You probably think the title of this post is wishful thinking! Like most forms of discrimination, the roots are firmly entrenched within society. This natural hair movement has been amazing and empowering but there are some split ends that need to be chopped off! If they are not dealt with…we all know what holding onto split ends can do for the rest of your hair.
It’s no secret all natural hair (of black and mixed women of African descent – there are other mixed race people who do not have African ancestry) is not seen as equal! This has been propagated in mainstream and ‘black’ media including the natural hair community.
This debate is not new. So why are we still talking about it?! We’ve gone over this so many times (I hear you say in your head)! Yes, there have been many blogs and vlogs about this issue but there hasn’t really been much change. This summer the debate was ignited again on Twitter.
The hair texture discrimination debate is entangled with colourism. I understand the connection but there are dark skinned women with loose curls and light skinned women with thick afro hair. I’ll just stick to hair texture discrimination in this post.
Debating hair may seem frivolous to those who think it’s ‘just hair’! However, the by-products of slavery, colonialism and current anti-blackness mean that sometimes it’s not ‘just hair’.
I’ve only relaxed my hair once and when I went back to my natural hair, I didn’t really know how to look after it. Living in NYC, I got talking to other naturals and discovered the YouTube natural hair world and the hair typing system. I understand those who denounce these systems, as they can be subconsciously divisive. They’re only really valuable for companies to target us with products. I can’t lie though, I was keen to know which category I fell into (which is 4c, in case you were wondering). Now I realise it’s important to know my hair and not put myself in a box created by someone else. Historically, when African people (this term will be used throughout this post, referring to anyone of African descent) have been divided / put into categories it hasn’t really been for our benefit!
This is me:
Hair like mine is still considered by many Africans and non-Africans alike as unprofessional, nappy, coarse, tough, messy, [fill in another negative adjective]. Rarely would you see hair like mine used in advertising by brands, even those who ‘cater’ for the natural hair community. On social media, a larger proportions of likes, followers and validation from those outside and within the natural hair community is given to, for example, ladies with textures below.
There are some kinky hair girls/women garnering substantial followings on social media, but it’s been a slow uphill struggle compared with their looser curled counterparts. It’s ironic that girls/women with hair textures furthest away from European hair were pushed to the back of a movement created to uplift and dispel the negative connotations associated with afro hair. The natural hair texture discrimination debate can rage for years, but we now need practical solutions! Sceptics out there may think that discrimination in general is part of life and will never disappear, but I have some faith in hair.
We used our power to make big brands lose money from chemical relaxers and force them to sell products that suited our hair. We used our power to encourage start-up companies to thrive in a sector of the beauty industry where they never stood a chance. We need to be the change we want to see. We’ve done it before and can do it again.
The steps below are actions for us to contemplate – the natural hair community.
- Admit that hair texture discrimination exists
It’s futile for us (whatever your skin tone or hair texture), to fight and segregate ourselves. We’ll never benefit from self-implementing divide and conquer strategies that were/are used to oppress us. However, if you benefit from a biased system without acknowledging it, you are part of the problem.
Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. Martin Luther King Jr
Despite your privilege, you can still speak up. It’s the denial or silence from African / mix-raced women (of African heritage), with mainstream ‘acceptable’ hair textures, that contributes to dissention about this issue. Yes, we all have struggles and insecurities, but it’s fair to say it’s not all the same. Just acknowledge that. It’s not your fault that society perceives certain hair textures (those closest to European textures) to be more beautiful than others, but dismissing the issue or saying things like, “women with afro hair should just be more positive” is a very simplistic POV.
2. De-colonise your mind (it’s not easy but is possible)
We’ve all been conditioned to covet European beauty standards, for hundreds of years. There’s nothing wrong with complimenting women who have loose curled hair (compared to your own), but if you have tightly curled / kinky hair and dismiss women with a similar hair type, then you are also part of the problem. It indicates that you still aspire to European beauty standards without accepting or wanting to know about your own hair.
Words are powerful. Whether used in context, in love, in hate. Psychologically we’re already wired to associate certain words as positive or negative. Nappy, coarse, wiry, tough, messy. No matter how you try and spin it, using negative words about yourself, twists the knife a little deeper into your insecurities. You’re letting others know how you view yourself. Let’s try and use positive affirmations. I will never describe my hair as nappy! Despite the volume, it’s actually delicate and soft (when I moisturise it). Rather than focussing on what your hair can’t do… ‘no ‘defined’ curl pattern’ blah blah blah; focus on what styles look good on you and rock them with confidence.
3. Understand your healthy hair journey
Along mine I’ve also learnt, just because someone has a similar hair texture to me doesn’t always mean we can use the same products. Yes, hair porosity is a good thing to know! It revolutionised my moisturising game and my hair thanks me for it every day with less breakage.
Don’t be lazy! Many naturals have told me, their hair is too hard to maintain and they just can’t handle it. Like most things in life, learning about something involves trial and error. YouTube was my saviour when I started, but I was also curious about my own hair, I bothered to make an effort to learn about one of my most prominent physical features. Treat your hair well and it will thrive inspiring you and others not to be low key embarrassed of their own hair texture. Do it for the culture!
4. Hold brands to account
In the social media age this is a lot easier to do. Shea Moisture and Cantu brands have encountered the wrath of the natural hair community this year, with the former making a public apology.
Remember, hair brands are businesses and go where the money is! If they see only certain hair types receiving validation and adoration, they will only showcase women with those hair textures in their advertising. It’s a logical strategy. However, if we continue to let them know we don’t like that they only show specific hair types, when women with kinky hair also make significant financial contributions to them they will start to show diversity in their branding. Also, fight for the ‘little guy’ who’s fighting for you! The natural hair movement has empowered many female-owned beauty product businesses to start up. These cater directly to us, keeping us at the heart of their ethos, so we should support them financially if we like being catered to and not regarded as an afterthought.
5. Teach those around you to love all textures
It’s not far reaching to say that many African / mix-raced men (of African heritage) show contempt towards kinky hair textures compared to others. They have also been conditioned to admire European beauty standards. We should teach our fathers, brothers, sons, nephews, cousins and other African men and boys around us, by example that all hair textures are beautiful (if we believe that of course)! Last but least, constantly teach your mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces and other girls/women around you to fall in love with their hair. One of my favourite Instagram accounts does with well in the video below!
Honest conversations are being had by the natural hair community, like in the documentary below by LAMBB, sponsored by Treasure Tress. However, hair texture discrimination will take some time to unravel, unless we are all determined to implement solutions rather than divisive strategies.
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