Natural hair is a big issue for sistahs (Actually, the whole issue of self-hate is a big issue). I use to keep far away from the topic of natural hair, because sistahs would damn near take my head off about this one.
I was always told things like, "You have good hair, so you don't understand" or "Your hair is already long, so you don't get it." The general consensus is that I shouldn't have a damn thing to say on the topic of perming, pressing, coloring and weaving. So, when the issue of hair came up, I would keep silent.
Little did they know, I have struggled with my hair. I had self hate issues and still struggle with it at times. It wasn't until last year that I went totally natural. I never got into the perming, but I would always flat iron or press my hair. If my hair wasn't straight, I didn't feel pretty.
The issue of hair and all things related to self hate, is an issue that I feel very strongly about. Recently one of my beloved sisters told me that I shouldn't be quiet about it. So, I started speaking out. I got quite a few angry tweets & comments and lost quite a few permed, gelled, weaved followers. I won't lie, I was happy to see the blonde wigs go.
.::My Personal Struggles With Self-Hate::.
I have struggled with my hair since I was very young. I've been through hell because of my hair. My mother didn't know how to do my hair, so I had to learn how to do it for myself. I was in my early teens when I started learning... So until then, my hair looked CRAZY. I remember in 2nd grade, I had a caucasian woman for a teacher that hated me. She would constantly make little remarks about me. She always made it a point to single me out. I remember one time this artist came to the school to do our portraits. He traced our silhouettes. When the day came that they were laminated and ready to be passed out, she held them in her hands. Before she came to mine she said to the class, "We'll know which one Rachel's is by her hair" and she gestured to her head, making motions that my hair was big and crazy. She laughed as she said this. This wasn't the first nor last time she singled me out in an attempt to ridicule my blackness.
Growing up, I didn't really see the beauty in myself. I hated my nose, my hair, my skin, my hips... The first few years of my school life, I lived in a small, predominantly caucasian town. In that town, hips and butt automatically meant fat. I remember hiding my body with baggy clothes and wanting desperately to have straight hair. I did everything I could to keep my hair flat-ironed. I would flat-iron and press my hair to the root, often burning my scalp. I would hold the flat-iron there as long as I could, even withstanding the burn of the flat-iron. It hurt, but nothing hurt more than going out of the house without my hair straight.
In high school, it was the same story.
.::Dating and Natural Hair::.
I didn't wear my hair natural too often. And when I did, I had found a way to make my curls appear less tight and to weigh my hair down so it wasn't so big. I remember this one guy I was dating didn't like my natural hair. This is how I found out:
I was talking about not pressing my hair for awhile, because I thought my hair needed a rest. His reaction was a bit unexpected. He flat out told me that he doesn't like my hair curly and that I look better with straight hair. He told me that he likes me with straight hair and since I'm his girl, I should do what he likes. Everything in me rebelled against what he said, but because of my self-hate, I gave in. I didn't feel pretty without my straight hair, so I didn't have the strength to refute what he said.
The second time this happened, it wasn't with a guy I was in a relationship with, but it was a guy I cared for very much and had been talking to for a minute. His words were, "I like the straight hair better. You look good with straight hair, but I can deal with the poofy. I can deal with it." Wow. Deal with it? That was my thoughts. It hurt my feelings, but I never said anything.
The third time was with my ex-husband. He indirectly said that I was only sexy when my hair was straight.
All these things, as well as others, fed my self-hatred. I NEVER wanted to wear natural hair. When I look back, I've spent thousands of dollars over the years. I bought this one flat iron that was close to $200 dollars. It worked like magic. Not a single wave could be seen once I used it. I think this is the flat-iron that actually changed my curl pattern to a looser curl pattern. It could heat up to 400°.
Not only have I spent thousands, but I've done so much damage to my hair. I've actually had parts of my hair burnt out before. Burnt hair is one of the worst smells I have ever smelled.
I've had many excuses as to why I won't wear my hair natural. None of them are valid. I don't care what any permed out, weaved out sistah says. My favorite excuses were, "It's easier to manage", "It takes less time", "My natural hair doesn't look good", and a whole mess of others. Easier to manage and takes less time? False. It takes more work to make it straight and maintain it than it does to work with what I have naturally. It doesn't look as good? False. Why wouldn't the hair I grow naturally look as good? It isn't that it doesn't look as good. It's that it doesn't look as white.
No matter how you try to flip it, we equate straight, more caucasian looking hair with good hair. And we equate kinky, curly, more "black" looking hair with bad hair.
In the Dominican Republic, the words for curly/kinky hair is "bad hair". Pelo malo. Most Dominicans deny their blackness and deny that it's self-hatred. Perms, hair straighteners and skin whiteners are very popular items in the Dominican republic.
"Nearly all Dominican women straighten their hair, which experts say is a direct result of a historical learned rejection of all things black."
Quote from a Dominican woman: "If you're working in a bank, you don't want some barrio-looking hair. Straight hair looks elegant," the bank teller said. "It's not that as a person of color I want to look white. I want to look pretty."
Pretty, for them (and for so many of us across the globe), means LESS BLACK.
*side note* Barrio, in this context, would mean "ghetto". See how universal that "ghetto" nonsense is? Ghetto (to most people)=black. Nevermind that it originally was meant to be used towards Jewish people.
Our people all across the globe are taught to dissociate themselves with anything and every thing black. Our people are taught that black=bad. If you're born outside of Africa and the US, you're given an "out". This is especially true for blacks born in "latin countries". Or rather, places where the Spaniards and the Portuguese came in, took control, oppressed and enslaved indigenous peoples.
"I always associated black with ugly. I was too dark and didn't have nice hair," said Catherine, a dark-skinned Dominican-American college student spending a semester here. "With time passing, I see I'm not black. I'm Latina.
You call yourself latino/latina, dominican, spanish, indian, burnt indian, singed, toasted... Anything BUT black. Black=bad.
And the same way "black=bad", "white=good."
Eurocentric Ideals of Beauty
The hours spent on hair extensions and painful chemical straightening treatments are actually an expression of nationalism, said Ginetta Candelario, who studies the complexities of Dominican race and beauty at Smith College in Massachusetts. And to some of the women who relax their hair, it's simply a way to have soft manageable hair in the Dominican Republic's stifling humidity.
"It's not self-hate," Candelario said. "Going through that is to love yourself a lot. That's someone saying, ‘I am going to take care of me.' It's nationalist, it's affirmative and celebrating self."
If you cannot see the madness in this statement, I don't know what to tell you. To put yourself through physical pain to alter your appearance in order to achieve less black looking hair is indeed self-hate. To destroy your hair in an attempt to meet the Eurocentric beauty standard is not celebrating self. You're celebrating Eurocentric ideals of beauty. You are--through your actions--saying that black is ugly, crude, not good enough. You're saying that YOU are not good enough.
We are a people in a state of insanity. We are so entrenched in self-hate, in denial of self-hate and in denial of self.
"You wake up in the morning and comb your oppression, you attach and wear your oppression on your head."--Al Sharpton
When you're straightening, coloring and weaving your hair, my beautiful, black sistah, what are you really saying to the world and to yourself? When you get that straight, silky, blonde fur--I mean hair--what are you really telling the world about black beauty? Think about it.
Peace, Love and Elevation.
*notes from the Author* I started writing this blog yesterday, when I was going back and forth with the idea of flat-ironing my hair again. I have been totally natural (no more flat-ironing and pressing) since toward the end of last year.*
*quotes from Dominican women were taken from the miamiherald.com*
Next Blog on Hair: "Since I've Been Natural"