So, I have curly hair. Like a lot of curly hair.
And I was tormented throughout middle and high school for my hair by everyone. Black, White, Hispanic, even the strangely large Hmong population.
In seventh grade, some White girl wrote in my yearbook, “GO BIG BUSH, GO!!!”
The Black girls loved to rag on my short curly hair — it was literally a past time of theirs. They would bully me incessantly, call me Big Bush, say my hair was nappy or frizzy… just it was bad. I repressed a lot of it.
Twice, I had gum or duct tape put in my hair and had to have it cut out. No. Not okay. I cried the next day when my stylist had to shave the back of my head because it was stuck in there.
Someone cut off a plait of my hair. Literally. Like one of my curls. On the top of my head. It was an inch long. Someone also cut off one of my pig tail braids.
I cannot make this up.
My dad has curly hair, but because he’s a dude he can shave it off. Same with my brother.
My mother, however doesn’t. And mom are generally the ones tasked with doing their little girl’s hair. My mom didn’t have any experience with coarse, curly hair… so she cut it all off. I had a bowl cut for a long, long, long time.
When I started learning to do my own hair in middle school (required a lot of experimenting), I was allowed to grow my hair. And I about killed it with the flat iron and chemicals, trying to get that perfect, straight hair look that would stop the tormentors.
Since becoming an adult, I’ve really embraced my curly hair in various styles and lengths. I’m currently trying to grow my hair out from a pixie cut.
But, folks, evidently my hair is racist and cultural appropriation and I have to be mindful of how I wear it lest it offend someone.
I have a hard enough time managing my damn hair and now I have to worry about being racist for my hair doing whatever it wants. My hair is a honey badger. It doesn’t care about cultural norms or historical context. It does what it wants. I can only try to control it.
But everything now is “problematic”, and evidently hair is a big hot topic. Especially curly hair. I had no idea my hair was politically incorrect and problematic:
“Black Twitter” said it once, but let’s say it again: It is not cool for white women to wear black hairstyles. It is not cute. It is not flattering.
When white women wear black hairstyles, it’s a slap in the face to black women.
There are so many reasons why it’s not okay for white women to rock styles traditionally worn by black women, including Afros, braids (no, not French braids, calm down), dreadlocks, and baby hairs. Black hair is not just hair. There’s history and context tied to these styles that cannot be ignored, a historical legacy forever linked to the ongoing cultural remnants of slavery and institutional racism. A white person who wears these styles dismisses that context and turns black hair into a novelty, a parody, a subtle form of blackface.
Box braids and cornrows can be traced all the way to ancient African civilizations. The practice of loc-ing hair (which, no, doesn’t entail simply not washing the hair for several months) has religious ties to Rastafarianism.
Black women have had our hair mocked and degraded, we have been called “nappy-headed-hoes,” and we have been socialized to believe that our hair is “bad” because it is not straight. When we do rock our natural hair, it’s called unkempt and unattractive.
So, finally, no. No. When Black women straighten our hair, or dye it blonde, we’re not “appropriating white hairstyles” — it is not the same thing. The word you are looking for is assimilation. White hair is the norm. It is the default. It is the societal ideal. There are many reasons why black women today wear their hair either natural or straightened, but for the most part, the practice of straightening black hair came from a real necessity to conform and survive, and to better emulate societal beauty standards that oppress women of all races — standards that just happen to be based around white beauty.
It’s important to remember that when black women call out articles like the one featured in Allure, or criticize white women like Kylie Jenner or Rita Ora for wearing black styles, it’s not simply out of this need to deny access to something simply for the sake of it. To you, white women, it’s just a cool hairstyle. To us, it’s something we’ve fought to be able to fully embrace. There are other ways to admire or celebrate black hair without coopting it. But understand — black hair can be deeply political, deeply spiritual, and deeply personal.
And I get it. There are historical and cultural significance to Black hair. I’m not denying it. To be completely honest, I absolutely adore Black hair. Mad props to Black women who go natural. All the lengths they go through to keep their hair healthy and beautiful is amazing and astounding. I am in awe of you.
But saying that a person, because they have a specific skin color, CANNOT wear a hair style is… well… you know. And evidently, even making a hair style up and wearing it, not knowing that it holds some significance to someone about something is bad juju.
And I get it — a lot of people really identify themselves with their hair… it’s who they are and because of that it’s deeply personal to them. My hair is a very personal topic to me. I don’t like people randomly touching my hair, I only let people who have curly hair (that looks healthy) cut my hair, I’m picky about products and my routine, and I struggle so much with making my hair do what I want it to do.
And yes, I do buy my hair products from the “ethnic” hair care aisle, and I get strange looks for doing it. I love and swear by Shea Moisture products. I follow a bunch of curly hair sites and get tips and advice, regardless of if it is a site meant for “ethnic hair”.
But to have HuffPo and Buzzfeed call my hair racist because it does what it wants and I just so happen to be white person… it’s patently absurd. Then being told I have to watch how I wear my hair, or I’m racist.
I can’t win for losing. I just can’t.
But at the end of the day, wear your hair how you want to. Life’s too short to worry about this kind of crap. There’s more important stuff in life to give attention to.
Update: Did a bit more research — not just HuffPo and Buzzfeed, but there is some real vitriol and disdain for white women with curly hair out there.
Because I was born to a mom with straight hair, and had no idea how to take care of my own hair, I’ve relied on a lot of hair health tips from Black hair gurus/experts/mavens/goddesses and they are so spot on.
I mean, first white people need to be “educated” about Black hair and what is copacetic, because we are “ignorant”, but when we try to understand and appreciate, we are scolded for being in their “spaces”. And I don’t understand it. I just wanted to know how to take care of my curly hair.
I mean, I get it, hair is a tetchy subject.
But it’s like, “okay. I’m listening.”
Then I read something like this and I’m just dumbfounded.
The title of this post sums up what I’m going to write about here. Twitter is abuzz about a post on Curly Nikki, featuring a Q&A with a white woman named Sarah talking about how she has learned to embrace her curls. This seemingly innocuous post features this woman musing about how she’s learned to accept her texture, and doing everything from co-washing, hoarding products to sleeping in a satin bonnet to protect her texture.
So a site that was started by a black woman as a guide to help other black women with natural hair or those who were transitioning to natural hair decided to once again (I’m told it’s not the first time a white woman was interviewed) feature a white woman discussing her curly hair. What’s more offensive is they didn’t even alter the questions to account for the fact that Sarah never transitioned or “went natural.” However, Curly Nikki is a lot different than what it used to be. It’s now a brand owned by TextureMedia, a company that offers “dynamic social platform that empowers & engages a multicultural community of female influencers – the largest in the world of haircare.”
Anyway, I am beyond exhausted of seeing white women propped up in spaces traditionally reserved for black women as a way to add credibility to our issues. I’m tired of seeing the use of white women employed to appeal to the masses, as this does nothing but silence and eliminate the experiences and voices of black women. I’m sick of white women coming into black women’s spaces, with what they call an attempt to learn and create solidarity, only to use their privilege to take over and ignore our plight as they work to bolster their own brand.
White women and their hair stories do not belong in spaces that cater to black women with natural hair. The term ‘natural hair’ has always been connected to black women and our hair stories, not that of white women. White women, while they can have curly hair, can not refer to their hair as natural without engaging in some form of cultural appropriation. This white woman did not start wearing her hair natural nor did she transition. She simply wore one hairstyle while growing up, and later decided she would wear her hair down. That decision by this woman featured in this blog post can NEVER compare to what black women face when we decide to transition from chemically relaxed to natural hairstyles.
The faux struggles curly-haired white women face when they “embrace their texture” is nothing like the social, political, personal and economic fallout inflicted upon black women when we shun the relaxer. Curly-haired white women don’t know what it’s like to have your boyfriend (or girlfriend) flat out say he (or she) prefers your hair to be straight (because of that whole white Eurocentric beauty brainwashing thing); when you family asks you, “You going to keep your hair like that?” Or “What do you plan to do with it?”; when white women ask you all kinds of ridiculous questions about your hair routine (because we can’t possibly use the same shampoo and conditioner as them, right?); when people are so brazen and arrogant to believe they have the right to ignore your humanity and run their grimy fingers through your coils; when your boss comes up to you and tells you how unprofessional your Afro is and that it does not belong in the workplace; when fellow black women talk about how brave you are to go natural, to embrace your kinks and wish they can do the same; when you spend hours upon hours on YouTube watching self-appointed natural hair stars demonstrate their tips on how to get the perfect twist out (because having a frizzy twist-out is not cute, apparently).
I’m sure there are some who couldn’t care less about Curly Nikki featuring this white woman in her Q&A. I know there are some of y’all who believe appropriation by white folks is flattery; that this is a nonissue and black women will find anything to be upset about. This white woman’s appropriation of the natural hair community’s terminology and framing those experiences as comparable to what she went through in her “journey” is indicative of her and Curly Nikki’s disregard for black women and our humanity. It ignores the gritty and sobering issues black women who wear natural hair face — those issues white women can bypass and brush off because they are, well, white.
Furthermore, the use of this white woman and her hair story further perpetuates the trend in natural hair circles to center experiences around women who have a looser curl pattern or, for those who are obsessed with hair typing, the 3a, 3b, 3c, etc. Black women who have tighter coils, kinks and naps — 4a, 4b, 4c, etc. for those keeping score — are constantly told through marketing campaigns that our texture is not the kind of natural hair we should embrace. It’s not a coincidence that we see an abundance of curl enhancers/definers being peddled towards black women who aren’t yet comfortable with rocking their frizzy undefined afros. Obsessed with chasing the ever-elusive curl, black women spend countless hours on YouTube and blogs such as Curly Nikki looking for ways they can make their 4z texture appear more like a woman rocking 3c curls. Some of us spend hundreds of dollars each year on hair products that promise to give us curly, defined styles. We spend hours each week twisting and stretching our hair to make sure we don’t wake up the next day looking like Don King’s shrunken down Afro. But we are supposed to look at this Q&A featuring this white woman and feel inspired to embrace our naps because her curly hair experience is just like ours!
We should not want or need white woman and their loose curl patterns in natural hair circles for black women. We should not promote white women picking and choosing which parts of blackness they can mold into their life experiences while simultaneously erasing and invalidating the lived experiences of black women who can’t leverage white privilege to make our journeys easier to navigate.
Shit I can’t make up.
To hell with it all. I’m going to wear my hair how I want to.