BHM Blog Series: National Attention on the Natural Hair Movement

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Last year was a monumental year for the natural hair movement.  I don’t remember seeing as much media attention on natural hair, TV shows focused to the topic, natural hair products in stores, or social events dedicated to natural curls.  Yet, the movement boomed and reached what I believe is a tipping point last year!

Here is how the movement made national headlines in 2014!

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Black History Month Blog Series! Natural Hair History in 2014

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If you have been following this blog you know that one of my goals is to share information about African American HAIRitage and history.  Therefore, every Black History Month, I like to look back at our past and share information on where we’ve come and where we are going on our hair journey to reclaim and rewrite our hair story.  This Black History Month, I want to join other history makers and help write our hair history.  Therefore, I will be doing a month long blog series focused on recapping  the important moments in the natural hair movement during 2014.

Stay tuned as I discuss a variety of topics including natural hair trends, national spotlights on natural hair, whether the movement is “selling out”, and what the movement gained and lost in 2014.  I hope you join me for the series!

 

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#HAIRitageHaikus – HAIRitage Definition #1

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To kick off my new feature #HAIRitageHaikus, I’d like to start with a series of definitions I created to help understand all the various meanings behind Honoring Our HAIRitage.

These definitions highlight the many reasons why I named this blog Honoring Our HAIRitage.  In addition, they each represent a central reasons why I decided to go natural.

For the first definition, I was inspired by the history of Black women’s hair and wanted to come up with a phrase that combated our negative past and ushered us into a new movement of reclamation.

HAIRitage Definition 1

When people ask to touch my hair… I can’t!

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@adorkableaffiliation

Random Person: “Oh, my God!  Your hair is so AWESOME!

Jane: “Thanks so much!”

Random Person: “Can I touch it?” (Hands reaching out)

Jane: “Whaaaaat?” (Looks with piercing side-eye while tilting my head away)

After going natural 3 years ago, I expected many things to change in my life.  I knew there would be both hard times and enjoyable experiences.  I knew I might be surprised by what my real, unaltered hair actually looked like.  I knew I would have to buy different hair products and start to take care of my hair differently.  I had no idea however, that so many strange people would want to touch my hair!

This has by far been the most shocking thing that has come with being natural.  That’s right, I’ve had no problem giving up relaxers, I have enjoyed getting to know my hair again, and I have laughed through those bad hair days.  The fact that random people come up to me, wanting to touch a part of me out of nowhere is the weirdest thing to me.  I mean, it is just my hair after all.  It is something that I have had my whole life and it has never been that interested to people before.  It makes me wonder, what is this new fascination with my hair?

“Touching” Experiences

A few months ago, I attended a friend’s baby shower.  When I arrived I didn’t know any of the other women there, but I immediately noticed three women (who turned out to be sisters) who had hair similar to mine, so I struck up a conversation with them.  We hit it off right away and of course we ended up talked about our hair – the great times, the embarrassing moments, the frustrating bad hair days, and the amazing self-love that comes with embracing our natural hair.  It was one of those organic, sisterly bonds that only naturals can relate to.  After 2 hours of learning intimate details about their hair struggles and triumphs, I gave them my blog cards and had to leave.  As I made my way to the door, Continue reading

Back to School as a Naturalista

As a naturalista going back to school, you might be feeling the anticipation of summer coming to an end, excitement about reuniting with your friends, and stress about getting back into the grind of studying every day.  You might also be nervous about how everyone will react to your natural hair.

Given what we saw Tiana Parker, and Vanessa VanDyke go through simply because they wore their hair the way it naturally grows out of their heads, you might be feeling slightly on edge.  This is completely understandable and is a valid reaction to having to exist within a system that is supposed to nurture individuality, help you find your voice, and support your future dreams.  Instead, schools have done the complete opposite by making hair discrimination official policy.  Tiana Parker was sent home from school because the Deborah Brown Community School she attended had a dress code rule that labeled her loc’d hair “unacceptable.”  Vanessa VanDyke was threatened with expulsion from her Orlando, Fla private school unless she styled her hair differently than the glorious afro with a flower she wore.

These are two hair shaming cases that made the headline news, but there are no statistics for the multitude of other situations many naturalistas experience every day.  Daily microaggressions and outright discrimination are hard to determine.  From my own experience being natural, I am certain the numbers are staggering for those of us who refuse to conform to a Euro-centric beauty standard.

Being socially rejected because of your hair can weigh heavy on your self-esteem.  Hopefully, some of the many online tutorials on natural hair styles themed around Back to School, will help relieve some of your fears around how you will be treated simply because of your beautiful tresses.  There are also some fabulous celebrity naturalistas to look to for inspiration, like Solange Knowles, Tamron Hall, and Lupita Nyong’o.  Even though Vanessa VanDyke was threatened with expulsion, she still knew her hair was beautiful when she stated, “It says that I’m unique…First of all, it’s puffy, and I like it that way.”

I also want you to know that you are not alone, there are many other naturalistas out there going through the same thing you are right now.  What I want you to remember is that your hair is perfect, just the way it is!  But you already knew that being the confident naturalista that you are 🙂  As you walk through the doors of your school for another year of learning, wear your hair proudly and hold your head high! 

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Should White women join the natural hair movement?

Alicia KeysBo Derek 2

If you haven’t heard about the recent beef between the most widely known natural hair site Curly Nikki and Ebony Online, then you must have been living under a rock.  It all started when a White woman was featured on Curly Nikki sharing her hair journey and natural hair struggles.  Some were confused as to why a White woman was included in a movement that has been mainly dominated by Black women.  In reaction, Jamilah Lemieux, wrote the article, White Women on #TeamNatural?  No, Thanks!, arguing against the inclusion of White women in the natural hair movement by citing cultural misappropriation and sacred “Black Girl Space.”  Curly Nikki’s response was that she created the site for all women who are struggling with their natural hair texture, including White women.

I read both pieces and feel that both have their valid points.  I respect Curly Nikki’s stance on this issue and her right to create an online space for all women and I also can identify with the concerns raised by Lemieux.

What I know most about are my personal experiences as a woman of color in this world.  Particularly, my professional experience in social justice movements have shown me firsthand what happens when there are no spaces for individuals who experience unique circumstances.  I will give a brief history.  In the violence against women movement, Black women and White women originally worked separately in their own neighborhoods and families to protect each other against the violence in their homes and in their communities.  After the women’s movement became integrated, it quickly became clear that the unique experiences Black women faced were not a major concern for their White allies.  Eventually, Black women and their specific circumstances, were essentially pushed out of the violence against women movement.  Today, if you walk into any mainstream domestic violence program or rape crisis center, you will see a number of White female employees and very little, if any at all, women of color on staff (other than culturally specific services, which are rare).

So, what happens when you are a women of color on staff at one of these mainstream social justice programs?  One of the ways women of color are supported is through the availability of Women of Color Caucuses.  These caucuses provide a safe, private space for women of color to discuss the concerns of their communities and their unique challenges within the movement.  The caucuses address the need for rejuvenation, and sisterhood among women of color.  They are a place to celebrate ourselves without having to explain why, because we have a shared experience.

The need for private space is not only necessary for our safety and sanity, it also protects our intellectual genius.  Our culture has been adopted many times, especially when it comes to hairstyles.  In 1979, the movie 10 was released and featured Bo Derek (a White woman) wearing cornrows in her hair.  After the movie, she was named the most beautiful woman in the world, and cornrows came to be known as “Bo Braids” even though Black women had been wearing them for years including Roberta Flack and Cecily Tyson.  Recently, Marie Claire tweeted a photo of Kendall Jenner with braids in her hair calling them “new” and “epic.”  It ignited a firestorm of backlash on Twitter.  Since when are 6 cornrows on the side of your head “epic?”  When Alicia Keys wore braids for the first half of her career, they didn’t create the same kind of uproar in mainstream media as Kendall Jenner’s did.  Why does it take a White women wearing the same hairstyles that Black women have worn for years for them to be seen as acceptable, epic, or beautiful?  Why were they not acceptable, when a Black woman wore them?  Why were Black women and our culture, not given credit for our unique styles?

Marie Claire on Kendell's "bold braids"

I say all that to bring us back to consider having spaces within the natural hair movement that are either inclusive of White women or are not.  What I know is that women of color, particularly African-American women, have a different experience with our hair than do White women.  Historically, Black hair has been systematically, socially, and politically assaulted and deemed as ugly and unkempt.  Black hair has been practically banned in the military, viewed as unprofessional in the workplace, and during slavery, scientifically deemed as not even real hair!  Black hair as been noticeably missing from mainstream media, ridiculed by beauty standards, and has the least available hair products (just check out your local grocery store aisles).  This has not been the experience for White women.  Because we share this experience, we also need to share a space where we can support each other through our shared struggle.

The taking of our movements and culture brings me to ask many questions about integrating the natural hair movement.  What will happen if the natural hair movement is shared with White woman?  How will the movement be different?  Will there be space for our unique experiences?  What will we have to give up?  What might we gain?  These are questions we must consider and conversations we must have. 

I am certain that White women face challenges with their curly hair texture, and I validate their specific challenges with a beauty standard that none of us will ever measure up to.  Do not get me wrong, I believe in being inclusive.  I believe in the power of coming together and the ideals of unity.  However, unity implies shared power and shared understanding.  Until there is real shared power and understanding among African-American women and White women, I am left wondering if there can be real unity within the natural hair movement.

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