“We have allowed the people who enslaved us to determine how we view slavery,” said Dr. Nicki Giovani at the 2016 MILK celebration.
Example one? Hair politics. For Black women especially, it is the culmination of their economic, sexual, and racial oppression that often manifests into self-hate. Hair politics is the idea born from slavery — it creates a caste system in the black community that is reinforced by the prevalent standard of European beauty. As a result, we subconsciously begin to think of all Black features as ugly and less than human.Hair in the Black community is significant spiritually and culturally, but because of hair politics the community will go to great lengths to alter its appearance. The easiest way to understand this is through “good” and “bad” hair.
Everyone loves my hair. Except for the kid in third grade who told me it was too big and promptly got kicked in the face, no one has had a real problem with it, because it’s not what people think of when they envision Black hair. That’s why this is so disgusting. My pretty makes their pretty “unpretty” — think about the women in music videos or movies or any other media that dares to cast Black women. Those women tend to be lighter like me, or have hair like mine. Different types blackness are never celebrated; the leading love interest will be fairer in color, or at the very least she’ll only act as the “sassy” best friend. It shows how my type of beauty has been used to invalidate the entire community that raised me. I knew my hair was different early, but could never articulate it until I first heard the term natural being debated.
Going natural. It won’t save you from yourself, or make them love you. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have straight hair, but it wouldn’t erase the hurt. Black girls are magic. No one else is constantly told they’re worthless by their own community—not to mention the world—and still smiles. We feel the pressure to chemically process our hair, because we know what people see when they look at us. They see the standard against us, intended to make us fail. When people say I have good hair, it is an insult to the generations before me whose hair was coarser than my own. It implies that the farther one steps away from Blackness, the better off they’ll be. It’s a hard concept to explain to someone who has never experienced that same rejection for their genetic composition.
Most don’t have a kitchen at the back of their necks. It’s the place where the hair is supposedly the nappiest, called a “kitchen” because that was where all the people of color were supposed to be. Right? We internalize these microaggressions and begin to preach them to our own children. We change our hair for interviews. We worry what our potential bosses will think of our name before they even see us. We know some Black men would rather not be seen with us if our skin is dark. If non-black people get dreads, it’s cool. If Black people do, we’re dirty. We’re unprofessional. We’re a reinforcement of every stereotype others have thought about us.
In this aspect, it would be so easy to change. To do whatever necessary to look like anything else but yourself, your sisters, your brothers. But perfect shoes don’t make perfect feet, baby. You are Black, and nothing will change it, from the lightness of your skin to the straightness of your hair. There’s this idea that lazy girls don’t have good hair. That is capitalist bullshit if I ever smelt it. The amount of products and time that goes into perfecting and creating Black hair styles is nothing to scoff at. I’ve had white friends try to hang out with me on the day I was telling them I was getting my hair done, not realizing it was an all-day affair.
Going natural is a lie. Because you are always naturally you. It is a term at once empowering to those who let their hair go unprocessed, but a sharp stab to those who don’t want to. Who cares if you paint your nails, add a few inches, whatever. Our hair is a symbol of our rich art, our blues, our shackles. We owe it to those before us to do what we want, change what we want, but also love ourselves. Still, Black hair is growing into something pretty again. I see more women with Bantu knots and Afros, but it’s so hard to love yourself, especially when the million dollar matchmaker says she can’t help you unless your hair is straight as a pin.
For those who don’t identify as African-American, please be gentle with us. I know you really don’t care, but I also know you don’t understand what it’s like to stand in the mirror and hate your skin for its color. You’ve never seen the UF Alerts only describing the suspect as someone who is Black, and worried you would be hurt if you stepped outside because you know the police see us all the same. You’ve never been asked if you were clean, or had people shy away from any contact.
We all have problems, and ours stem from the system of oppression lingering after slavery that constantly go unaddressed. We try so hard. We want to be comfortable on this campus. We want you to think we’re here because we deserve it, and not because there was a quota. Please, don’t look at my hair and be afraid of me. His afro doesn’t mean you have to lock your door when he walks past. Her braids don’t mean she’s emotionless.
. . . I hit the barber shop real quick
Had ‘em give me little twist and it drove ‘em crazy
And then I couldn’t get no job
Cause corporate wouldn’t hiring no dreadlocks
Then I thought about my dogs on the block
Kinda understand when they chose to stealin’ rock
Was it the hair that got me this far? . . .
‘Cause success didn’t come ‘till I cut it all oﬀ
When the cops wanna harass cause I got braids
Ain’t seen nothin’ like that, not in all my days.
Man, you gotta change all these feelings
Steady judging one another
by their appearance
India Arie featuring Akon, I am not my hair (2006)