Envision a black woman: her “blackness” emanating out of every kink and coil on her afroed head, a true Sista™ through and through. Erykah Badu plays in the background while brazen hoteps gather at her feet. She doesn’t have a sew-in. She doesn’t contour. By God, she’s “natural.”
I am, under current terminology, a “natural” of roughly nine years. Relaxer touch-ups were annoying and expensive. My hair was actually extremely healthy. After going natural, nearly all my hair broke off, but now we’re a force to be reckoned with.
I’ve spent just as much money trying out products and curlers as I have going to salons. As a woman who loves to play with different looks, there are tons of hair styles I’d love to sport, regardless of race. Yet the moment I reach for the flat iron or mention the word “keratin treatment,” I break hearts. Apparently I can’t like both. Suddenly a grand jury is held about my hair. Whites and blacks tell me I shouldn’t be ashamed of my blackness. The verdict? Guilty of “white-washing.” All the books I have, articles I’ve read and statements I’ve written on black history and social justice are thrown out the window because I wanted finger waves.
Ya’ll. It’s just some damn hair.
I know why the natural hair movement exists, and I respect it. I will always give props to those trying to break down race, culture, femininity, etc. The movement rebels against the iconic long, silky hair that is seen as essentially “female.” We’re trying to combat the Eurocentric ideals embedded in us from colonization — and pick up the advancement in afro hair care technology that for decades has been largely absent while we made strides emulating straighter hair.
However, longer and finer hair textures don’t solely belong to white people. In fact, it’s a hair texture that most people in the world have. But those on the defense will be the first to scream that I want to be white because I miss sun hats fitting on my head.
Natural afro hair comes with its own set of rules. I personally feel I can’t be anything but high-maintenance, lest a giant, matted dreadlock form on top of my head. Yet there is the subtle notion that if you leave the natural hair movement for a moment, you’re betraying something deeper. We’re assigning a woman’s intellect, value and authenticity to dead protein on her scalp.
There are no women of any other race that are made to feel this way if they alter their hair.
Nobody kicks up a fuss if they chemically change it, color it or use a curling wand. Once again, the black woman is stripped of her thoughts and feelings, her ability to self-express, the projections of what she’s “supposed to be” that others place on her.
Long debates on what constitutes “natural,” from products to heat, leave many ladies confused and even sidelined. It’s become a battle of purity while belittling a woman’s choice to look however the hell she wants to look. Some wear the “natural” title as a badge of honor as if they’re somehow better. A weave isn’t the symbol of black power. But doesn’t black power mean to uplift our fellow sisters and brothers — not beat them down over aesthetics?
I’m starting to see less animosity towards women who decide to go back to straightening their hair, but the fact is, it remains something only black women have to put up with. No matter what’s growing (or isn’t growing) from our heads, we can still fight white supremacy and the patriarchy.