Sometimes I feel like the (unintentionally) naive one, even when I know I’m not, or don’t mean to be.
I grew up in a town and went to a school that embraced diversity so much, I swear it was Lawrence School’s mission to be the face of middle school and junior high integration. That school had students from virtually every continent and everyone was pretty splayed across all the neighborhoods of Boston. If you didn’t have at least one friend that was racially or culturally different from you, that was almost on you.
I do feel that occasionally the kind of aggressive outcry that exploded upon Nikki Walton’s website Curly Nikki when she recently included a white woman, Sarah, as her latest natural hair post feature, it was partially the result of many black and white women not interacting as much and giving each other a fair shot at friendship, or at least cordial comradeship. It also doesn’t help that the there is always so much loud commentary on the self-esteem, issues, and everyday trials and tribulations of women of color (YouTube: Steve Harvey natural hair), yet for our fairer-skinned peers, their concerns are bit more concealed or presented as not their fault, with help available at any store, through almost any magazine, and presented as relatable from any TV show or movie.
I wasn’t aware of Nikki’s latest feature, though I have visited her site before. I was definitely alerted to the Curly Nikki controversy by other blogs and her readers, both predominately black. They expressed disappointment at Nikki’s apparent temerity to include a white girl as part of a still thriving and growing in numbers #teamnatural movement. The disapproval was pretty loud and clear and for a moment I felt unsure about how I should feel. Doesn’t being mad at Sarah contradict so much of the quest to live in a more, inclusive, worldly community, whether in a small town or metropolitan cities? Isn’t being mad at Sarah’s inclusion the equivalent of when Marc Anthony sang “God Bless America” and his perfect performance was met with racial criticism despite Anthony being born and raised in Spanish Harlem of New York City? How about when Waris Ahluwalia, a Sikh, was photographed for a Gap ad which was met by graffiti-ed slurs in Manhattan? Jamilah Lemieux, the senior editor of Ebony.com, has been the most vociferous analyst against Sarah on Curly Nikki as she vehemently declared white women were not needed, bordering on unwelcomed, for a natural hair movement.
Lemieux’s take is typical of black publications and writers. Even when it’s quite evident that a post on Sarah was towards the direction of diversifying Walton’s views on the care and keeping of curly tresses, Lemieux chose to take the cantankerous approach in accusing Sarah of edging her way into something that was borne out of black women tired of being regulated to pariah status, this time being whenever they chose to wear their hair in a less processed state or in hair styles that spoke of an historical, ancestral past. We’ve all heard the news reports of black children being sent home because of their dreadlocks or wonderfully puffy Afros, or of grown women seeking corporate 9-5’s and feeling the immense pressure to get a weave, a relaxer, or wear a more tone-down hairstyle that didn’t scream “I’m black and I’m proud”.
And while black hair IS NOT created the same (I know black women that have naturally straight locks…)
Trust me. I get it.
Miley took twerking. Apparently Kendall Jenner invented cornrows and now sassy, mainstream blogs are obsessed with the term “basic bitch” despite being a good 20 years late on its usage, as always. When it comes to black people’s contributions to both history and popular culture, as information is more widespread and shared as ever, it seems that there are a collective percentage of black people determined to protect whatever is left of our backstory that these innocuous Caucasians are trying to adopt and not aggrandize as suddenly theirs.
Hair is emotional territory for many Black women and while we may be able to share products with White women, we needn’t share a movement that should be centered on overcoming the unique challenges that are thrown our way because of White people.” -Jamilah Lemieux
Yet, I can’t help but question what is more damaging. Every once in a while including a white girl in our #teamnatural movement, or when our fellow men of color and even our so-called sisters denounce black women for their hair, demanding we get a perm, or as black men date women who are not black simply because they don’t wrap their hair at night or have may a silkier, or straighter texture? I know that Sarah may never experience the worry of not getting a job or a date because her hair resembles Keri Russell’s during the actress’s days on Felicity, but Sarah isn’t the problem. I also understand how including Sarah makes the movement almost appear gimmicky as when she say the word “natural” we don’t picture a face that looks Sarah, but the same goes for when the term “all-American” is used, what exactly does that mean?
The site is for black women, and whoever else finds it useful. If you would have bothered to contact me, I could have told you that. For those that do feel a certain way, I don’t think that those views make them racist or somehow wrong. But, I do believe that we need to learn to have this conversation without attacking each other. If you’re concerned about the integrity of this ‘black space’, I would direct you to the thousands of black women that have been featured elsewhere on this site. No really, all you have to do is scroll down. -Nikki Walton
I have been good friends with white girls in my past and present, and so maybe when I do come across news like this, I immediately furrow my brows, and not because I don’t understand but because it’s once again very clear that some of us grew up very differently and have been exposed to others in more positive circumstances. While my conversations with my white girlfriends will differ from the concerns I share with my black girlfriends from time to time, I still found a way to connect with the former and sometimes whenever I did because our issues or stories weren’t racially-based, and even when there was a slight twinge of it, there was never those pitiful or quiet, doe-eyed stares steered my way. They were times it seemed when I would talk about my dating issues with black guys or first world problems such as my hair, it opened the floodgates and white girls would tell me of their struggles of keeping their hair straight with regular trips to the dry bar, their own miserable diets, and how their picture perfect boyfriends were nothing but untrustworthy snakes. I acknowledge that my experience however with white women is not the same for all black women. I know, because I’ve talked to these same women, and white girls to them are like foreigners. There are black women and white women that view each other with the idea of “how could this girl possibly understand me? She looks nothing like me”.
I’ve witnessed a lot of foolishness when it comes to race, online and in real life. I’ve worked in environments in which persons of specific racial backgrounds perpetuated the very same stereotypes that so many have fought to eradicate from the social conscience (“She doesn’t need a weave. She has hair on her head”. What?!) Thus, despite my colorful upbringing, I’m not immune from behavior that was otherwise deserving of multiple eye-rolling and keeping it cute for fear of being “that angry black girl”. I’ve received the obvious reactions when I wore my hair out and it was feeling very Black Panther that day and white people observed me like a walking museum. Or been asked exactly how do I wash my hair (you can’t be serious…). I still haven’t forgiven the Chris Rock documentary Good Hair that felt like a much of half-truth pasted together. And almost everytime I’ve had a job interview, I ran to the hair salon the night before to get a wash and set. And so many years later, for example, I still notice that Sophisticate’s Hairstyle Guide has yet to include bi-racial celebs like Paula Patton and Alicia Keys (though I have seen Eva Longoria and Demi Lovato), yet the sister magazine Sophisticate’s Black Hair are more than happy to place said beautiful ladies on the cover. The divides remain, and one point Lemieux had argued that why should black people always be so willing to diversify their missions when so many times, white people have certainly left black people feeling as if they were allowed or had to compromise? It’s like the classic argument of why the cable network BET exists. It came about because even though Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince, and rap practically saved MTV, black artists still needed a space of their own because there were so many battles still to be fought. Same goes for how HBCUs (historically black colleges), the NAACP, JET, Ebony, and Essence magazines began in the first place.
What the anti-white women for #teamnatural exposed was that there is still a lot of anger in America when it comes to race, which is obvious, but sometimes where the anger sprouts from in this lingering conundrum is what is surprising. People of color want to be acknowledged under normal circumstances, but want they want to be made clear is that just because they don’t want to be ignored doesn’t mean credentials can be re-written. Both Lemieux and Walton made valid testaments as Walton did respond in asking Ebony as a whole to be more proactive in uplifting communities and in not promoting limited views. Lemieux wrote a piece for Ebony in support of black-owned, black-oriented spaces because of how history and time has treated black people. Though Walton’s site was ultimately viewed as a space for black women, she wants to share a more diversified palette of beauty. For black people in America, still fully attuned to their roots and pride of being black in America, even as cultural ways become more visible to those at first unfamiliar, Lemieux and Walton are smart women that represent the two faces of the modern, or “new black” black American and individual in that we want a world that sees us for we are but we still want our legacy to be respected.
“To keep my hair the same texture as it grows out of my head is looked at as revolutionary.” -Tracie Thomas, in Good Hair