I get it; it’s just hair. Only…it’s not.
As I read though the comments on Tamron Hall’s Facebook page commending the NBC anchor for publicly coming out as natural (apparently, only her close friends and family knew it before), I didn’t feel happy that yet another Black woman in the mainstream was embracing the texture God gave her (although, I recognize this is indeed awesome), I got a little sad.
“It still saddens me that Black women have to ‘come out’ as natural,” I wrote on a friend’s Facebook post sharing Tamron’s too-cute picture. “I mean, this is the hair we’re born with and yet we are taught to hate it from the jump.”
The picture got me thinking. When will it stop being noteworthy that Black women have embraced the hair that grows out of our heads? When will it stop being celebrated because it’s just the norm and not seen as some political statement or a trend or something Neo-Soul (is this still a thing?) fans do to show that they are down with the people.
When will Black women’s natural hair just be considered commonplace and normal and acceptable?
I posed this question to The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira when I interviewed her for Essence last summer. Gurira shaved her head a decade ago and never looked back, but like me, she was a bit disheartened that many sisters, particularly in Hollywood, are still clinging to the notion that Black, natural hair is difficult and unprofessional.
“I’ve heard actresses say, ‘I have to get a weave because they don’t know how to handle my hair.’ And I’m like no, no, no, no, no. You teach them.,” Gurira told me last July. “That’s how we normalize it. We normalize it. Because when we come in with our hair in its natural state they have to adjust, and that forces it to be a normal part of society instead of something we have to go and change to make their lives easier.”
Gurira echoed what I’ve been feeling for a very long time: Black women’s natural hair is still an issue because we continue to make it so.
We continue to see our own hair through the eyes of our oppressors (peace to Steve Biko) who have tried to squeeze every ounce of beauty and magnificence and normalness out of us. We are the ones who continue to perpetrate such myths that Black hair isn’t professional (uh, Hampton U.) or neat or acceptable to the mainstream. Us.
“What was really sad, though, was that we still do make those types of excuses,” Gurira lamented. “We actually justify what we’re doing through the eyes of an old oppression. We’re the only ones holding it up anymore. We’re the only ones holding up our own oppression to say that we cannot wear our hair natural. It’s only from our interpretation of self. It’s nothing that anyone else is imposing on us anymore. Not one person is imposing it us on us; we’re imposing it on ourselves.”
Don’t get me wrong. I commend every Black woman who comes to the decision to return to her roots. I know the struggle is real, particularly when you’ve been told—both directly and indirectly—that straight hair is beautiful and desirable, while our hair is unruly, gruff, and just not up to par. I recognize that choosing to “go natural” (for the record I hate this phrase) can be both political and personal, or none of the above. And I celebrate sisters who are taking the journey and embracing that part of themselves.
I just wish I didn’t have to.