Let’s Talk About Racism and The Natural Hair Movement
Clutch Your Curls Because This Is Gonna Get Messy
I stumbled on this topic by accident. I was researching how my main character in If Lips Could Kill would do her hair. You see, she’s white and I am not. That being said our hair texture would be completely different. So as I was trying to figure out what the differences would be, I came upon two articles discussing the natural hair movement. Both from 2014 and both just as relevant today as they were back then.
This article is just as hostile as it sounds. To summarize, the author, New Black Woman, expresses her displeasure with a Q&A on a website called Curly Nikki. The Q&A consisted of the white woman’s, Sarah’s, curly hair journey, the struggles she faces and her overall acceptance of her curl texture. Anyone one who has curly hair who lives in a culture that praises straight hair can really relate to this. In any movie where the main character is an ugly duckling in need of a makeover usually has curly hair and they get it straightened and suddenly they’re beautiful. The most memorable example I can think of is Mia from the Princess Diaries.
According to the author, Sarah doesn’t have the right to even be on a site primarily for and about black women and black hair. Her reason being
The faux struggles curly-haired white women face when they “embrace their texture” is nothing like the social, political, personal and economic fallout inflicted upon black women when we shun the relaxer. Curly-haired white women don’t know what it’s like to have your boyfriend (or girlfriend) flat out say he (or she) prefers your hair to be straight (because of that whole white Eurocentric beauty brainwashing thing); when you family asks you, “You going to keep your hair like that?” Or “What do you plan to do with it?”; when white women ask you all kinds of ridiculous questions about your hair routine (because we can’t possibly use the same shampoo and conditioner as them, right?); when people are so brazen and arrogant to believe they have the right to ignore your humanity and run their grimy fingers through your coils; when your boss comes up to you and tells you how unprofessional your Afro is and that it does not belong in the workplace; when fellow black women talk about how brave you are to go natural, to embrace your kinks and wish they can do the same…
For anyone who doesn’t know, natural hair is defined by Urban Dictionary as “…When your hair is in the state that you were born with. Hair that is not permed, dyed, relaxed, or chemically altered.” Black women have a history having to hide their natural hair in American society. Many ways they go about it involves the methods previously mentioned and also wearing wigs, weaves, and any other alterations of the hair. (This excludes protective styles which are meant to retain moisture and protect the ends of hair from splitting.) All of these have been used to assimilate into Eurocentric American culture.
As someone who has curly hair and has been asked “are you really gonna go out with your hair like that?” many times, the natural hair movement has been a godsend. The curly hair community is a magical place that has so many tips, tricks, and products that help enhance the already beautiful texture of natural hair. It’s a place to uplift women and their hair. But because this community was established primarily for black women, many of the members are protective of it. It’s like any secret club you make with your friends and one too many people find out about it. It loses its magic in your eyes and becomes something you don’t want it to become.
This feeling, though understandable, plays directly into the isolation tactics black women have had to endure throughout history. The fact of the matter is, there are white women who have curly or coily hair. Another hard truth to swallow is that natural hair is becoming more and more the norm. This is evident in the explosion of natural hair gurus on YouTube, the every growing array of curly hair products available and the prevalence of curly hair in media, especially in commercials. So just like anything else, the movement adapted to include other women and instead of being a natural hair movement it has become a curly hair movement. That includes many different types of textures, hairs, and colors.
There will always be a sect of this evolved movement for women who are transitioning (going natural after processing their hair) and for others who are trying to embrace their natural hair texture. To say that white women don’t belong just because they can’t exactly relate to the struggles is belittling their experiences, silencing them, and doing the very same thing that created the movement in the first place.
That being said there appears to be a section of women who are not only jealous of the natural hair movement but also harmful and disrespectful towards everything the movement is.
Alternatively, I found an article that directly polarized the former. This article written by Nicole Mullen a “fun mom and a teacher at a retarded school” writes about how she’s tired of the natural hair movement getting so much attention. As she describes, “I always want to reach out and touch their hair, and I often do, feigning disgust and contempt as I hide my jealousy and admiration.” In the article she goes on to say how the natural hair movement harshly excludes white women, but they don’t need to fear. She has unlocked the secret to getting natural hair just like the “sistas.” Her instructions, which are extremely dangerous, involve using gasoline, bleach, nail polish remover and gasoline on the scalp. Once you’re finished, you should be able to “be a Nubian queen” now.
Reading the article, I was baffled. This wasn’t real. It couldn’t have been real, right? I looked through Nicole’s others articles and I found one called 5 Things Transracial People Are Tired of Hearing so you tell me. Her other articles are just just as ridiculous sounding and possibly satirical? Regardless, Nicole seems to unintentionally (or maybe intentionally) mirror that of many other women who don’t understand the movement or why it’s important.
What I’d like to specifically point out in her unfunny, potentially serious, sub-par article are 1) the idea that women who have straight hair need to be involved in a hair movement that has nothing to do with them 2) the idea that it’s perfectly okay to touch another woman’s hair without her permission and 3) it’s also fine to fetishize something you have no knowledge of and hurt a movement that already has enough struggles as is.
Here’s the thing, and I realize I might be contradicting myself here, but in America most hair products are geared towards straight hair. As I mentioned in my curly frustrations post, out of the aisles and aisles of hair products in grocery stores only 1/4 of one if that has curl, wave or coil friendly products. As previously mentioned, straight hair is the ideal texture and there are so many examples of women who have it in media, commercials, books, songs etc. So there really is no space for straight haired women in the curly hair community. Not for any sort of malicious intent but the differences between the textures are so dramatic a straight haired women cannot get any helpful information in the curly hair community and vice versa.
Secondly, this is something women in the natural hair movement and curly community really hate. Having our hair touched without our permission is one of the most disrespectful acts against hair. Not only is it an invasion of privacy, unwanted touching and flat out rude, it also frizzes up our hair. The methods used to make curly hair defined, moisturized and healthy takes a lot of work. There are so many products, steps to follow to the letter, and tools just to make your hair look somewhat decent. Then to have a random woman reach her hand out and touch it just to frizz it us is extremely frustrating. Imagine building a house of cards and having someone touch it to then have the whole thing ruined. That’s how it feels.
Thirdly, something Nicole mentioned in her article really struck a nerve in me. She said, “How can I get that ethnic flavor?” and “you’re now as liberated as women of color.” The phrase “ethnic flavor” particularly bothers me. My natural hair, skin and whatever else is not a “flavor.” It’s not something that can be bought in a box you can partake in whenever its convenient for you. This phrase reminds me of the word “exotic” when referenced to a person. The same sort of idea applies here. People are not exotic nor do they have ethnic flavors. They are people with different characteristics than whatever you are accustomed to. If you’re attracted to these kinds of people, fine. Different strokes for different folks, right? But, do not treat these people as anything other than people. Know that it bothers them when you call them that and know that their natural features are not costumes for you to try on to be “as liberated” as they are when you know nothing of their struggle. I have a feeling she wanted a reaction out of someone similar to mine but I don’t care. This needs to be said.
In conclusion, the curly hair community and any other community that is based on a single love for any one thing should be inclusive of all people who share that passion. I don’t believe it’s fair to exclude someone based on the color of their skin. Additionally, don’t be a jerk if you don’t exactly belong to a particular group. Not every group is for everyone and that’s okay. Don’t insult, fetishize or demean a culture or group or community just because you don’t understand it or can’t relate to it. I’m sure we can all agree that any gathering of united and like minded people can be a really awesome space for sharing ideas, meeting new friends and swapping stories so let people have their spaces. On the other hand, you can have your space as long as you don’t exclude others for arbitrary and generally bigoted reasons.