Figuring out a hairstyle
  • Straightening my mother’s hair
  • Finding a new hairdresser
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    Juggling Act

    Nappy and loving it

    Okay, let me say from the beginning that I wear my natural hair and have done so for 38 years.  My daughter, at age 14, has never had her hair pressed or relaxed and like me, loves to be nappy.natural hair 

    Over the years, I’ve talked to her about the beauty and strength of our naturally curly hair but I’ve never criticized straightened hair or weaves. So this scene in Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” documentary surprised her most: when the comedian, holding a bag filled with black hair, not only couldn’t sell it to an owner of a beauty supply store he was told disdainfully by a black female employee that nobody wanted to wear that kind of hair anymore. 

    “I’m proud of my hair,” says my daughter, who has been wearing locs since she begged to have a hairstyle like mine when she was 5-years-old. 

    We both liked Rock’s documentary and as my daughter says, “It taught you a lot about all the pain and money black people go through to have straight hair. It’s not worth it.” Our self-torture in a society that has taught us to dislike just about everything about ourselves has been exposed in a way that only a comedian could do it, and the documentary ought to be required viewing for every black female child and woman in this country. 

    I wish that mommas wouldn’t start putting relaxers in their daughters’ hair at three-years-old or that women on tight budgets didn’t invest thousands of dollars in weave hairstyles. But it’s their choice. The pressure to conform to the European standard of “good hair” permeates our sense of beauty. I can remember when not too long ago women lost jobs because they had natural hair or they were asked to change the style to keep a job. Kinkiness is still not welcome in many corporate environments. Just a few years ago, a Maryland amusement park ordered its young employees not to wear locs. The rule was later withdrawn after a loud protest. 

    I went natural my freshman year in college, turning to the Afro hairstyles and sense of self-pride modeled by Angela Davis and Roberta Flack. As I was growing up, my Mom would press and braid or curl my hair and that of my three sisters. We still talk about all those Saturday evenings when our mother would straighten our hair while we froze our bodies to keep from being burned. My parents didn’t like my switch to the Afro, and while my father after a short while didn’t raise the issue anymore, it took my Mom many years to stop complaining about it. I kept my big Afro when I started my first job and over the years I cut it short. 

    During the mid-1970s though, there was an incident. One weekend I asked a friend to put my hair in braids (no extensions), just because I wanted something different. That Monday morning I walked into the newsroom followed by surprised stares. Within a couple hours, the editor called me into his office to tell me that my braids had to go, because by wearing them I was not appropriately representing the newspaper. I asked him if he told the white women in the newsroom how to wear their hair. If he didn’t, I told him, then he couldn’t tell me either. I think he saw a threat of a lawsuit and backed down. I had only intended to wear my braids for a few days, but kept them for a month or more. 

    I started wearing locs in 1996, at a time when they were still considered a relatively radical hairstyle. Over time, a larger segment of the black community has embraced them.  “I get a whole lot of comments about my locs,” says my daughter. “The girls at school say, ‘oh, your hair is so nice.’” Others ask her why she has locs. “It’s my natural hair,” my daughter tells them. “I like them.”

    All my sisters wear natural hair too. We’re nappy and loving it.

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