A discussion I had this week on the controversial topic of Black hair has inspired this post. This was the first in a long time that I’ve expressed my reason for going natural. With the interesting feedback I got, I felt like sharing my view here for anyone else who cares to know.
What The Fuss Is About
Black hair varies from tightly coiled “nappy/kinky” hair to looser spirals in its natural state (the 3C to 4C spectrum primarily). Many people of African heritage choose to loosen their curl pattern with perms, jheri curl products and texturizers, or remove their curls and kinks altogether with relaxers. Others keep it permanently hidden beneath weaves, wigs and braids. The reasons behind this vary. On one end of the spectrum, many believe that it makes our hair texture more manageable and easier to detangle and style while others vehemently defend that it’s the only way our hair can be presentable, professional, tame or even beautiful. Let’s get real. Hair is trivial! It grows for one phase then sheds when the follicle has completed its cycle. Only our hair grooming and cutting practices or even our physical and mental health may prevent the strand from achieving maximum length during its growth phase. Thus, the way one’s hair grows- straight, wavy, curly, coiled, whatever- should never be a politicized or even discriminatory feature but undeniably, it already is.
Putting Black Hair In Context Historically
Chattel slavery, indisputably the worst breach of human rights by far to have ever occurred on this planet, lasted for nearly 300 years. Its effects are far from being undone despite the last African-Caribbean slave trade ending in the late 1800s. Call me a pessimist if you wish but I think it’s impossible to ever undo the effects. The scars run deep into the psyche of us African descendants whether or not we choose to admit them or are even aware of them ourselves. Nonetheless, we brush off ourselves and stand on the sweat, blood, tears and bodies of our ancestors to reach for excellence. In fact, the very university I attend, once a slave plantation and mark of shame for my predecessors is now a badge of honour having been repurposed into 1 of 3 campuses of the best tertiary institution in the Caribbean region. Anyway, when you are abducted and stored on a slave ship on the lowest deck in a space marked 6′ x 18″, chained together and only given the chance to stretch your legs once daily for a journey from Africa’s west coast to the Americas which lasted weeks before modern navigational technologies, then if you’re one of the lucky to survive, branded, sold, bred and traded at the will of a master, trust me, hair care is the last thing on your mind. This disruption in culture resulted in the breakdown and loss of African hair traditions, styling and grooming customs which had allowed Black hair to gleam and flourish.
To compound matters, we were taught that our features were unsightly. To have hair that was as close as possible to that of your master would make you more attractive and as a result, make your life easier with visible rewards such as lighter work, better food, clothes, shelter etc. This was the privilege of being born to Black and white or mixed parents during chattel slavery. The closer you got up the spectrum of being white (and hence having a looser curl pattern usually), the greater the privilege i.e. sambo (1/4 white) < mulatto (1/2 white) < quadroon (3/4 white) < octaroon (7/8 white).
150 Years Later
Nowadays, one can have the hair once deemed as gold standard by a Eurocentric model of beauty without being of mixed heritage. It’s sold by the bundle and taken from the heads of Brazilian and Asian women once you are willing to sacrifice for the hefty price tag. If that’s not your style, you can straighten your own hair as often as every 4 weeks once the kinky roots reappear. You can even have the texture of a looser curl pattern if you don’t want the straightest extreme of the hair texture spectrum for yourself.
I find that 100% OK. Not every person of African descent chemically straightens their hair because of this historical context. Not everyone is ready yet or willing to take on the challenge of learning how to care for our fragile kinks and coils especially when we have to figure things out for ourselves. Our mothers often can’t teach us how to care for our hair in its natural glory because they had no one to teach it to them. Not everyone is yet ready to reflect on or challenge the prevailing belief that God gave us “bad/unmanageable /ugly/tough/kaya/difficult or painful to comb through/unprofessional/ frizzy/short/cyaa grow/stumpy/bumpy/pepper grain” hair. Not everyone is ready to unlearn that and fall in love with the beautiful curly naps with which God has blessed our race.
But for me, I grew too uncomfortable to chemically straighten my hair after peeling back these subconsciously entrenched layers and I’m happy that my hair (nor scalp) will never be subjected to harsh chemicals again. However, change cannot happen overnight. In fact, I creamed back my hair with my first attempt at going natural in 2012. What many of my friends and family labelled “a phase” lasted for 6 months because I went back to the familiarity of relaxers. My second try was the successful one and on December 10, 2013 I made the “big chop”, that is, cutting off my relaxed ends. I won’t say I’ve never looked back. Initially it was hard. I can never remember a time where my hair couldn’t be caught up in a single scrunchie effortlessly and it took one full year of growth before I could look presentable doing that. It has been an ongoing process to figure out what my hair likes or needs. It doesn’t like what it did 2 years ago. The textures on my head are different. Along the way I’ve had damage from a myriad of causes and my initial plans of growing long hair has been sidetracked/derailed many a time because I’m lazy and cheap when it comes to hair maintenance (I ain’t gon’ lie!). My hair goals have moved from length to health to none at all and repeat.
I’ll never lecture another woman about what to do with her hair just as how I’ll never tell someone how to wear their eye colour. BUT I love to see Black women wear their hair in a natural state or with extensions that match our own texture because of what being natural means to me. Whenever you’re ready to, if you’re ever ready at all, do join me on my no-lye lifestyle.
P.S. I really look forward to hearing the feedback on this one so kindly drop your thoughts into the comment section below. 🙃 Also, since I’m often oblivious to political correctness, by Black I totally meant people of colour, people of African descent, African-Americans etc., whatever term is now acceptable.
‘Til next time! ✌
“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds.”
– Bob Marley, Redemption Song, 1980 which he quoted from Marcus Garvey in 1937
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6 thoughts on “Why I Said Bye to Lye”
Very well said! I love talking about the reasons behind our hair choices as girls – they’re so varied! For my part, I agree that not everyone considers the weight of colonialism in their decision to relax or not relax. I chose locs because I neither wanted to deal with my natural hair (sheer laziness) nor relax it (because chemicals are scary). I do wish we could abandon this concept of hair classification though. I think it does more harm than good.
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Thank you! 🙂 I’m always unsure about whether or not I like hair classification. It’s a handy guide in terms of knowing which natural’s tips would be most helpful for your own hair, but then things like strand porosity and thickness are more helpful. And the strife it creates (& even discrimination which you’d think we would be running from) is counter-productive so you have a good point. I still need to figure out a plan to deal with my own hair boredom & laziness haha. I see either braids, locks or a tapered cut in my (maybe not too distant) future.
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I guess I have never really put much thought in how to properly take care of my hair but I can see where hair classification would help that process. As long as my hair isn’t falling off I’m good though lol. The awesome thing about hair is that you can try every style at least once. 🙂
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Haha as long as it’s still on my head for real. That’s my new goal because my hair maintenance game is off these days
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Thanks for writing this Rochelle. There are definitely days when I go off and spend hours thinking about my hair and whether I care more about length or health or not caring at all. And I think the terms you used were fine and politically correct. [=
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Thanks Keren! 😊 Someone who understands haha. I think it’s perfectly OK to just appreciate the fact that we have hair growing full and thick from our heads but it’s also a woman’s prerogative to change her mind. 🙂