I never had to get told that hair like mine was unwanted, growing up. There were signals everywhere to fill in the blanks for me. Every model on a billboard, every actress on a commercial, even the dolls I played with had long, straight hair. Yes, even the black dolls.
Anything “pretty” was as far from my thick and natural hair as possible.
Now that I’m grown, of course, I know to chalk all this up to white beauty standards running deep in this country, and sure it is getting better little by little, but if all the commercials, billboards and dolls have done is sprinkle loose curl patterns into the mix, is that really progress?
Let’s be honest, there is a consistent disdain for African textured hair in this world. The fact that it is not uncommon to hear that black girls grow up to straighten their hair, whether it’s because they grew up hating it or were forced to in order to make it more “presentable,” is more than ridiculous — it’s dangerous. Relaxers, products used to straighten hair, have already been proven to increase health risks. We are living in a reality where black women are losing job opportunities for wearing their natural hair and girls (and boys) risk getting expelled for it. People’s lives are getting messed up simply because of the way their hair grows out of their head.
Perhaps that’s what prompted one of the most notable historically black colleges around, the Hampton University School of Business, to ban dreadlocks and cornrows way back in 2001.
I am so tired of having this conversation. I shouldn’t have to deal with people calling Afros “nappy” and turning around just to tell me, “Yours is pretty, though!” I shouldn’t have to have strangers coming to my restaurant table asking if they can touch my friend’s Afro or mine. I shouldn’t have people I barely know caressing my box braids without my permission.
It’s one thing to have nonblack people give unwanted opinions on my hair. But it’s a whole other thing when black people do it. I have been natural for a little over a year now. My hair is finally in the healthiest state it has ever been. But when I walk into any family function, I get the obligatory, “What are you gonna do with this hair?” Why does my hair need to have something done to it?
This notion that there is something inherently weird or wrong with natural hair is so racist at its core. As ridiculous as it is, many people who don’t even realize it continue to fuel its fire.
It has taken years for me to get to the point where I feel comfortable enough to wear my hair the way it truly is and yet I’m still facing the repercussions. Every day I look in the mirror, I have to attempt to unlearn the self-hatred I grew up with — to unlearn racism. To say black hair is beautiful. Why can’t y’all do the same?