In an effort to explore and engage in conversations about the tactile fascination with “black hair”, Un’ruly presents You Can Touch My Hair , an interactive public art piece in NYC (Union Square) Saturday June, 8th from 2-4 PM. You can read the full article by Antonia Opiah, Editor of Un’ruly on the Huffington Post and watch a short video of three different women sharing their thoughts HERE.
i saw this post this morning, right after i posted a poem coming from the total opposite perspective. while it did strike me, and there was a long, and shocked no streaming from my lips, i do understand that everyone has a right to process this matter as feels comfortable for them. my heart did instantly melted into sadness, though. it just feels to me as if it is feeding into the extremely racist idea that our hair/ our beings in someway must be demystified, as if we are not human. our hair is hair. our bodies are bodies. we are not exotic animals to be felt and petted. not to mention, touching someones hair is an intimate act. if people want to understand the difference of our hair texture, i feel they need to stretch their minds from hair being defined as what their hair is, to hair being defined as what grows on human beings around the world. how hard is to understand that some folks on the earth have thick dense tight curls that grow from their heads instead of straight hair. allowing people to feel our hair does not educate them, it just allows them to never have to use their minds to push past their ignorance. it’s not fascination, it’s blatant racism. and we are not your pet cat or dog, we are human beings.
YES! Furthermore, this eerily reminds me a lot of Sarah Baartman/Hottentot Venus. I mean, people were “just curious” about her body, too. But back then she didn’t have a choice about whether she was okay with being placed on a pedestal, groped, gawked at, and looked at as some type of freak…Her body was brown. Foreign. Un-human. Which was the reason for the curiosity in the first place.
But what I don’t understand is - how is this a teaching moment? So you get some strangers walking up to you in a park, they touch your hair because they’re finally allowed to, they tell you that it feels like _____, and then what? You say, “See?! We’re not that different! Black hair isn’t scary! Have a nice day!” As said strangers leaves the park and goes about his/her day. But to say, “see?!” at all just sounds as though you are trying to justify your humanism, your hair, your body, the fact that you are a living being too. And why does this need to be justified and confirmed?
I just think that there isn’t enough discussion behind it. You can ask the stranger to read the article that goes along with the exhibit, but will they? Will you and the stranger get down to the nitty gritty about the politics of black hair? Or will they head home, think about the black hair they just touched, re-watch “Good Hair” with Chris Rock just for good measure, and go to sleep still thinking of black women and black hair as a foreign entity? As a play thing? As something “strange” that they were allowed to touch for a moment.
Food for thought.
I think the biggest misconception about 4B hair is that there are no curls.
More accurately, I think 4B hair has no uniform curl pattern. There is a difference. 4B hair can have curls, kinks and waves all mixed up in there, but the hair does not clump together to form a lock with a consistent pattern. Some strands may even have the C-, Z- and S-shape all in one. Some naturals are quick to label themselves a 3B or 4A after spotting some of these looser patterns, but on most of my head, I can find that each strand is doing its own thing. My sides may be 4A (they look like this) but the rest is totally questionable. So maybe I have the hair typing system wrong, or maybe it just doesn’t cover my hair “type”. I’m not sure!
Do you agree with this or do I have it all wrong? What’s your take on 4B hair or even the typing system in general?
I really enjoyed this article on CurlyNikki, where author Erica Thurman talks about acknowledging privileges within the natural hair community. We don’t all have the same journey. The better you fit into the narrow beauty ideal (skinny, lighter skinned, etc), the more willing people may be in accepting your one deviation (your natural hair). But if you have darker skin and more weight on you then acceptance may be a little more difficult. Then again, this is all relative—it depends on who you are and what kind of community you grow up in. But I find this a very important article nonetheless.
What do you think?
saarantrai asked: I just read your post 'relaxers are the devil' and I completely agree, there's no way we can win, we make an effort and we're 'fake', we don't and we're 'ugly' or 'lazy', so what exactly are we supposed to do?! I use a relaxer but not for straightness but because my natural hair is so coarse there is literally nothing I can do with it, I have the tightest curls and you can get a comb through it without excruciating pain, I'd like to go natural but I need the manageability more than anything!
Glad you agree! A lot of feminist scholars talk about the “beauty ideal” and how it binds women, and the relaxer is definitely part of that.
Hm, do you read natural hair sites? You totally don’t have to feel pressured to go natural, but some sites are great with tips on how to finger detangle or gently comb. It’s probably painful because of knots (which can occur with extremely curly hair), so try combing it with conditioner or oil in your hair. If you go slowly and start at the ends it might be less painful but you have to have a few hours to spare.
If you do decide to go natural, here are some good resources:
If you head to the comments section of a recent article on my favourite natural hair site, Black Girl Long Hair, you’ll find a bit of an uproar. People are upset that the original post seemed to be questioning that black girls could have long hair (quite ironic given the site title) and it got me thinking about their “Natural Celebrities” section in general. I left this comment:
The “Natural Celebrities” section of BGLH is already a questionable topic…It invites us to have an opinion/input/discussion on someone else’s hair and personal choices by asking us what we think or if it looks good…as if that matters. And then we get upset when our coworkers/families/friends/strangers are always commenting on OUR hair. Black women’s hair (and bodies) never stays out from under the microscope. Using celebs as inspiration is great, but otherwise their hair choices are irrelevant to me.
It’s not enough that there are black women representing various forms of natural hair, but the site often invites us to be critical of exactly how these women are doing it. Does it look good? Would you rock it? Do you think it’s real? What do you think of this style? I understand that they’re inviting traffic to their site, but I think it’s a problematic discourse that an outsider should have such a heavy critique on another person. It also makes it hard to proclaim that as black women we are not our hair, when we fetishize and objectify each other in such ways.
I wrote in Part I that my non-black friends have too much to say about my hair; but it seems like there is a larger problem in which criticizing black women is normalized and in which everyone participates.
Can’t stop smiling :) I love my job because of moments like this… A parent told me that her baby has fallen in love with her afro & darker complexion for the first time because of my help!!! She said she never loved school or reading, but know she can’t wait to get to school to see her teacher! Now, she strives to be excellent, she is confident, she loves to read, and most importantly… she LOVES herself. She said this was not the case last year at her old school and she has never seen her so happy :) This makes it all worth it! I love all of my kids, but our young afro american girls hold a special place in my heart! The world, as it is today, tells them that they’re not beautiful the way they were created… skin too dark… hair too kinky and nappy… all you have to do is turn on the television or flip through a magazine… look at the dolls on store shelves… are we represented??? Not Barbie dipped chocolate, but our God given beauty… Natural texture, variety of shades, and shapes??? No. So…if we don’t build our babies up, who will??? The world will continue to lie to them and tell them the need straight hair, lighter skin, larger butts, and breasts. Songs/Videos/ “reality” shows, are telling them that they’re great for sexual pleasure…materialistic… shouldn’t expect a lot of a man… settle… you’re not good enough… you will never measure up to “her”. They are crying out to us… be the change you want to see in the world…
Reading more about terminal length has removed my initial skepticism over it and given me more understanding. First I was worried that I would never have long hair because it wasn’t “in my genes”; then I was certain I could have floor-length Rapunzel hair if I had enough time to grow it. Many people won’t even know their terminal length if they’re not taking care of their hair, so my goal is to continue what I’m doing and see how long I can go (though I understand it won’t likely make it to the floor)! I’m two years post-relaxer and my natural hair is just slightly shorter than my relaxed hair was.
In case you’ve missed any vids in the DIY Organic Beauty chapter of my channel.
Hope it’s helpful <3
I think sometimes people honestly forget that hair can grow. Particularly hair on the heads on black people. If you’re spotted once with short hair, the assumption is that your hair cannot grow any longer and that short hair isn’t a choice.
One of the best examples to illustrate my point is Queen Beyonce. A few years ago, pictures of her at the airport with a teeny tiny ponytail surfaced (pictured left) and ever since then, people have had the image of Beyonce with short hair.
She went on to wear a lot of lace fronts wigs, and (black) women everywhere brought up their magnifying glasses to check her hairline. Pictures of glue or tape or the details of her wig were all over the Internet (see above), with people sure that she wore these wigs because she was bald underneath (and not because she was protective styling or something). Her hair has been criticized like no other, and I personally commend her for not ever addressing it.
But what if—after those airport photos—Beyonce decided she wanted long hair and started wearing wigs to protect her ends and starting cowashing and prepooing and after five years now has bra strap length hair? How would we know? Well, we wouldn’t. It’s very possible that now when we see Beyonce with long blonde locks that the front is her own and she’s adding extensions for volume or length just like any (and every) other Hollywood celebrity. But people still will not give her the benefit of the doubt. Beyonce is bald and that’s final.
I want to share an old picture of my hair:
I took my natural hair journey seriously after July 2011 and cut out heat and harsh chemicals. I transitioned wearing my hair in box braids, re-doing them every month. You could see the blonde bit move down the braids each month, and people would ask me, “How did you get the blonde all the way down there?!” The simple answer was, “My hair grows” and then people would take their palms to their faces and realize how obvious it was. But people really do forget that black people can grow hair.
So when Beyonce’s hair comes under fire, I personally find it to be ridiculous and part of the assumption that black women cannot grow their hair out long.
What do you think? Would you be shocked to find out Beyonce had long hair or does that seem obvious to you? Have people ever expressed doubt about your hair being long?
(This is going to go pretty well with the last post, so I suggest you read "90s and Natural Hair" first).
A lot of natural hair blogs jump in excitement when a mainstream magazine features a black girl with a giant, round afro. It’s exciting to see representations of yourself in the media, isn’t it? But there’s something about the constant and relentless pairing of afros with 70s style that really just irks me now.
Why? Because it paints natural hair and afros as a thing of the past. These shots aren’t just inspired by 70s fashion and music, they are 70s fashion and music. It’s like we’ve traveled with a time machine to the past, where it was kinda/sorta/maybe acceptable or popular for women of African descent to wear their hair big. It just makes it that much more out of place when a woman chooses to wear her afro with a pair of skinny jeans and a blazer.
What I would like to see is this: Images in mainstream magazines featuring black girls with giant, round afros wearing clothes of 2012. Natural hair is present and a style for millions of women today, not a fashionable homage to the past. These images reify that afros belong with bell bottoms and bold patterns and platform shoes. It keeps natural hair associated with the 70s and a fad, rather than as something present and sustainable.
What are your thoughts on afros in the media? Do you feel they are representative of you?
i like that my hair grows up, towards the sun and the stars.
I think ladies going natural today are very lucky (as opposed to ladies who transitioned five to eight years ago). Fashion cycles every twenty years, and we can see the trends from the 1990s re-emerging. I was born in the early ’90s but grew up on episodes and reruns of Fresh Prince, The Cosby Show, The Parkers, The Wayans Brothers, One on One, and more. The actresses on these shows rocked curly hair, kinky hair, high tops, short crops, and (of course) box braids! As ’90s fashion becomes more popular on the streets in 2012 (20 years after my birth), it only makes sense that natural hair does too.
At this point, it’s very important to note that with this 20-year cycle, the trends in the ’90s were reminiscent of ’70s style. This means the “Black Power” movement and natural hair as a political statement were very much in effect in the 1990s, even if they weren’t explicitly stated or acknowledged.
After the horrid experiences I’ve had with relaxers and excessive heat from straightening, I know natural hair is going to have to be more than just a trend for me. But I wonder if natural hair’s popularity will fade as we pass the era of the ’90s (ie. the ’70s) and if those who went natural without negative experiences from a relaxer will opt for the next “in” style.
One of the most annoying things about being a black girl is that your hair (relaxed, natural or whatever) becomes subject to the comments of everyone—from strangers to friends to coworkers and more. Everybody has an opinion, some advice, a question or just something to say about our hair, how we should wear it and what we should do with it. We’re all aware of how annoying unsolicited comments and remarks can be, but I noticed yesterday that even “compliments” can be quite alienating.
(Franchesca Ramsey in "Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls")
There’s something incredibly irksome about non-black people saying, “I love you guys’ hair!” Rather than just paying a compliment to me (ie: “I love your hair!”), it has somehow become a discussion about all black people and our “different” or “Othered” hair. It implies that “you guys” are not “us”, and furthermore, that “you guys” are all monolithic and homogeneous with identical hair. You don’t need to bring somebody’s race up to compliment their hair, or talk about them as if their some exotic creature you just don’t understand, or ask them to speak on behalf of their entire race and explain how “you guys” do certain things to it.
Black girls can’t change their hair without everyone and their mothers taking notice. You get braids? All your non-black friends want to know if you had to glue it on your scalp. You get weave? All your non-black friends want to talk about how “you’re so lucky” to change your hair all the time. You straighten your hair? All your non-black friends want to comment on how different you look. You wear it natural or curly? All your non-black friends freak out about how they love “you guys’” hair. Often times, these scenarios are accompanied by a petting or fingering of some sort.
I don’t care that they’re saying something nice. I really don’t. The fact that they feel the need to say anything at all just exercises their power to have an opinion over our hair, make us feel different and stamp us with their unwanted approval.
Do any of you feel annoyed when your non-black friends are persistently making conversation about your hair choices?
The friend of mine that was forced to cut her hair down to two inches and go natural after experiencing a gradual, but terrible amount of breakage is kind of my inspiration right now. That was five months ago. About a month ago, she got fed up with wearing wigs and started wearing her TWA to class. Yesterday, I noticed and commented on how much her hair was grown. We’re both so excited! She says she feels so free and like herself, despite feeling very self-conscious during the summer time.
So when I concluded that natural hair doesn’t give you confidence, I missed an element: the big chop. It seems that making that decision to bare yourself and being unable to hide behind your hair are important processes in fostering growth, self-esteem and confidence. You have to find other qualities about yourself to love and other ways to define your worth. I never had a big chop experience. I had an accidental transition while I persistently hid behind weaves and (now) braids.
But I’m seeing type 4 hair more and more around my campus. When I look for my aforementioned friend in the library, I find my eyes stumbling upon many other 4B naturals with teeny-weeny afros and an abundance of confidence.
You really have to start somewhere. I’m going to take my braids out this weekend and wear my hair out over next week so I can become familiar with it—and myself.