Discrimination isn’t always overt. That’s why sometimes it’s difficult to tell if you’re truly being discriminated against or just being overly sensitive.
In the past five years, I have seen a massive change in attitudes towards natural hair. While we still have a long way to go, black women are starting to embrace their kinks, coils and curls more than ever now and calling out folks who have a problem with it.
I have to say, I have been relishing this explosion of self-love and acceptance. Consider that there was once a time when you’d go into a beauty supply store and see an overabundance of relaxers and texturizers. Today, those supplies have shrunk exponentially. They’re now on the endangered list. The natural hair products that were once relegated to a small area in the store in limited supplies now occupy shelves and rows. Major beauty companies like Pantene have also jumped on the bandwagon, offering product lines geared towards black women. A change has come.
But, now I see another problem surfacing: discrimination in the natural hair community.
It’s bad enough that naturalistas have to battle bad attitudes from a society that views their kinks as unkempt and unprofessional. Now, they’re battling each other.
I have taken stock of this unofficial caste system in the natural hair world where women with a looser hair texture feel they are at the top and their coily-haired counterparts at the bottom.
I notice it especially when attending functions geared toward natural hair. I’ve overheard the conversations.
And it’s not just the natural hair community. In the black community, it’s worse.
In 2017, two Bahamian women made headlines after they went public about being sent home from their jobs for wearing their natural hair.
According to The Tribune, Anthonique Hall, who was at work wearing her hair in a twist out, was told that her hair was “nasty.”
Meantime, Rolanda Davis said she went to work with her hair “pulled back, slicked and gelled” a high-ranking executive saw her behind the register and “her face distorted in scorn.”
“After that, a general note went around the store from our higher ups that we need to be more presentable – more makeup, suit jackets, hair ties. Basically, they addressed me without addressing me.”
In 2016, Bahamian high schooler, Tayjha Deleveaux was suspended from school because the principal felt her hair hadn’t been brushed for days, which she said violated school rules. That incident sparked widespread backlash and a subsequent viral #SupportThePuff movement.
(Side note, The Bahamas is a predominantly black country.)
No matter how much you brush or comb certain natural hair types, they will not change. Nor should they. Why are we so determined to make our hair behave and look like other people’s textures? You seldom see women with straight textures spending hours in the mirror manipulating their hair to look like a 4c texture. So why do we expect the reverse?
The reality is, if any of these women had a curlier texture they may not have been targeted.
The situation has gotten so bad that some naturalistas feel the need to spend hours defining their hair texture and slaying their edges. I understand that sometimes a woman wants a specific look. I have no problem with that. But, I think we should be concerned when it becomes obsessive to the point where a woman feels she cannot wear her natural undefined hair out. It’s almost as if their self-esteem is tied to sleek edges, curls and twists.
I have gone to work many days without using edge control or sporting a twist out. The reactions I get are like night and day. When I wear a twist out, I get smiles, compliments and admiration. When it’s not defined, I get scowls and questions about what I’m going to do about my hair.
People respond differently when your hair pattern is of a looser texture. They want to know if your mixed or what you do to make your hair look that great. When it’s a tighter texture, you become invisible.
There are exceptions.
I remember being in a bookstore in Nassau. My hair, which had been in a three-day old twist out was standing up like a coily crown. While checking out at the register, a saw a beautiful woman with golden, curly hair stealing glances of me. I caught her looking, but played it off. Finally, after the fourth glance my way, I smiled at her and asked her how she was doing. That’s when she apologized for staring. She told me that she was in love with my hair and admired how it stood up.
She said she had tried tirelessly to make her hair perform this gravity defying trick, but always failed, as it would revert to hanging down to her shoulders. She asked me what I did to make it behave that way. I explained that my hair has always grown that way. Here was this woman sporting a gorgeous head of hair that most people admired, and she wanted to know how she could get her hair like mine. This was a first.
Eleanor Roosevelt once famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Natural hair girls have come a long way. It’s time to wear your hair like a crown regardless of your texture. All hair types are beautiful and should be celebrated.