Archive for June, 2013

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By Tonya B. Lewis

Natural hair for black women used to mean afro picks with fists, Angela Davis salutes and the Black Panther Party. Over time, natural hair gave way to the Jheri Curl, which always make me think of Eddie Murphy’s “Coming to America” (“Just let your soul glow!”), perms and relaxers. Then, wigs and weaves. When it comes to Black women and hair, we have tried just about everything. Or at least, I have!

All this transitioning from style to style had me thinking about black women and our hair and what it says about us. Do people infer personality, class, education and lifestyle by the way a black woman wears her hair? My answer: yes. But, I wondered am I right or off-base here.

I personally did a BC, or Big Chop, in 2005, while blasting India.Arie’s “I Am Not My Hair.” I was called “brave” and many commented on my apparent “confidence.” Overnight I was suddenly more confident, bold, “conscious” and stronger. I remember feeling puzzled because I only cut my hair because of damage from a relaxer. I wasn’t exposing any particular political beliefs or making any declarations or statements.

I did feel more confident for rockin’ a style that was different at the time. It was liberating. Then, I started flat ironing my hair. Eventually, I began to wear sew-in weaves. Then, I noticed a different attitude and response from other black women. And, I’m not alone.

Natasha, a friend from college, recounted how she was shopping with her mother who wears an afro. “We were approached by a women with natural hair who practically fawned over my mother’s hair. She dismissed me, and I felt invisible. It was disheartening. I wanted to say, “Hey, I’m natural, too! My hair is just straightened!”

I, too, when my hair has been straight have found myself offering up in conversation with natural haired women–“Hey, I’m natural, too!” so I could be included in the natural, kinky and curly club.

In search for more answers to my question about perceptions and black women’s hair, I went to one of the historical places in the black community where good discussion and discourse takes place–the barbershop! Oh, did the men have a thing or two to say about black women, hair and beauty. (Sidebar: According to the men, the most attractive or beautiful accessory a woman has is her confidence,which I will address in a subsequent post.)

Ed, a 35-year-old barber, supported his wife’s decision to go natural. He sees natural hair as trendy and more of a fashion statement than anything else.

“In 2013, nothing is shocking anymore. Everyone is going natural and some women are shaving their hair bald. Natural hair is just another trend that is popular again.”

Jackson, a 30-year-old Waco native, sees women with natural hair as confident, a sentiment that was echoed by the five men that I spoke to at the barbershop. He added that those with natural hair seem “outspoken, proud and don’t care about other’s opinion” and are “professional or educated.”

Natasha recently began wearing her natural hair curly. “If I had known the amount of attention I would have received from men by wearing my hair curly, I would have done it sooner!” She, too, has been labeled as more confident and does feel more confident wearing her natural hair.

Men seemed to be more preoccupied with how a woman looks with a particular hairstyle than the style itself. They saved most of their disdain for weave–bad weave that is. Lace front wigs, quick weaves or smelly weaves received definite “no’s” from the men. Long, straight and healthy hair seemed to be favorable. They liked her that was touchable soft and not too course or “nappy.”

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I took my quest to Facebook as well, and my friends chimed in. (more…)

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By Bettie Beard

As I watched “Dark Girls,” I couldn’t help but reflect on my feelings when I was very young about being so dark compared to my mother and all my brothers but one.

My brother and I would complain about being the ‘black sheep’ in the family. My mother would always tell me that I was beautiful, but when we went anywhere together, I knew better because she would always get compliments about her beauty … AND her hair while I stood to the side. Occasionally someone would tell her “your daughter looks just like you” but I knew they were only trying to be nice.

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Throughout my elementary school years, if my mother came to school, I would always be embarrassed by students’ reactions when they called her pretty. I will never forget one girl said, “Bettie, your mother is so beautiful — why don’t you look like her?” I didn’t understand why that comment hurt until years later. It was cruel but children don’t know any better. The comments continued throughout the years and the one, which made me cringe most, was when people called my mother a “yellowhammer” because I considered it disrespectful and degrading. (more…)

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By Christal Jordan

When I was three, my Aunt Mary told me I had a pretty color. She said I was the color of a brand new copper penny. My face stretched wide into a full grin as I experienced a sense of pride at the fact someone noticed I was positively unique as opposed to unexplainably different than the rest of my family.

My mother was perfection in my eyes; with a almond complexion, wide set dark eyes, complete with beautiful wavy tresses that hung past her waist. I would somberly compare myself to her, deciding that I was a duller, browner, shorter-haired version of imperfection. My father and beloved younger brother were the color of freshly churned butter. My yellows swirled with sienna then settled to produce a warm caramel. During the summer months my arms and legs would bake red at noonday, then as the sun began its lazy farewell, they would cool into a ruddy cinnamon. I was painfully aware of the differences between my skin tones and my family’s almost immediately. My mother recalls me asking her where she got the white baby when my brother first came home from the hospital. I had hoped the baby would look a little more like its brown-skinned big sister. A silent child, I would often observe others observing us, mentally struggling to place me in the familial picture.

For the majority of my primary years, I was the only black child in class, at most one of two. This meant I felt out of place both at home and school, all because of the color of my skin. The very skin that years ago my then-deceased Aunt Mary told me was pretty.

After entering junior high school, I quickly learned of the unspoken color rating system within the small black community of Tulsa, OK. On this scale I ranked a non-impressive five as I wasn’t fair enough to be grouped with the elitist light-skinned, nor was I distinctly dark enough to be thrown in with the darker-skinned blacks. At home however my numbers lowered drastically after being contrasted against my family.

With adolescence came a strong awareness and attraction to the opposite sex. Still a reserved child I studied the boys in my class. They were constantly in search of girls who would develop into examples of the women they saw in music videos and fashion magazines. I couldn’t count on my hands and feet combined the number of times I was asked if I had a friend that was “light-skinned with good hair.” When I hesitantly mentioned this to a friend, she laughed at me, claiming it was all in my head. Christal, I think this is all in your head. Things have changed now days. Guys like all color girls. Black people have moved on. She regurgitated a speech she’d been given by her creole parents. Silently I resented her ambivalence. Her skin was the color of fresh honey and she had never experienced intra-racial discrimination unless it was from one of my envious cocoa sistahs deciding she thought she was better than others because of her elite skin tone. (more…)