In the outrageous, seemingly never-ending quest to break apart the self-esteem of black women across America, there seems to be a revolving door of either it being the way our hair is worn or the pigmentation of our skin color a nationwide discussion. Since the latter is almost always at ad nauseum levels, “hair shaming” has been climbing its coattails…once again. You may be familiar with the silent tussle of natural vs. well, “non-natural” hair, and after years of black popular culture promoting waist-length weaves as the key towards gratifying beauty, choosing to wear your own in its more natural state or at least minus chemicals or synthetics came back with a vengeance of self-love in the last few years. Afro puffs, braids, and of the like returned and suddenly women of color were asking blogging and offering tips on YouTube and how to start over and love your hair again. While this was great news as for so long and too long black women were the punching bag of racists and bigots, the unfortunate underside is that on both sides, whether Team Natural or Team Relaxed/Weave, there’s been shaming from black women towards on each other on how one has chosen to wear their locks.
I was pushed to look further into this based upon an incident I witnessed and like magically, national news and clips from the media arrived on cue to provoke even deeper thoughts why is it that communities whether racially, religiously, or sexually inclined, then have to deal with the battle amongst each other, utterly depleting the spirit of the original fight in the first place.
While riding the train back home one night in New York, once I received service, I called a friend and immediately started gabbing away, in the background from the train, I could hear a woman speaking loud patois quite and in minutes I caught on that she was actually arguing with someone. By the time it got to my fourth to last stop, it was clear she had some kind of dispute with another woman. As the woman speaking patois and her friend were getting off the train, the verbal bashing got real personal as she blatantly told her enemy, who had a short, Afro hairstyle, “to get a wash and set”. She herself had on what was clearly a wig or a weave. It was a random moment to be honest. No one came to the Afro-haired woman’s defense vocally as for those paying attention almost seemed as if they didn’t want to entertain the ignorant woman any more than they already had. We all just listened and gazed a bit at her, trying to translate to her that clearly she had no idea how foolish she sounded. While a tame incident on New York grounds, I still remember it two weeks later as the hair of black women continues to be a broached concern of public fascination.
Recently, I came across an interview the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie had participated in in April of 2013 (before Beyonce introduced her to a larger audience on her track “Flawless”), and with an overseas news station, Adichie briefly spoke, as the reporter stated, on “the power of hair”: “Black women’s hair is political. I don’t intend on making [a statement with my hair], but I do. By walking in somewhere with my hair like this, people make assumptions. Immediate assumptions. If my hair isn’t straight, people might think you are an angry Black woman, or very soulful, or they’ll think you’re an artist, or vegetarian, there are all kinds of things. I’m interested in hair as a means to talk about other things. What is it that society tells us is beautiful…?”
Into the new year, it wasn’t just football teams on the battlefield, as the hair wars continued. While unbeknownst to me, I found out the day after the Super Bowl aired, FOX Sports NFL Reporter, Pam Oliver received tons of childish flack for her hairstyle which lead to memes online mocking everything from its hue to its bangs. Much of the criticism came from Black people themselves, and all of these occasions are happening as Black publications are proceeding with research on the new rise of naturals vs. weaves, and how and what the new embrace of accepting our hair as it is and learning how to care for it really means for the future of self-love for a new generation.
Looking back at the NYC train incident, I can remember shaking my head and feeling disappointed in the woman who went as low as to insult and criticize another’s hair. Do White girls do this to each other? For every White girl born with standard straight hair, when a massively curly, Keri Russell doppelganger walks by, is she met with chants of, “You need a flat iron, or a blow-out STAT”. I can even recall when Esperanza Spalding won the Grammy for Best New Artist and a friend of friend told me that they thought she needed, “a strong ass perm”. Ouch, much? And I know some of us can recall the uncalled for barbs given to Gabby Douglas’ pinned down bun just as she was garnering historic Gold medals as a teenage gymnast.
Yet as always, I try to be honest. In the larger scope of the black community, we’ve all said a jab or ten about another’s hair, and often in extreme cases whether it’s K. Michelle’s many wig changes during one episode of Love & Hip-Hop, or sometimes from just observing each other on the streets and hairstyles resembled rainbow cotton candy. What are we gaining from Team Natural vs. Team Weave blogs, discussions of this with Melissa Harris Perry on MSNBC, or worse the idea of “good hair”? We’ve fought so hard to let the world accept us for having just as much fun with self-expression through our outward appearance, let’s not bring the combat closer to home for something as frivolous as hair in shaming each other in how we choose to wear it.
-C. Shardae Jobson