Kids being kicked out of school for wearing afro puffs and dread locks. A sea of weave and low-quality tracks every-whicha-way you turn. What is up with black women and this hair business?
Before I start down this road, let me first preface this by saying I’m not some natural-hair snob. In fact, if I knew how to make permed hair immune to this Atlanta humidity without subjecting it to daily doses of heat every morning, I would probably still be wearing a perm. And I don’t mind weave. But I’ve seen more bad ones than good ones and that worries me.
Wearing a perm or a weave is not an acknowledgement of self-hate though many do view the natural qualities of black hair with contempt. On the heels of Sheryl Underwood’s comments about the uselessness of saving afro hair and last week’s coverage of Tulsa elementary school student Tiana Parker who was sent home from Deborah Brown Community School for being deemed “unpresentable” because she wears locks, I started to wonder, what exactly is so displeasing about black people wearing their natural hair? Well…
People with nappy hair don’t get treated well. He who dominates the region dictates the beauty standard. The European standard of beauty is still the standard by which we measure ourselves. Hundreds of years ago, the closer a black person was to looking white, the more humanely he or she was treated. It’s only natural to want to be treated well.
You can’t assimilate with nappy hair. Nothing says non-white faster than kinky hair. With the exception of that kid from Boy Meets World, hair texture is often a pretty good indicator of East, West, Central or South African ancestry. Believe it or not, a lot of us still have unspoken hang-ups about having any ties at all to the continent. My last love interest would never admit he was of African descent. He’s a 40 year-old black man. But whatever. We’ll let him be surprised. It’s never been safe being black in this country. So, the desire to assimilate may be more self-preservation than self-hate.
Hair has social significance, but in this part of the world, our natural hair texture seems to diminish ours. University of Wyoming Professor Tracey Owens Patton’s paper, “Am I More Than My Hair?” describes the significance of hair amongst some 15th century West African tribes. Hair signaled “age, ethnic identity, marital status, rank within the community, religion, war, and wealth.” Say what, now? I’ve never gleaned any of that information from the perm or weave of the woman on the train beside me. Oh. I see. It’s all tatted on her neck. My bad.
Whiteness is more socially significant (duh). If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. There’s intrinsic value, professional value and social value. Members of the ruling class always have more social value. That’s just the way that goes. Historically, the closer a black slave worked with the white population, the more incentive he or she had to look like whites. If you weren’t light-skinned enough to pass for white, your options were often limited to wearing wigs and straightening your hair.
It makes you look undeniably black. Ah. Boom! goes the dynamite. That’s real talk right there. If you are dark-skinned with nappy hair, it doesn’t matter how many Indians you say are in your family, you look black. That in and of itself puts you in a position where you will likely have to overcome more challenges, work harder, suffer more, be more patient, be slower to anger, let small things roll off you, be twice as good as your peers… and you may still end up getting passed over if you are waiting for someone else to acknowledge your value.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
There’s no two ways about it, being undeniably black – unapologetically black – will cost you something. Sometimes it’s easier to just go along to get along.
“Don’t remove the kinks from your hair! Remove them from your brain!” – Marcus Garvey