A tribute to the black hair conversation

Some people can be emotionally draining. They don’t necessarily mean to be, but their energy somehow manages to soak yours up leaving you drained of flavour like that last scoop of ice cream you’ve had in the freezer for a wee while too long.

Recently I had such encounters and instead of feeling less affected by such people as I get older, I feel they influence me more, but in a self-reflective sense.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is to say that such ‘drainage’ shows up in life not as a relevance to who they are, but to who you are; as an opportunity to create a relationship with how you react to situations.

Speaking of perceptive, because that is what I’m doing here, I like the perspective that India.Arie and Akon have in I am not my hair’.

It’s not a new song, most of you have heard it, danced to it, chanted it, maybe even as a spiritual practice of sort!

Jokes aside, a very powerful message often goes missed in that song, one that goes beyond the weave/natural/relaxer black hair debate, whilst simultaneously being precisely about this.

See often times, people don’t get why women of African descent frequently talk about hair. You know? That often unintentional but nevertheless condescending here-they-go-again attitude.
Well, there’s a reason we have the hair conversation.
First of all, it’s an ice breaker. It’s a connector because it’s a cultural experience that we share.

Historically, during the slave era, if a black person could pass the ‘comb test’ then the more likely they were to advance from slavery into freedom. Skin colour was also very determining for black people’s progression but studies show that hair texture  is perceived as even more important for society’s approval than skin colour, which indicates that a dark skinned person with straight hair might have had an advantage over a light skinned person with tight curls.

This historical remnant still prevails, for example it is still considered ‘unprofessional’ in the corporate world to wear an Afro, and black women with straight hair are more likely to land a high-profile job. If you don’t believe that picture this.

That’s Europe and America. In Africa, these perceptions didn’t quite come into fashion until recently, a sad development.

So, hair is a political issue and when black women discuss hair, we are in fact discussing politics.

Like in politics, where you have a spectrum of voters who debate, agree, disagree and share some values, the same applies to our hair. When Solange Knowles decides to wear an Afro wig, some got upset, called her unauthentic, whilst others watched in awe at black women getting upset over another black woman wearing an AFRO!

What they don’t understand is that by wearing that wig, Solange has in fact pulled the ultimate triumph. She has performed the unthinkable. She has punched the idea, that white hair is a status symbol, in the nose. She has made a political statement, and people are merely reacting to that.

See, it all boils down to perception and reaction, as with energy-draining people? (I’m trying desperately to tie the two namely ;))

I hope we keep the hair conversations going, it’s a way of healing and expressing to each other that – I too have been through the journey where the world keeps trying to tell me that I am my hair, but I am not.

Do you agree? Is there more underneath the surface or are black women just more obsessed with the follicle than other women?

  • Nabila (beela)

    This topic is one of my favorites for oh so many reasons! A lot of which you have mentioned too.
    ” I am not my hair” but my hair does express and stand for a lot of things, one being confidence and another loving the type and kind of person that I am without saying it out loud and without it I still stand for all those things and more, so again “I am not my hair”.

    I am shocked to read about the comb test. I cant believe that used to happen!!! I feel that having afro curly hair or wearing your hair in that manner makes people respond to you in a questionable way, as a result I am not shocked by the label of “unprofessional” smacked upon afro haired women.

    Outside the work environment it is sometimes the same (rejection), God save you if the afro is a hundred percent yours lol you’ll keep getting evil eyes, it makes A LOT of people uncomfortable for reasons I fail to understand as everyone touched by the afro gene can actually grow it out if only they had the patience. In Africa (Nigeria) people get pushed to perm their afro by almost everyone, its actually an indication of maturity and worldliness to a lot of people *sigh* very sad.

    I also LOVE the direction Solange is taking and you are totally right about it being a political statement!!

    Emotional drainage is something I have experienced a lot as I am a very good listener so most of my friends pour out a whole lot on me which I didnt use to mind, I mean you just have to transfer all that energy somewhere right? I learn from their situations etc but in the end they feel good and I have sucked up all their negative energy that I feel so overwhelmed and I take it out on innocent people.

    However when it got to my turn to drain lol no one had the time to listen and I got so frustrated from bottling all that energy that I actually broke down we are talking major breakdown! I almost took it out on twitter BUT I started a new blog for my feelings instead 😀 *smart I know* So I guess I demonstrated what you’ve said.

    What I have learnt from my experiences with these type of people is that; in order to not be affected by such situations is to pretend to listen, that is what keeps them sane and what will save you from insanity too. Either that or you just become unavailable to such situations, the latter being the route I have taken unless I am being very generous with my time and emotions.

    You touch on very exciting topics that are informative, fun to talk about and great to reflect over!

    Thank You!!

    😀 lol

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for sharing hair, and ‘drainage’ thoughts lol

      I enjoy the hair topic too – as you can tell – it’s great that we can talk about this complicated heritage of hair tales that we have. this is the only way we will eventually come to accept that we all have different hair/styles. we can’t just go from being bombarded with the notion that the Afro is unruly/ugly/unprofessional etc to loving the Afro without a discussion about the transitional progress (literally) that would be a shame.

      I can ttly relate to the listener syndrome, I’m similar. It’s great you have found a way to channel the energy. Personally, I find that listening, but most importantly observing people’s motivation and energy, helps me to channel it to either my heart, or out of the other ear. 😉

      thanks dearie!

  • Nabila (beela)

    OMG!!! THAT IS EXTREMELY LONG!! I apologize lol! x

    • MsAfropolitan

      No apology pls! Well thought words always make me a happy bunny

  • http://www.inconsequentiallogic.com Roschelle

    you know i’m right there with ya on this one. my “fro” has been the topic of discussion on several occasions at work. non black folk want to know why i’m wearing a fro when i could be rocking some silky straight chemically processed tresses. and black folk want to know why i’m wearing a fro when i could be rocking some silky straight chemically processed tresses.

    our hair is the most uniques of all the ethnic hair types. textures range from silky straight to kinky coily and everything in between.

    i feel so blessed to have lived to see an era where natural hair is making a comeback…and not just wearing our hair natural but really understanding how to take care of our hair. a lot of this is owed to the dialogue we have about hair.

    for years we didn’t talk about it. it was considered ugly, unkempt, militant. today (for me) it’s empowering. i’m not held captive by the beautician’s chair or skills any longer. wash it everyday, once a week, once a month – my choice. i love it.

    i. am. not. my. hair.

    • MsAfropolitan

      straight up! everyone has an opinion on how we wear our hair, but when we ourselves discuss it people roll their eyes!

      i feel very blessed for the same reason Roschelle, and thanks for also appreciating that it’s the dialogue that brings about the development.

      lovely comment, thank uuu!

  • http://www.mwanabaafrika.blogspot.com/ MBA

    I am emotionally drained from the hair debate! I went back to natural in 2007 not because of some political statement but because I wanted to know what my hair was actually like and because relaxing
    burnt my scalp and made my hair thin and brittle. I like my curl and when I want to wear it straight that is what blowdryers and flat irons are for.

    Hair is a personal choice. It is sad that women go around thinking that because their hair is relaxed or weaved that they are prettier than naturals. It is also sad when naturals feel they are more authentic.
    I advocate for everyone to be natural at some point in adulthood so they can know what their hair is like and then make the choice to stay natural or to chemically alter their hair. That way its not about society it’s about what works for the individual.

    We black folk need to start owning and celebrating how diverse we are in skin tone and hair texture. People spend their time spraying themselves brown, tanning on beds and the sun, perming their hair and wearing fro wigs and we can just wake up that way!

    • MsAfropolitan

      see, it’s particularly for the reason that for years you were burning your scalp etc (which I also did for almost 2 decades) that I think the hair debate needs to carry on! we have a lot of scars (literally) that we can heal by talking about hair, whether flippantly or in depth!

      definitely not about feeling prettier, more authentic or any other superlative for that matter,whether you wear locks, weave on etc just about acknowledging that our relationship with our hair is complex, and because of this at times divisive. let’s bond on the hair topic rather than shut it down.

      thanks for the insight sis

  • teachermrw

    I think that American society and culture have separated Black people from themselves over the course of the country’s history in a way that no other racial and ethnic group has experienced. I cannot imagine that there is a group of women, aside from Black women, who politicize hair in the manner and to the extent that Black women do. I think once we accept ourselves, fully and completely, and become less reliant on the White standard of beauty, hair will become less of a political issue for us.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Amen! it will, but there is still an apparent need for it, which is no surprise as black women are still depicted very negatively in popular media.

      things are changing rapidly though, which like Roschelle said, I feel blessed to witness in my lifetime…

      thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.ashy2classy.net Diggame

    Hair comes a lot down to a persons personal identity of who they are and how they feel like themselves. Diggin the School Daze video reference as well

    • MsAfropolitan

      thanks :)

  • http://www.blackpresence.co.uk Phil

    This is such a Great article, Which applies to me as well as women.

    As a young boy I was forced by my mother to just have a mid-length Afro that’s what all little boys seemed to have at the time.

    AS I grew older and became more influenced by T.V I wanted to shrug off the nappy look and so, in an attempt to appear tough had my hair shaved in a FLAT TOP, ahh the hours I used to spend perfecting its wooly flatness.

    Then I used to try to get a Widows peak and then a Quiff into it, trying to emulate the 60’s soul bands without actually relaxing the hair.

    It Wasn’t until Terrence Trent D’arby stepped on the Scene and sported Braids, that I really began to look at a Black hairstyle as something Positive. I had braids and within 3 years they had morphed into Dreadlocks. This was my heavy BLACK stage, when everything and Everything had to be about Black Identity.

    Then in 98 I shaved my hair off again, I was just about to leave University and really believed that I had to “Look Professional” to get a Job. 12 years Later….and last year I looked in the mirror and said to hell with it all, the Dreads are coming Back…So a long afro and much twisting, twirling and back combing later…I have the natty Dreads just past my ears. It looks a mess on top as my hair is all the same length, so I wear a wooly hat, YES even in the Office!

    I don’t care, I’m an experienced Professional and people have to learn to respect my racial identity as well my technical knowledge.

    Those that don’t like it…well they can go to Hell in a handcart…cos I’m not changing it until “I” get the urge.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for sharing Phil, it’s real good to hear a male perspective on this topic, and rock those natty Dreads (well, wooly hat for now), no doubt you are inspiring others by doing so!

  • http://vickii-ibakethereforeiam.blogspot.com/ Vickii

    Yay! I feel like I’m in for a treat with so much to catch up on!

    First of all, I totally feel you on the energy draining people! And I wish I could deal with it the way you do; by reflecting on myself, but instead I either put up with it and kick myself after (not literally, because all my energy has been sapped) or I avoid them! There has to be a happy medium!

    Ummm black women do talk about hair a lot but there’s a whole lot to say and learn about black hair! But I do agree with you that we’re talking about more than just hair. In fact, I think as women, there are a few conversations that we seem to talk about to death; our bodies and guys to name a couple, but I find that very rarely (at least in most of the conversations I see amongst ladies my age) is it just about weight or guys – a conversation about weight for example is simultaneously about self esteem and the pressure from the media to look a certain way and the psychological impact of growing up as the ‘skinny’ one in a family of curvy women – just a random example 😀

    • MsAfropolitan

      Sooo true – very interesting point. There are many ways to discuss certain topics, and sometimes a more light hearted approach is suitable. Thank you!

      As for energy drainers, next time it happens, try to feel the irritation/anger/disappointment and then release it. Well, that sounds simple but you get where i’m going i hope…
      It’s very empowering to realise that you have control over who and what influences you.

  • http://Kittylocks.blogspot.com Lorette

    Great piece, I agree with you totally as a locktician and wearer of locks. I find that sometimes women come to me with the physical manifestations (damaged hair) of spiritual damage due to the years of trying to live up to false representations of women of colour. When I “fix” a womans hair it is usualy one step on a journey of self discovery and growth and affects their whole personas and life out look and supports them on their road to achieve balance. I am blessed to be part of these womens evolutions.

    As a Sisterlocks (TM) wearer I have had only positive feedback from different cultures and age groups with regards to my locks this may be because they are more socially acceptable to western society as they are cultivated locks as opposed to traditional ones.

    I have also experienced people draining my positive energy and every few years I do a process which I call “sweeping” where after a close examination of all of my relationships I either restrict or remove certain negative people from my life. I find that I have to do this to protect my own sanity, otherwise I end up feeling drained and used and they walk on happy as they have unburdened themselves.