Here’s another real talk discussion coming at you. Lately, it seems there has been some discontent in the natural hair community. I discussed one of the issues in my texture discrimination post. But the newest wave of discontent seems to be fueled by a CurlyNikki post that featured a Caucasian woman with curly hair. Ebony.com put out a scathing editorial, which sparked the backlash against the CurlyNikki post, about how we can and should just leave white people out of The Natural Hair Movement. CurlyNikki responded with points that I wholeheartedly agree with. Points such as in order for The Natural Hair Movement to be successful, we first have to accept ourselves, and then others have to accept us.
Which catches us up to today. I watched a video by India of My Natural Sisters, titled “The Importance of ‘The Natural Hair’ Movement,” which leans closer to the Ebony editorial view of things. Feel free to watch that video here.
I left a comment similar to this post in the video comments section, but I feel that I could better flesh out the topic here. So here goes…
Let me start off by saying that I don’t totally disagree with India. In fact, I agree with a lot of the things that she said–India made several good points and I completely hear and understand where her views are coming from.
First of all, she made a good point that Jouelzy’s texture discrimination video was largely unsupported (or received mixed reviews, at best) by African Americans, but somehow there was rallied support around CurlyNikki’s white girl post. India compares this to the colorism and hair-typing debates–we all identify with a particular image that mainstream has said is okay for us to identify with (a.k.a. the “anything closer to white is right” mantra). I hear her. And I agree. There is a hierarchy in perception that lighter skin is better than darker skin (don’t front–if there wasn’t, lightening creams wouldn’t be part of the booming industry it is today). We have also created a hierarchy (inadvertently or not) with the hair typing system, with kinkier hair being at the bottom.
[Segue: I hate generalizations because I don’t fit them, but the colorism and hair typing issues hit home. I am a dark-skinned, kinky-haired, mixed chic (insert shock and ignorant comments about how I’m supposed to have silky curls blah blah blah here–whatever). My father is dark, my mother is (by every definition of the term) light-skinned. And even she fell prone to the mantra that has been beat into the black person’s psyche for over 200 years (so don’t expect it to go away overnight). She married a dark man and still was hoping that her children–particularly her daughter–would turn out fair-skinned and silky haired. I actually had long hair as a child–beautiful, waist-length hair. I remember because, not only were there pictures, but I remember my mother bragging about it. And yet–what happened? She STILL relaxed my hair because it was “difficult to manage. ” Result? It started to break off. That’s how the story goes for practically everyone, doesn’t it? My hair still grew when it was relaxed, and it was still thick, but it never got past the bottom of my shoulder blades ever again. My mother’s own hair used to grow like wild fire, and I remember being so envious of her light skin and flowing hair until she relaxed it–and it, too, began to break off. Only now that she’s old enough not to care about what other people think about her did she return back to natural (which, as it turns out, got kinkier with old age–go figure). The point is the discrimination is real, because the perception is ingrained.]
This conclusion led to the excellent point that we need to fix our image or perception we have of ourselves in order to give our children–our future–a chance. Again, I agree. We do need to teach mothers today for the sake of our daughters in the future about healthy hair care. I also agree that we’re not there yet where our hair types are accepted as a way of life in this society. And I agree that it needs to get to that point. Having Lupitia Nyong’o on the cover of People Magazine and Vogue is certainly a step in the right direction, but she’s only ONE person. We most certainly have not arrived . . . yet.
I supported Joulezy when she put out her discrimination video because the discrimination is blatantly obvious. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t have comments like “natural hair isn’t for everyone,” or “if I had your texture, I’d go natural,” or “I’m afraid I’ll have nappy hair instead of silky curls” etc. the list goes on. Kudos to India (who, if we’re being honest, has some very type 3-like hair) for pointing out that African Americans with type 3 hair need to acknowledge that the discrimination is real and resolve the ignorance if we’re ever going to move forward. We need to work and be at the forefront of this movement until it is a generally accepted lifestyle. At this point, India hasn’t actually said anything that I disagree with or goes against CurlyNikki’s points.
Where India and I diverge, is the idea that we will reach a point of a generally accepted lifestyle in society if we create a certain division. I don’t think she’s racist for making that point and I do think we need an avenue to discuss these issues and a place for the movement in the black community. But I don’t think the occasional invitation of the white woman with curly hair takes anything away from that.
The point, to me, of The Natural Hair Movement is to say, “Hey world, we are naturally beautiful. There isn’t one standard of beauty and it’s time that you accepted that.” If you watch the video, India’s discussion of the white woman who acknowledges her privilege and supports the fact that there needs to be more representation of black people in the media is a prime example of that. The majority first have to acknowledge that there is something wrong with the status quo–the system that was built by their ancestors–for things in the mainstream to change to the point that it becomes a lifestyle. And creating a division actually spawns resistance. [I say “majority” not to disparage blacks and praise whites, but to acknowledge that we are called “minorities” for a reason–we don’t control the majority viewpoint (at least not in this country) and we don’t control the narrative.]
We want a space where our kids can say “I look normal,” “I am beautiful,” “I see me everywhere I turn.” But for that to happen, we have to make it mainstream. It has to become part of everyday life. And to get it there, the powers that be in the society in which we live, also have to support it.
In my mind, it’s kind of like the difference between MLK and Malcolm X. MLK was not against the white people who supported the civil rights movement for blacks. Yes–the civil rights movement was created by blacks, for blacks. And eventually, other people benefited from it. MLK held support meetings and strategy meetings for black people; had a space and a conducted discussions with black people; but he welcomed the support of white people. Which made more stride in getting the focus to be “yes, black people deserve basic human rights afforded to everyone else”–and that became mainstream. Malcolm X was exclusionary to the extreme in the sense that yes, it fired up black people, but incited white people and our goals were met with more resistance.
I’m not saying we don’t need our own space–we do. My point is, inclusion (not to the point that white women become the focus, obviously, but just inclusion) or acceptance of their support doesn’t take away from our space or our message. Their support will help our ultimate goal–which is to have this be just an accepted way of life. A life in which we don’t feel that we have to change everything about ourselves in order to fit in–in order to feel any worth. The majority has to 1) acknowledge their privilege, 2) show support, 3) not be shunned when they show support, and 4) help promote what we want to become the new status quo.
I want my kids to grow up in a world where they see just as many faces and hair types like their own as other races do, but I don’t want to replace our image as the only image. I don’t want any other race to feel like we do now. It doesn’t make us any better human beings. I don’t think that increased support and focus on our movement calls for the shunning of others, if that makes sense.
[Another segue: People forget that even in mainstream society, white women with curly hair are not the standard of beauty–white women with straight hair are. And just because their struggle for acceptance is not the same as yours because their skin (or eye color, or whatever) affords them a privilege in other respects, doesn’t make their struggle any less real to them. The Ebony editorial’s belittling and patronizing comment that Sarah, the white woman in CurlyNikki’s post, didn’t struggle because all she had to do to go natural was put her hair down undermines the entire point that acceptance and self love is an individual journey and there’s no right way to do it. I take issue more with the editor who allowed those culture-specific questions to be asked of a white woman. Of course a white woman would most likely not need to big chop or transition in order to go natural. So of course Sarah could only respond the way she did, which left a flippant impression that resulted in so much animus. A more appropriate set of questions would have been along the lines of “tell us your story and how you ended up accepting your natural tresses.” The onus in that lies with the writers and the editors.
I actually saw a Pantene commercial yesterday aimed at curly-haired Caucasians basically saying that it’s okay to wear your curly hair as is now because we’ve developed a shampoo for you that won’t strip moisture. Hey, if other people benefit from this movement, why do we have a problem with it? I also don’t see why supporting the idea that we need to show kinky-haired sisters more love needs to be mutually exclusive from showing love to or respecting the other hair types. This is not Divergent–we don’t have to choose a faction. Everyone has a right to self-worth, no matter what hair texture (or skin color or eye color) they have.
Also, people forget that there are individuals with “nappy hair” across races. One of my best friend’s step-sister has a gorgeous head of red, frizzy, practically Afro-textured hair. But she is Caucasian. She was the literal red-headed step child. To boot, she was the nappy-haired, red-headed step-child. She hated her hair (and still does). Kids made fun of her curls and frizz and she needed to use relaxers to straighten her hair. I’d say she would’ve appreciated it if the perception was that her hair was beautiful, but she got teased all the time and had incredibly low self-esteem. Okay, enough of the rant–back to the post.]
We somehow need to find a balance so that one day, we can look at all the textures in the world, across all the races, and feel zero animosity or resentment.
Obviously, we’re not close to being there yet. But I still think that should be our aim. Is it just me? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue. Sound off below!
Peace, Love, and Live Life Full,