit to promote you because you create us (Black men), no matter how BEAUTIFUL you may be, natural or not. He will continue to promote the image of his woman AND HER LIKENESS, meaning (light skin black women and those with “good hair”) That is a gesture to their own women. The only reason you are not promoted by your own men is because you do not have an intact patriarchal community where black men are trying to build and maintain their own communities that generate and pass on wealth that is meant to be black and stay black. If that were to happen then you would become instantly valuable over night – but like I said, many of you don’t support that structure because it has to be lead by black males.”

    Personally, I don’t see how women can lead a community when so many are sitting around worrying about WHO IS ACCEPTING THEIR APPEARANCE. Leaders don’t get ‘butt hurt’ over stuff like that because they know that TRUE power is in wealth and capital – DAMN how you look. If being told you are ugly destroys your self-esteem, then trust me, you are not built for the type of REJECTION you would face in trying to combat this jacked up system to gain and economic foothold. The arena of gaining economic and political power is not a place for the sensitive. White men are not complaining about who is putting them on a pedestal. They even put black men on a pedestal to keep us distracted and believing that we are beautiful black men. Black men are the new women, and don’t even know it. Look around, who promotes black men? IT AIN’T BLACK MEN.

    I already know what black men AREN’T DOING, but it seems that black women still don’t understand how the game is played and how things truly work. There is a structure to what you see out here. It is not automatic and intrinsic based on INTRA-RACIAL LOVE, or some enigmatic esoteric knowledge. At the end of the day, everything that you see that other groups of women have is based on their men having and controlling money and resources, and trying to keep it in their GROUP.

  • Tallulah Belle

    @Jenn

    That’s strange you would say that since you have troll hair.

  • http://gravatar.com/keimia Kam

    Conversations with individuals that exist solely in your head don’t count.

  • Common Sense

    OMG, we truly do not need a forum on our “manes”, as you call it! There are so many dire problems in our inner cities that require many, many forums, but our hair is not one of them. I am sure there are many of us who could give two craps about what others think of our hair and yet we walk with a stride with our heads up!!! Hair is not that important, not while our children are dying and the prisons keep filling up, or that some children are not being taught anything until they reach their first day at school, the horror!!!! Let us try to fix that first, because hair is not that important!!!!!!

  • CCN

    Natural mixed race hair is marked as un-natural?

    Where they do that at? The stereotypical mixed race texture has long been the preferred ‘natural’ texture in black people of whites and many blacks.

    The white student is doing all the talking…

  • CCN

    Her entire spiel is strongly suggesting that mixed-race women are excluded from the ‘black’ natural hair movement.

    Like really, let’s go back to the early 2000s, who was the white media mostly casting for black roles, mixed-race people with mixed race natural hair.

  • E.M.S.

    Hair is always a tricky subject. No matter what we choose to do with our hair, there’s immense criticism rather than respect and understanding.

    If you’re natural your hair is nappy. If you’re relaxed/press you’re “denying your blackness.” If you have weave or extensions you’re fake (figuratively as well as literally).

    Yes there should be a discussion, but what I think would be the most important factor of that discussion would be acceptance of all hair styles in the black community. And to stop making assumptions about why women choose to wear their hair whatever way they choose.

    Personally I don’t get why people make such a big deal out of other women’s choices when it comes to hair. You may think you know why they chose it but you have no idea, and you are no one to judge. That’s the part I wish the community would get.

  • CCN

    One of the black graduate students described one of the black hair care forums as ‘militant’ – isn’t that denigrating/stereotyping/negative?

  • CCN

    The third student is validating the ‘black identity’ of 3 hair care companies who distance themselves from black and/or African identity in marketing their natural hair care product:

    - Carol’s Daughter
    - Miss Jessies
    - Mixed Chicks

    “perpetuating that products are for blacks is limiting”

    She insists that the owners of Miss Jessie’s and Mixed Chicks are ‘Black’. Her stance is to diffuse the differences between black identity and mixed race identity and how one might be detrimental to the other.

  • CCN

    The 2nd student is projecting that women do not, should not, go to youtube or websites for styling tips. And she’s suggesting that women not rely on the internet for learning professional styling. What I’m hearing is that she’s advocating that people seek professional stylists to care for their hair.

  • omfg

    i believe that was the graduate student panel and i found them to be, um, lame and sorta not all that bright or interesting.

    and who’s the white lady?

  • http://gravatar.com/jadenoellesblog Jade Noelle

    Going to professional stylists for natural hair is too expensive! Why should I pay $225 for a damn twist-out (yes I know a place that charges that much) and some tea? I am not following the forum but that logic doesn’t work for me. I know we need to support Black stylists but collectively our pockets are not that deep, especially for styles that do not last that long.

  • Perspective

    @ Kam

    No actually this is a woman who I argue with all the time, and already knows how I think. She will often try to use the very points I make against me or black men, such as,

    “You all don’t control anything,” which is something I openly admit and believe has a great deal outside of feminism as to why black women behave in the manner than they do, such as the Atlanta Mall Cop Taser Mom situation.

    If black men controlled the economic landscape of their communities, and black women could collectively be dependent on black men, mainly financially, I highly doubt we would have black women acting like those women did in that clip.

    She knows how I feel about patriarchy, she knows how I feel about male responsibility and leadership. She admits that some women are just plain out of their minds, but she STILL fails to make certain connections on things that we have already gone over in her ATTEMPTS to slam black men and shut them up whenever she feels like blame is being shifted to black women.

    Her arguments are pretty classic and cliche to me, despite her being an intelligent woman. You can hear these platitudes from a number of black women.

    “Black men don’t value us.”

    “Black men don’t control anything.”

    “Black men don’t take care of their children.” Same old same old, but I don’t dismiss it I just go point for point.

    Example

    What is the value of a woman to a man who isn’t building or trying to pass anything on?

    She can say – Black men don’t control anything – in attempts to slam ME or black men in general, but what would that mean for her, being the woman attached to a group of men who DON’T build?

    All the other men of the world who DO VALUE THEIR WOMEN – are indeed building, as passing on what they have created, so slamming me only brings the truth to the surface about what the problem is.

    Again, the problem with the women are that they always fail to make that connection. Very few women will admit that, yes, that is why other races of men value their women, they do indeed have a structure that they are trying to maintain, and that they control, as men.

    Let’s even go with your idea that I MADE IT UP (eyes roll)

    Does that change the reality that having a patriarchal structure is why other races of men value their women in the ways in which we observe?

    An Example – Oh please believe – I keep chat logs and read women’s comments throughly

    “We just don’t have no damn HOPE y’all can’t upgrade us out of it. So individually some will take what they can get. The rest just accept y’all ain’t upgrading anyone. Hence, why they don’t keep themselves in shape or stop having babies young. Only people with expectations of being “rescued” and “upgraded” WAIT for their princes to ride on through. Making sure to look GREAT for when he comes. White supremacy, and black males LACK of action, along with the CHRONIC FAILURES, KILLED that dream. No one is WAITING for y’all. They’re living their less than optimal lives NOW because y’all don’t show up. And you certainly don’t come with a suit, some flowers, and a carriage ride”

    “Had black women been put with any other race of man, they would be alright (they’d be more restricted, but under a better, cohesive, community)… The fact that y’all even feel comfortable saying that shows how [Explicative] in the head y’all are. No race of man puts the onus on the women. It’s understood they [women] need to be controlled and if they aren’t, it’s a BAD LOOK ON YOU. but y’all KEEP trying.”

    “The reason black WOMEN are a problem to other groups of males and are hated IS because we have black BOYS. Boys who if taught right can reach their FULL potential. I also stated that is the REASON they need to DEGRADE black women and keep us in fear and feeling deserted/unloved/unattractive/inferior etc SO we don’t have high self esteem. To leave us alone would MAKE us a threat…once again…for the slo mo in you…because then we could rear y’all DIFFERENTLY”

    “The ONLY thing a productive male can do is MAYBE give black women a nice home to live in that is actually UNLIVABLE if she has any sort of consciousness about her, being that all you can do is bring her and the kids around WHITES. All productive black males are good for is being able to bring their BLACK children into the LIONS den where they’ll HATE THEMSELVES FASTER since they’ll have to hear [N-WORD] up CLOSE AND PERSONAL being that they’re the ONLY few blacks on the BLOCK. Productive black males, inadvertently, bring anxiety and self-hatred onto their black children. Because they migrate to an area they are not WANTED.”

    Yea so if you think I’m making it up – GO AHEAD with that BS – I got the chat logs on these types of conversations and I save them when I can.

  • Perspective

    @White – it is a self esteem issue and a self worth issue. Its not just hair. It does spill into other areas, which is why it’s important.

    When you have women going on Tyra because they want to be white, and risk death and bodily injury to be lighter – THAT is not just some small superficial trivial issue. It is major for women.

    I direct you to Makeupmavericks youtube channel.

    Look at old videos of her and look at new videos of her, she promotes bleaching. Makes me want to throw up, when you really think about it.

  • CCN

    Yes, they think it’s worth it because the topic is tied to multimillion dollar revenues.

  • http://www.urbanexpressive.com J. Nicole

    “Natural hair equals Whoopie, rather than Meagan Goode with natural hair. There are no examples of that or they simply aren’t shown. You have to go out of your way to find those images. A lot of natural women tend to be lesbian, or over the top Afrocentrics.”

    I’m not sure where you’re located, if this is your own experience or interpretation, but if that is your belief, I’d suggest you get out more.

    And what is wrong with being “over the top Afrocentric”? I’m chemical free, and have been afrocentric before and during my years wearing a perm. My appearance isn’t based on anyone’s standards; be they Black or white.

  • CCN

    But, it is interesting that they should have this discussion versus others that have less of a commercial, and more of a social/civil/political impact on the black community.

    Trust, that this discussion is more about commercialization and industry over anything else.

  • Perspective

    The Whoopie comment is how media portrays natural hair. Please give the list of natural haired black women in the media…

    No please – I’ll wait?!

    White men are not going to present anything that is going to OFFSET the white woman, which means when they present black women they will either be light (like Soledad O’brien and then pass her off as black) or the black women who is clearly past her age, still looks good, but CAN’T dethrone and 23 year old fresh face white girl. Sistas expect brothas to choose a 54!!!! year old Angela Basset over some young no name white girl. My question is where are the young 23 year old white girls. We already know media will not promote that. Angela is old enough to be this boys mother!

    But let some sistas tell it, he should be throwing himself at her because she’s JUST THAT BEAUTIFUL OF A BLACK WOMAN.

    And yes, Afrocentric chicks have a bad reputation. I said Afrocentric – NOT NEO SOUL!

    The Centric chicks typically have weird tendencies that aren’t what most brothas are into. Sadly most of the Afrocentric stuff is miss understood and used to hide funky habits.

    “I don’t shave my legs or Arms because I am an Original Earth Mother and my womb gave birth to all other races”

    Damn chick, what does that have to do with shaving your legs?

    “Shaving of the legs is a EUROPEAN CONCEPT, that I reject because I’m not self hating like you!”

    OMG!!!!!! You can’t be serious!?

    Yea, that’s pretty much why the Afrocentric herbal tea drinking chicks aren’t at the front of the “I want to get with you line!”

    That’s not ALWAYS – but its def no MINORITY – Afrocentrics always come with some EXTRA stuff.

    Its like dudes with SWAG – damn the brotha fine but why all the dudes with Swag gotta come with 3 baby mamas? – for the girls.

  • http://gravatar.com/keimia Kam

    Hair is totally important, it’s part and parcel of the self-hate that we are taught too from birth. I’ve taught in the innercity and seen the many ways our Black children just straight up do not like themselves.Oh they’ll act all confident but when you talk to them on deep issues of race you see the self hate come out. How are you going to address any of our problems when you ignore the fact that many of us have grown up with incredibly awful views of ourselves.

  • http://gravatar.com/keimia Kam

    I didn’t know that there was some “divisiveness” between youtubers/bloggers and professional stylists. My view is it seems that the younger generation is taking advantage of new mediums and the older generation not being able to keep up. Perhaps some of these professional stylists should look into creating Youtube channels for their businesses. Personally, I love the explosion of blogs, tumblrs and videos and I think it’s great that so many Black women and girls are discovering how to style their hair.

  • http://www.clutchmagonline.com jenn dunn

    STOP TELLING ALL MY SECRETS LOL GOD BLESS

  • Rose

    Don’t get me wrong, I think hair is important in our community. But sometimes I think we talk about it too much, as in we exacerbate the issue. I’d rather have talks on economic disparities that are turning our young men towards gangs and violence and drugs, i.e., inner-city Chicago. And I realize that hair means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but at the end of the day it’s just hair and we’ll never agree on it.

    The real conversation that needs to happen is the economic growth in black communities. How can we get businesses into the hands of our young people, and employ our own and have a system in place where we won’t have to smile and jive for some white man in an office.

  • Misty

    That’s the point in the article where I fell on the floor, at “academia’s best minds”. Of all the issues…

    White folk don’t care about your hair! They are busy conquering, holding on… And if they did care, why would it matter so much to you? All our people in history who made great strides without all this chatter, you are right @whiteprivelegeterminated.

    I speak as a natural for the bulk of my life on this earth, as an advocate for health (hair health like mental health like dang, foot health), and recognizing that it is blacks who won’t let this become a non-issue. We are carrying on this objectification of ourselves and we really don’t need another conversation, a symposium all day of “great” minds of al things. It’s literally a twisted embarrassing Twilight Zone kinda joke.

  • Daijana

    Thanks, yet again my problems in life are reduced to nothing.

  • Keali

    “A lot of natural women tend to be lesbian, or over the top Afrocentrics.”

    You lost me with this statement.

  • Whiteprivilegeterminated

    Nothing in the least bit complicated or political about black hair, Black hair is just hair, evolved to suit the climatic conditions in Africa. It’s the oldest strain of human and the most robust. been with on Earth for over 250,000 years, long before European hair and every other kind there is.

    With that history of resilience, African hair gawn be alright, it will survive the onslaughts of it’s greatest enemy – the black American woman – and will last long after the American strain of African have bred themselves out or . . . .

    been taken out.

    The End.

    _____________________

    All we need here is a diagnosis and I have one – racial DYSPHORIA, similar to tranny disorder. People who want to change sex, people who wish they were another race.

    So the real question is – what it is about western society that makes people want to be something other than what they were born?

    But of course THAT really would be political.

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    i remember when i had hair….

  • Daijana

    People are wondering how hair can be so significant in someones life and to that I ask have you never met a black woman? Hair this, hair that, ever sense I was a little girl a huge fuss was made over my hair. “You can’t go around lookin nappyheaded” my mother would say as she tore a heated comb through my hair or on a hot summer day I would be forbidden from swimming (entirely) because the water would recurl my hair and I’d have to endure more chemicals or heat. But the worst part was I felt my hair was something to be ashamed of, a part of me I had to constantly hide. It was only until this year I decided “No more, I want to swim!” and went completely natural (or just back to normal). Although I will admit my mother is still pretty shocked , I’m proud of my curls and I cant imagine how I lived with a straightener chained to my leg.

  • Perspective

    Sorry – meant to say WHERE ARE THE YOUNG 23 YEAR OLD BLACK GIRLS

  • Whiteprivilegeterminated

    LOL!

  • Daijana

    “what it is about western society that makes people want to be something other than what they were born? ” Racism and media, there.

    Why are black women uncomfortable with themselves(hair included)? Racism and media

    Do you see a connection?

  • Lisa

    Yea, I stopped reading after that statement…..smh

  • Ms. Vee

    Here’s how i see it: The white controlled media does have an influence on what is deemed acceptable beauty. HOWEVER most of these self esteem issues revolved around black women and hair start in the home. Most black girls that have worn their hair in its natural state have been ridiculed by their own female family members before even being conscious of media standards. Let’s not pretend as young black girls that we haven’t witnessed mothers, aunts etc gleefully playing in the hair of a non-black child (typically biracial) or a black child with “good hair” while giving the the black child with the 4c kinks a face of disgust while attempting to style it. Ask yourselves, why are black men more likely to proudly walk around with a big blow out afro or dreadlocks even though they have been exposed to the same white media? Could it be that they have accepted the number one thing that makes us different from everyone else? In a nutshell if we don’t teach our children to take pride in themselves then maybe we will have to admit that we are the problem and not the media.

    And ladies, quit saying “IT’S JUST HAIR”. Since, its a BILLION dollar industry it is not just hair. But I’m sure the Koreans would love for us to think that way so that we keep making them more rich.

  • Ms. Vee

    Black economic growth you say. Don’t you think it would help by not giving the Koreans millions of dollars a year on weave?

  • http://gravatar.com/keimia Kam

    Did ya’ll look at the live stream?

  • Come On

    You just have to ignore his rants. He thinks his opinion is fact that we women with our tiny brains should just accept. I just don’t even understand how a conversation about hair got to Angela Basset not being able to compete with a young white woman and women refusing to shave their legs. This dude is logging comments. I just had to chuckle. And he actually really believes the black community is a matriarchy.

  • Come On

    Right? I have no idea why black people like to have these conversations in mixed company. To me, it’s like being a science experiment. This is why I don’t like talks like this, “Good Hair” or Maury. Why do we need to air our dirty laundry? And is anything really ever solved by airing dirty laundry in mixed company? Did “Good Hair” actually help? What types of things are they talking about that haven’t been talked about on YouTube videos and black blogs?

  • Yb

    “Ask yourselves, why are black men more likely to proudly walk around with a big blow out afro or dreadlocks even though they have been exposed to the same white media?”

    Because the beauty standards for women are different then that of men’s. Duh. Question answered.

    Anymore?

  • Okay

    Persepective did you post videos on youtube as Sgt Willie Pete at one time?

  • Ms. Vee

    Well no shit sherlock. Im quite aware that there are beauty standards that differ from men and women. However, If you can explain how and why kinky hair is more of a masculine standard then your point might just matter.

  • Okay

    So once we finish solving all those problems will we be able to focus on hair then? Or will something else always take priority because some people just don’t want to talk about black people’s complicated nature with their hair?

  • RJ

    I agree with most of your statement but your contention that biracial children are not black is offensive. Ask Halle Berry what race she is and by the way, Halle Berry relaxes her hair.

  • Yb

    I wouldn’t have to be Sherlock if you could answer your own 3rd grade level questions.

    And kinky hair is not a masculine standard. The context which you used Masculine standards is wrong. Masculine standard means societal expectations that all men are expected to meet and adhere to. No one believes that white and asian men need to have kinky hair in order to be seen as men.

    Black men just have more options in the way they wear their hair because the pressure to conform to Eurocentric standard of appearance is not as pressuring for them as it is for black women and other women of color.

    And you could agrue that more black men may where their hair natural then their female counterparts (which is probably true) but that doesn’t negate the fact that the majority of black men scalp their hair so low that a curl doesn’t even form. If we state that black men wear their hair natural more then us let’s not ignore the reason why they feel more comfortable doing so.

  • Rue.

    Can we please stop with the “politics of Black hair” debate? If black people teach self esteem, it would be so much easier to ignore it and move on, and the BS will disappear.

  • Ms. Vee

    I’m not trying to offend. I have nothing against biracial people but i don’t follow the one drop rule because its stupid. Its not logical to call them black when they are half of another race. Not every biracial person has “good hair” but the overall populous do have a looser curl pattern.

  • Penny

    Rose, like you, I feel both ways about it. But more so, I think about what Ms. Vee says…we do throw a lot of money to the Koreans for hair. Hair should be just hair, but the amount of money that we spend on it is a reflection of the fact that it’s not just hair for us. I have been natural for three years, but it took me a long time and a lot of courage to get here. My mother, who is clinically depressed and hates leaving the house will get in her car every single Friday to drive to her hair appointment. Rain, sleet, snow or shine, this woman drives to get her relaxed hair “fixed.” When she was in the hospital, she was more concerned about the condition and appearance of her hair than her health. I know of black women who will call in sick because of “bad hair.” Many black women will spend money they don’t have to get their hair done.

    Somebody needs to talk about it.

  • Green Giant

    @Come On

    The black community is ran by 67% black, single women. Yes, it is a matriarchy. No other group has a high amount of single mothers as we do.

  • Exactly!

    A 70% illegitimacy rate does not mean that 70% of black women have illegitimate children or head households with illegitimate children.

    Either way I hardly find a bunch of women holding their households together as best they can to be a matriarchy. Having to work, support a household, and raise children alone because you don’t have a man to help out doesn’t seem to be female-centric version of patriarchy. The black community is matrifocal.

    Other than spending power (which can be found in most Western women of any race), what power do black women have? Look at any black church. They’re full of women, but the leaders are always men. Look at any city with a large black population. There are plenty of black men in these leadership roles. When I look at black culture, I see mostly black men at the center of jazz, blues, rock & roll, R&B, rap, and film. Outside of inner city neighborhoods, there are lots of men that own property.

    I think people just like to throw that term around to make black women look emasculating, but as Perspective himself likes to say, what are black women building? What power do black women really have? He says these things and contradicts himself. Black women don’t build anything because many times they are not leaders in their communities. They are simply heading their households. There is a big difference. If you go to a church, or a city council meeting, or any other gathering, there will be a black MAN not woman there because they still hold the power and leadership positions.

    This is just a common thing that many men on the internet like to do to lay the blame for the failure of black communities on black women. Black communities are matrifocal not matriarchal, and they are that way because of poor, dysfunctional patriarchy. There is no matriarchy in my neighborhood because men don’t go around knocking up women and leaving. Women will of course be the head of household when a dysfunctional patriarchy sets no social contract that shames illegitimacy and irresponsible behavior

    You all look at a functional black community or white neighborhoods and say obviously patriarchy is best because look at these neighborhoods compared to supposed matriarchal inner city neighborhoods when in actuality inner city neighborhoods are exactly the way they are because the MEN in these neighborhoods are not good leaders and refuse to police their neighborhoods and raise their children. And then you call this matriarchy. It is not. It’s matrifocal, and the reason it doesn’t work is not because matriarchy doesn’t work. We don’t really have any evidence of that I don’t think. It’s because just about no one can do it all alone. There are few men that have had to go to work, come home and cook and clean and raise the kids. This would be the male equivalent of what these mothers are doing. Does this sound like patriarchy? No. Because what they’re doing is not matriarchy. It doesn’t work because many times these women are poor. They have dead end jobs, and it’s very hard to all on your own support a household and raise a child. I don’t see this as evidence of a matriarchy or the failures of a matriarchy. I see this as evidence that it is hard to do something that was meant for two people all alone.

    So in summary, no this is NOT a matriarchy. Women heading households is not matriarchy any more than men heading households is patriarchy. There is more to patriarchy than simply heading a household and “letting a man be a man.” Black men still have the majority of the power. If they collectively decided to wrap it up before having sex with women they are not married to, the “matriarchy” would vanish in a couple generations wouldn’t it?

  • Ms. Vee

    @YB

    “And kinky hair is not a masculine standard.”

    No its not. Therefore it was dumb on your part to insinuate that black men are more likely to wear their hair natural solely because of the beauty standard differences between black men and black women.

    “Black men just have more options in the way they wear their hair because the pressure to conform to Eurocentric standard of appearance is not as pressuring for them as it is for black women and other women of color.”

    I was hoping you were smart enough to really get to the point of my original question. But that was an error on my part and would be giving you too much credit. Let me break it down for you in simple terms. Roughly between the 1920 to roughly the late 1970s black men were chemically processing their hair by getting it conked. This was their way of adhering to the Eurocentric standard. What changed? Black men simply decided to no longer conform. There you have it… non-conformity changed the standard. They no longer feel pressure to conform to Eurocentric aesthetic standards because they stopped caring to do so. Until black women do the same nothing will change.

    “And you could agrue that more black men may where their hair natural then their female counterparts (which is probably true) but that doesn’t negate the fact that the majority of black men scalp their hair so low that a curl doesn’t even form.”

    Poor dullard. I specifically mentioned black men wearing an afro or dreadlocks. Reading and critical thinking are important. Just a tip ;)

  • Tracy

    Thank you, this is sooo tired:(

  • Perspective

    @ White – if you think that black women issue with their hair – and their lack of self esteem due to the degradation of black hair, black features, and black culture that affects black women – DOESN’T SPILL into the next generation of with black mothers who feel that way, YOU ARE FOOLING YOURSELF.

    70% or more of black children are KOW. Majority are raised by women, and it is COMMON KNOWLEDGE that black women feel undervalued, unappreciated, and undesired. I don’t CARE about how much they want to fake and pretend like they don’t because they don’t want to seem desperate or insecure.

    All you have to do is look at what they complain about – IT’S OBVIOUS.

    How they feel IS important, regardless of how insignificant you may think it is. BOTTOM LINE – they are the ones raising the children IN OR OUT OF MARRIAGE – so if they are in mental anguish, then any black children that come from then will be RAISED with that mental anguish also.

    Most of the issues that black women have with their hair come from their mothers.

    “Ohhhhh my baby got good hair – or COMB that babies nappy hair…”

    That is passed on from mother to child and it starts with the degradation of black women in the media, and just the overall lack of appreciation of black women’s beauty in general.

    I can see there are a lot of idiot comments – on this thread – that criticize what I’m saying but don’t actually address any of the points made, not even remotely. This is to be expected.

  • Perspective

    If you want to pretend like the NATURAL crowd of black women hasn’t been associated with the dike community, you can go right ahead and pretend.

    The number one reason many black women claimed that they were permed or wore weaves was because of what black men wanted.

    Straight hair is associated with the feminine and natural hair is associated with men. It’s been that way up until only recently where people have been trying to fight the status quo, but I have come across many black women who I have tried to convince to go natural and the number one thing I’ve always heard is NATURAL HAIR IS NOT GLAMOUROUS – hinting at the fact that they don’t associate natural hair with THE FEMININE representation of HOLLYWOOD.

    Disagree all you want. This isn’t MY TRUTH – this is a GENERAL truth that people like you want to act like you are OBLIVIOUS TOO.

    People have been saying stuff like that for YEARS. If they hadn’t why would a threat like this even be a topic of conversation?

  • ArabellaMichaela

    @Perspective. I don’t know where to begin. Your (familiar) views are misguided, distorted, and unsupported by fact and, indeed, by the very “evolutionary imperative” which, by human instinct, guides ALL women. To the extent black women deviate from this, it’s because they have to. Trust me, most black women would love to be taken care of by black men. We would love for them to take the lead and care for their families, as most white men do. We would love for them to prefer our beauty, hair, whatever, instead of that which mimics Whiteness. Essentially, we would love to have the existence white women have, which is Infinitely easier than ours. I know my friends would, and they are fairly typical black professional women, who can take care of themselves but would willingly submit to the man who could assume that task. It’s not our fault that a great many black men (not all) have real deep rooted issues.
    I can’t imagine what black women you know, personally or empirically, that have informed your views. But perhaps you, Perspective, need to broaden your repertoire of black women friends to gain a more accurate “perspective.”

  • http://gravatar.com/pinklipstick227 pinklipstick227

    I know right. There are no round tables about increasing black employment, access to healthcare, access to a proper education and the prison industrial complex.

    I find it very odd that the majority of visitors of this site flock to articles about beauty but stay mum about articles concerning politics…

  • Dave

    “Because the pressure to conform to Eurocentric standard of appearance is not as pressuring for them as it is for black women and other women of color.”

    Isn’t it funny? Some of the same women who constantly criticize black men for dating white women (and thus catering to ‘white standards’ of beauty) are the same women who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing their hair naturally. That’s one hell of a confusing message you’re sending, ladies.

  • camille

    Black racial identity has nothing to do with the “one drop” rule. If it did, there would be no non-immigrant Black Americans. It’s a complex social and personal construct that is dependent upon awareness and self-acceptance

  • Come On

    I agree with Yb. Let’s not pretend that men are judged and valued because of their beauty in the same way that women are. As she said, many black men keep their hair cut very low not wearing afros and locs. This is the equivalent of a press and curl to me. Heck. There are lots of videos on YouTube trying to show men how to get waves. Even still among the men who wear afros and locs, is there a standard of masculine beauty that says that good looking men have silky straight hair? I don’t think so. But just about every culture has a feminine standard of beauty that is centered around what men find beautiful. The cosmetic industry is a billion dollar industry that is centered around women morphing themselves into what men find beautiful. You can pick up any magazine and find women asking what do men like. Look at a white women’s magazine like Glamour. It’s pages upon pages of women trying to figure out how to dress, how to do their makeup, how to style their hair, what sex tricks to try to impress a man to make him like them. Do you think non-black women like dealing with all the extra maintenance of long hair? No, but they keep it because they know men find it more attractive. If you threw these women all on an island with no men, I bet the majority of them would cut it short.

    It’s weird that people want to deny that men play the biggest part in what is considered beautiful when it comes to women only in regards to black women. I don’t know why people act as if this wanting straight hair is just something that black women brought out of the blue because we want to be white. It’s simple. Men decide they think certain things are feminine and beautiful, and women try to look that way. If women see men drooling over Beyonce, they want to look like Beyonce and do what Beyonce does. This butt implant thing and women trying to gain weights to get big butts is driven by what men think is attractive. It is not women that first decided big butts were attractive.

    I wear my hair natural. It is bra strap length, but when I wear it naturally it appears short. When I straighten it, people go out of their minds. In a world where women are valued because of their looks, it’s not shocking to me that many women choose the look that most people consider more beautiful.

    Kinky hair is not a masculine standard. It is just that other than being tall and not ugly, there are no standards for masculine beauty. Men are usually valued by their financial success.

    With men or women, you see certain groups of people put on a pedestal. The other groups of people will strive to be more like them. It is the reason why so many boys emulate these rappers. The black women in my life never put my kinky hair down, but I saw women like Tyra Banks and Sanaa Lathan with straight hair. I saw the attention they got. I notice the attention I get when I straighten my hair.

    And Dave above is being purposefully obtuse. How is this a confusing message? This is the whole point isn’t it? Lol.

    “The same women who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing their hair naturally.”

    Obviously they wouldn’t be caught wearing their hair naturally because straightening your hair and looking more like a white woman pays off. Look at our female celebrities. The majority of them are light skinned with long straight hair. Is this a coincidence? Is it black women that plucked these women out of obscurity and promoted them?

    But hey! This is just all in our minds right? This isn’t actually happening.

    In short, men are not valued for their looks as much as women. Men accept their natural hair and wear locs because it will not decrease their value in women’s eyes. Women straighten their hair because straight hair is considered more beautiful and raises a woman’s value to many men.

  • Apple Pie

    Makeupmaverick looks SO much better now than she did before. She looks so much more polished and feminine. She used to be fat and she had that nasty monroe piercing with purple hair and nasty eyelashes. I actually think more black women need to look at her videos to help get their looks and weight together. But I don’t think she was trying to bleach herself on purpose. She was just looking for avenues to get rid of her acne marks and hyper pigmentation.

  • http://gravatar.com/jadenoellesblog Jade Noelle

    I disagree with the idea that we need to stop having conversations such as these. Every Black woman’s experience with her hair is different, and everyone is in a different place. Some people are “past the convo of hair,” whereas some 13-year-old girl in a racially homogenous school might be just starting to think about these issues. Shutting people down because they might be in a different place may invalidate their experience, esp. if someone is just starting to think about it or is struggling with it. Conversations like these help some articulate what some feel and don’t feel, helps people decide whether to go natural, permed, or weaved, whether it is part of their identity or not, and ultimately to make it a personal decision. Personal decision does not require public discussion on this topic, but occasionally online discussion can inform personal decision.

  • Darcy

    I don’t think it’s just a black woman thing either. I have seen men obsess over getting “waves” or using S-curl to loosen their curl pattern. I have worked in schools and seen young boys/teens argue with each other over whose hair is better and has waves. I have seen boys repeatedly brush their hair all for the purpose of “maintaining their waves”. Of course the boys worry about hair to a lesser extent than girls, but the message that a certain “type” is better hits both black boys and girls.

    Black men may not necessarily relaxing their hair, but we have all heard and seen some men who have kinky/afro-textured hair that have stated their preference for women with relaxed or straight hair (a.k.a hair that chemically or naturally does not look like the hair the men themselves have). Of course I see more black men starting to prefer or accept natural hair, but it isn’t just black women who are hung up on hair texture.

  • Deb

    I watched a bit of the discussion on youtube and it was very interesting! 5 years ago noone even talked or dared to talk about these sort of issues and suddenly now it’s old and tired like it’s still not an issue. You might be tired of talking about but some people are just STARTING to wake up to deep seated issues with hair. If you’re tired of the discussion, stay out of it.

  • Deb

    “important factor of that discussion would be acceptance of all hair styles in the black community. And to stop making assumptions about why women choose to wear their hair whatever way they choose.”

    From what I watched, that was an overall point the panelists seemed to reiterate. Namely, respecting other people’s journeys and realizing your journey is your own alone.

  • Misty

    “…when the much bigger problem seems to be black women’s inability to do what most people are able do a little bit better, which is exercise the minimum self discipline required to filter out those messages from corporate consumer culture that THEY (black women) say cause them discomfort and insecurity.”

    I don’t know who you are Whiteprivelegedetermined but you just broke it down!!! Thank you for putting stating this so eloquently. Yes!

  • SayWhat

    Interesting comments. Here are my thoughts:
    1. To those who think it is silly to worry about hair given the economic fraility of the black community: In order to achieve greatness, you must feel great and see yourself as that. People with dark skin, kinky hair, wide noses and full lips have had it drilled into their heads that they are somehow defective. As a result, we then try to fix what we believe is broken. If you’re busy spending money trying to fix you, then where is the extra money for investments going to come from? More importantly, if you’re busy trying to fix you, then I doubt that you are thinking about investing in anything other than fixing you, so hair conversations are not petty.

    2. Ugh, it’s just hair: Whether or not you want to admit is, a woman’s hair is seen as her crown and glory. It’s even in the bible. The problem is that the only crown valued is the straight, shiny, (preferably) blonde crown. If you are a kinky hair little boy then you are rushed to the barber shop when those kinks pop up, if you are a little girl, then you are told that your hair is bad, needs straightning, to be relaxed and is unfit for public viewing. what is worse is that while you are told all of this, you watch as those with ‘good hair’ have their hair loving stroked/petted(sp). So you go into the bathroom and tie a towel/sweater/ribbon in your hair and pretend that you have long good hair. While we are no longer little girls, the problem is that black women (as a whole) have never stopped playing pretend, now we do it with weaves/wigs/etc which cost hard cash…..which ties back to #1. So again, hair has serious economic ramifications in the black community.

    3. When I say natural, you say, curly nicki or tracey ellis ross: I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I decided to go natural before I found the natural community. I learned to accept my kinks first, and now I’m on steady journey of loving them.This is because I was very dissappointed, but NOT surprised to see that even in the natural community, you know, the community that is supposed to be about loving yourself, the women who are widely celebrated are those with good….. ahem, I mean ‘curly’ hair. It took a while, but I think for the most part, we as a community have seen that a lot of women have traded their creamy crack (perm) obsession, for the ‘curl definition’ obsession. We jumped from the ‘I want straight hair’ band wagon to the’ I want good hair bandwagon’, because the root of the problem was/is/will always be that we still haven’t reprogrammed ourselves to learn to love ourselves as….. we are.Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against a braid-out, twist-out. But it just seems that we went from wanting the long, shiny straight hair of white women, those the loosely curled, good hair of bi-racial women.
    Bottom line, downplaying hair in black community is like trying to ignore the elephant in the room…..Okay, that was longer than I expected. :-D

  • The Moon in the Sky

    It’s not just hair. I spent the majority of my youth being criticized by Black children because of my hair. Even as an adult I still deal with some Black people being overly critical.

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks

    True! I think those who are already natural and were already in deep with this discussion and politics concerning black hair and resolved their issues with their hair (regardless of the state they leave it in) are over the discussion. But as already mention that is only a handful of women compare to the bunk of black women/girls out there who is still struggling with their hair and the mixed messages our hair receives and how it is viewed and how others view it. So this discussion still needs to be had and voice. But I still think the best way to embrace our hair is many of us lead by example AS WELL with discussion.

  • http://www.congocapanilo.com congocapanilo

    No, it’s not just hair:

  • Misty

    You know I just have to bring another angle to this, since you brought up some of us being “tired of the discussion”. And call it a pet-peeve, but I can’t go to the darn market without someone running up to me, rarely a hello or a care about who I am, to question me about what I use in my hair. Do you understand that some blacks have become so obsessed with hair that they lead with it? Must it be all about that all the time? If I had a perm that same person wouldn’t give a good g-d about me!

    Sure many people are new. Sure lots of us are old. As sweet as I am when questioned I won’t go so far as to say that I never get tired. Sometimes I just want a bag of grapes from the store, roll in, roll out. But these loud, personal entries into my world just because of my hair. I mean from how often do you wash it to what do you put in it to how long have you been natural to what made you decide…? There is a time and a place for everything and if I don’t like being accosted by women that I don’t know with such personal questions in public, and called out if it happens to be a day that I don’t feel like talking, if I don’t have all of the answers, or if I simply want to maintain some privacy. This happens in restaurants, offices, everywhere. What about respect and a sense of decorum?

    And 5 years ago these types of conversations were going on, maybe just in smaller circles, with less big money business wrapped up in them, and with fewer media outlets–Twitter/FB/every blog, YT channel…

  • JJ

    I think most kinky naturals who want their hair to grow should do braidouts, twistouts, twists etc. It promotes hair growth. Leaving our hair in its natural state just causes it to tangle on itself causing breakage and leaving us a big headache when it’s time to detangle. But I do understand what you are saying. I hate when naturals on youtube get upset when their twistouts aren’t curly enough.

  • The Moon in the Sky

    It promotes hair growth or helps to retain length? I thought I read somewhere that our hair length is determined by genetics?

  • Pseudonym

    That’s just complaining to be complaining. First, black women say they want to be heard and not just among themselves, but the wider (whiter) culture as well. Now, your given a forum to be heard at a predominantly white institution and you’re complaining that you were given a forum at a predominantly white institution. Seriously, give it a rest.

  • Cas

    Oh wow! All my thoughts in print. I’ve been natural all my adult life (I’m in my 40′s) I never “enjoyed” my hair until just recently when I stopped trying to make it hang down.

  • AJ

    lol.. You sound lonely

  • Cassia

    @perspective
    I don’t see a small boy, who only sees 95% of the black women he comes across, in combination with how media portrays women with natural hair, preferring natural haired women. Example – Natural hair equals Whoopie, rather than Meagan Goode with natural hair. There are no examples of that or they simply aren’t shown. You have to go out of your way to find those images. A lot of natural women tend to be lesbian, or over the top Afrocentrics. Rarely, only in select cities do you find natural women who have “normal style” (Please get past the semantics of “normal”) rather than it being affiliated with some deep cultural meaning. Natural and girly do not go together in the minds of many men, because rarely do you see women who are natural and girly. BOHEMIAN – is not considered girly by most black men other than black male hipsters themselves, but most black men do NOT fall into that category so that’s going to present a problem.

    This whole part i really relate to thanks

  • mm

    Girl preach!

  • mm

    I love it. My thoughts exactly!

  • Echi

    “Conversations with individuals that exist solely in your head don’t count.”

    Kam just killed me…dying with laughter. Just dying.

  • Stephanie

    My hair will NEVER be my identity. Just do what you want–but stop projecting these notions on others.

  • ImJustSaying

    “When I say natural, you say, curly nicki or tracey ellis ross: I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I decided to go natural before I found the natural community.”

    Never a truer word was spoken. When I had a TWA everybody “suggested” I put a “softener in it” to make it “more shiny and curly”. My hair won’t miraculously change texture because you want it to look like your definition of “natural”. This is how my hair naturally grows out of my head.

  • Okay

    So do you think the black is beautiful movement was a stupid waste of time also? You don’t think the great black civil rights leaders EVER discussed it? Really? You think Angela Davis never discussed the politics of hair?

  • http://www.lillian-mae.com Lillian Mae

    They don’t hear you though!

    I have nothing against a weave or women who wear them. I do take issues with our dollar sending someone else’s children to medical school, especially when these folks give nothing to our communities. In fact, they see us as beneath them.

  • http://www.lillian-mae.com Lillian Mae

    I agree with you. I get asked all the time about my hair and what these ladies don’t understand is that I did a lot of research and spent time to understand my hair and it’s likes and dislikes. They believe, even though their hair is natural, that certain products will give them the look of a certain texture.
    They have to first accept their own texture, no matter how tightly coiled.

  • http://www.lillian-mae.com Lillian Mae

    I choose to wear protective styles most times because I find that wearing my hair in it’s ‘natural state’ (for me this is a wash and go) causes all kinds of single strand knots…sometimes I do twist/braidouts, but it’s to stretch the hair, not for growth. I thought growth was based on healthy hair care and genetics.

  • MISS_EMCEE

    LMAOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO At least you’re a funny troll. I bet your hair looks like a bunch of spiders having a meeting though (yall know smokey from friday).

  • http://eldragonata.wordpress.com eldragonata

    Agree entirely with this. I long for the day where I can converse comfortably with many other Black women without the subject of hair being a main topic (‘when will you do your hair?’ [i.e. 'when will you get it straightened?']), and I long for the day where supposed natural hair is not treated as a separate, mysterious, complex entity on online blogs/forums and exploitatively as such in the cosmetics industry.

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