Yeah Gabby Douglass & Black Hair Politics.
(ThyBlackMan.com) If you rock an afro you’re resistant; a rebel. If you sport a weave you’re a devastating diva. If you like to loc it up you’re unclean, unkempt, and probably like to get high. If you rock a press and curl you’re repressed and confused, don’t know whether to conform to the crowd or love your tresses the way they grow out of your scalp. If you still bear through the burns of a relaxer you hate yourself. If you happen to rock any of the combination perhaps a natural covered by a weave ponytail slicked together with black gel and non-camoflauging hair clips then you’re ratchet; your Olympic gold medal at the age of 16 be damned.
Black women have more hair problems than a little bit. One author refers to her beautiful mass as a mutant. Another refuses to talk about hair ever again. A good many of us without a self-created soap box relate our hair stories on twitter. Many more of us unload our stories on friends who understand and have stories of their own.
When I first saw Gabby Douglas I saw her hair and thought she had it held back and secure so as not to be deducted by judges for errant fly aways that won’t stay down no matter what kind of hair spray her mostly caucasian team mates swear by. I didn’t notice rough edges or beady beads. I noticed Gabby Douglas fly through the air like no other gymnast since Dominique Dawes. Yet the criticism across the blogosphere and the twitter verse about this phenomenal 16-year-old’s hair above all of her other amazing accomplishments made me reflect on just where this hair hatred is coming from.
The natural movement that’s all the rage now wasn’t so popular five years ago. Or even 10 years. 10 years ago at the age of 16 I just up and decided I wasn’t going to get my hair done anymore. Dancing ballet daily in Chicago’s hot summer heat was not conducive to a fresh relaxer and a doobie wrap in class. My decision went unnoticed until my edges curled with more kinky vigor and my kitchen would not be placated by a brush and white gel. Everyone from my mother to my four year old god-sister inquired when I was going to do something with my hair. I didn’t have a problem with my increasingly nappy bun so I didn’t see why they did. The criticism continued for months until I finally got braids. Every two weeks for a year and a half I had a standing appointment with my godmother’s cousin to braid my natural locks into something tameable and acceptable.
The year and a half passed and at family urging I relented to a relaxer. Two years later again fed up with a relaxer and trying to find a good and steady stylist while away at school on a college freshman’s budget I decided at the beginning of my sophomore year that I was cutting my hair all off. I did and was natural until I entered the working world. Once again at family urging acquiesced to the nose hair burning smell of the creamy crack.
In these two bouts of natural I never tried to be anything more than who I was. Highly active and lacking enthusiasm for sitting in a hot salon for a hairstyle humidity would erupt in a matter of minutes. I wasn’t trying to make a statement of political affiliation or spiritual awakening. I enjoy poetry readings and incense and candles but an Erykah Badu protege I was not. I was just being me and my hair was just doing what it did. It was clean, healthy and it just so happened to be kinky. The natural movement wasn’t my goal. Ease was. Yet here we are years later and there are literal hair wars being waged in blog comments, message boards and through YouTube tutorials. Add to the fact celebrities are endorsing the natural trend by showing their un-weaved un-wigged heads to the world and Black women have entered into a cultural cluster-fuck where what our hair looks like defines who and what we are before and above anything else.
Right now Oprah’s natural do is making headlines after 16 years of weaved, wigged or pressed covers. What I don’t get is why this is such a big deal when most of us have seen Oprah rock the summer corn rows in addition to showing the world her completely au natural self three years ago. But her hair journey has been well received similar to Oscar nominee Viola Davis. Acceptance and approbation. The complete opposite of the racist and asinine comments hurled at a funky fresh fro’ed out Lil’ Mama.
Clearly our Black female celebs and their hair are held to a higher standard than we even hold ourselves. Example, when I received my August issue of Essence last month I thumbed through it and eventually read the cover article on Nia Long. But my my attempt at a mindless escape into futility was rudely interrupted by a pull quote from the actress.
“I’m in my forties, postbaby and I’m thinner than I’ve been in years. I have more energy than I could have imagined. The last step will be letting my hair go natural. That’s when you’ll know I’m free.”
I read that statement and all I could think was what does it mean to be natural. Furthermore, is it only by being natural that freedom is obtained?
Nia Long may not have meant to insert herself into a natural hair battle but this comment and her 2009 appearance in Chris Rock’s Good Hair just raises my curiosity about Ms. Long’s own natural hair journey and why she feels like some other women of color that natural hair is freedom.
I haven’t had a relaxer since the week before I got married this May. I’m still deciding if I want to go natural again or do something else. As I continue to decide I am now rocking thin box braids so I don’t look like who did it and why with an increasingly dry natural looking pin up. I must say seven hours sitting between the propped up knees of four heavy handed African women is not freedom. Neither is picking through a mass of tangled kinky curls after washing and deep conditioning and attempting a twist out. Freedom is not chemical burns or cocoa butter lathered skin burns after not holding your ear far down enough for the hot comb or chi to pass through uninterrupted by flesh. To me freedom is the ability to wear whatever hair style you choose without receiving grief from anyone; Black, Brown, White Male or Female.
Every hair style has its perks. Every hair style has its problems. Every hair style will evoke memories for some of slavery, plantations, a conjured image of a mad Madame C.J. Walker, pickaninnies and mammies in do rags, cover girls, and video models, actresses and singers, Stepford Wives, the First Lady and the former Secretary of State. Whether you’re as natural as Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, as versatile in natural style as Solange or as current and fluent in the latest and greatest from India matters not.What matters most is how you feel about your style and knowing whatever someone else’s perception the way your coif is kept doesn’t mean anything outside of the choice you’ve made in the way to rock your hair.
What perceptions do you make about natural, relaxed, pressed, weaved or braided hair?
Staff Writer; Nikesha Leeper
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