Reclaiming Our Roots: Diversity in Black Hair

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After the big chop, August 2018

Yesterday I read a captivating article by Makeda Easter entitled “The black hair revolution is happening now on a screen near you” . Not only does this piece track the evolution of black women’s hairstyles in TV and film, it also touches on the history of how Euro-centric standards of hair have infiltrated the Black community since slavery. Today seeing black women wearing their natural on TV or the big screen is commonplace.

As a black woman and a pop culture junkie, this article immediately appealed to me. I’ve worn my hair natural since the mid-90s back when I was in college. I was at Sarah Lawrence, close enough to the Bronx and Harlem where I could certainly find a hair dresser.  But I was afraid of riding the subway solo (I’m a rural-suburban Maryland girl) and couldn’t afford to keep up my perm, so I cut my hair into a TWA. Back then New York girls were doing the natural hair thing so that choice wasn’t unique, but back home I felt like a bit of a curiosity. I wore the short ‘fro look for almost 10 years, then loc’ed my hair for over 15 years, only to do the big chop and go back to the TWA this past summer.

I grew up in the 80s when the TV/film aesthetic was light-skinned and wavy-haired. My hair daydreams kept me busy. Me in a Prell commercial, washing and rinsing my way into a bouncy silky life. Me wearing a t-shirt on my head flipping and tossing it like the girls in my class (less daydream, more reality). Me dunking my head in a pool, and for once water was friend not foe. Me, hair straight without the damp sizzle of hot comb steam burning my edges as Mom snagged the tiniest kink to smooth.

My hair was natural until age 13 when, unbeknownst to Mom, my older brother (in hair school at the time), Grandmother Thelma (paternal grandmother), and I conspired to perm my hair. Mom was pissed but I was happy cause I could feel the wind in my scalp and my hair was straight when wet. Nobody told me about new growth. As a little kid Mom always pressed my hair, Mom-Mom (maternal grandmother) would cornrow and bead it in the summers, and Grandmother Thelma combed it up into a single afro-puff tied with a pink ribbon. I was a natural kid.

I made the decision to  straighten my hair. Only now do I realize that by perming my hair I had to keep chasing away the new growth like a hungry stray dog. It told the truth about me; I was nappy.  Being in predominately white spaces in high school I didn’t want my friends to notice. Between salon visits I hid it using scarves as headbands, smoothing edges with Pro Styl, using a hard brush on my kitchen, and rocking hats. Keeping up the facade was time-consuming which, in part, helped me to eventually let the perms go.

It’s funny to reflect on this today when there are a large number of Black women in pop-culture wearing natural hair. This summer I eagerly tuned in weekly to watch Insecure, excited to see what hairstyles Issa Rae and Natasha Rothwell’s characters were going to be wearing. I watched Sanaa Lathan’s character in Nappily Ever After shave her head to the scalp, this after I cut my hair again and questioned my attractiveness, a theme touched on in the movie. I get to see how creative we Black women are with all of our hairstyles whether we wear wigs, silky weaves, braids, locs, or baldies. We are diverse and we are beautiful.

Check out my hair essay from my book Sonic Memories/and other essaysGetting Caught in the Rain: A Hair Story

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