First of all, I know it’s been a while since I’ve blogged and I apologize for that more than brief hiatus. My blogging should become more regular now that I’m back in the swing of things and life is more settled.
Before I get into the meat of this blog, I want to say that I feel that as a Black woman, I am inextricably linked to what it means, both culturally and socially, to be Black and a woman in every aspect of life. I am not unaware of the socio-political weight that Blackness carries and therefore I didn’t want to shy away from this topic. I come from a place of honesty and a general concern for Black women, women of color, and people of color in general. I hope that in reading this, you’ll hear my heart and disallow your ego from interfering with the message.
Over the three years that this business has officially launched, I’ve gotten the opportunity to speak with women from all parts of the United States and various parts of the world. They are mostly very enthusiastic about their decision to return natural and eager to become educated and skilled at giving their hair the care that it deserves. They usually have strong support systems made up of spouses, family and close friends who are also natural or at the least embrace their loved one’s choice to return natural.
Unfortunately, there is also a segment that I’ve encountered too many times that expresses a sense of desperation, not because of anything related to actually managing their hair but because of the inane opinions and comments of those who would love them the most, also known as spouses/boyfriends.
If I may, let me recount a story to you from someone who uses our product and is newly getting back into the swing of caring for her natural hair (pseudonym used). A very sweet lady in her late 50’s, we’ll call her Alice, has been natural for about 3 years but due to certain personal insecurities has always chosen to wear either a bandana, scarf or wig. We live in close proximity to each other and she had expressed appreciation for my hair and I gave her a bottle of the moisturizer to try for herself with brief instructions on how to do a standard twist-out. She thanked me and said she’d come by when she did it so I could see the results.
After about two weeks, she came by and said that she had done her hair but was too ashamed to come by and show me because her very long-term live-in fiancé (well over a decade), said she looked like….*drumroll*
Yes, you read that correctly but in case you didn’t, let me recount that.
Her long-term live-in fiancé said her natural hair made her look like a “pickaninny.”
To this day, I have not seen her without a wig, scarf or bandanna.
For those of you too young to know what a “pickaninny” is, Google it and its history because my soul won’t let me post a picture of it here.
A man his age knows the definition of that word quite well and he knows not only the implications of that word but how using that word to describe someone can be devastating, hurtful and shameful; especially when it comes from the mouth of someone who is supposed to love you.
I immediately felt sad for her (as soon as I got over the urge to kick his ass) as I do every Black woman who tells us that their significant other or spouse (BTW, 100% of the time these men are Black men) carries such a seed of anti-Blackness within themselves that they can’t even entwine themselves in the natural beauty of the woman for whom they’ve professed their adoration.
Obligatory “I’m Caught In My Feelings” break: I’ll stop here for the people who’ll chime in with “just because he doesn’t like her hairstyle doesn’t mean he’s anti-Black,” or “everybody has a preference,” or the crowd who is going to swear before whichever deities will listen that I’m anti-Black man.
Okay, let’s examine two of those responses (the third doesn’t merit one).
These women, by-and-large, aren’t saying that their spouses/significant others didn’t like the twist-out they did or the faux asymmetrical afro or frohawk they wore. These women’s spouses/significant others are plainly turned-off by afro-textured hair. There’s a difference. For those who just read that and wish to pretend that there’s not, I’ll offer up an example. My husband of almost 7 years is a minimalist. Outside of work, he’s a Pantera t-shirt and jeans kind of guy. I kind of like him in the older hipster style personally. I just think he looks cute in newsboy caps, bowties and suspenders. Notice, I said that I like his clothing a certain way. I did not, however, say that I don’t even like his body type nor am I sitting around wishing someone could turn his body into that of Terry Crews. See the difference?
Now, for this “preference” thing. I always say that one should ask themselves why they hold a certain preference to begin with because at the end of the day, preferences can be unconsciously racist, misogynoirist, and sexist. Those social ills are so insidious to begin with that we can adopt their problematic by-products and not even realize it. So, allow me to try to delineate. Liking my boiled eggs with just salt and pepper is a preference. It says nothing about how I feel about the eggs’ value, popular thought about eggs or any history I may have had with eggs.
Saying that afro-textured hair is a turn-off is a statement that when followed-up with “why” will almost always lead us down Internalized Racism Ave. A distaste for a trait that a group of people are born with is usually birthed out of negative feelings about that group. It would be no different than me saying that I want someone who can do construction work in my home but he mustn’t be Black because my home is filled with too many expensive items to let a Black man do the work. What exactly am I implying?
Recently, a friend of mine, in consideration for this blog sent me screenshots of various Black men on social media who were making disconcerting comments about Black women’s natural hair. They were vile but moreso doltish, unintelligent, and childish (I no longer use “ignorant” because in the Information Age, if you don’t know, it’s because you don’t want to). I’ve debated whether or not to post them and at the time of this writing, I still haven’t decided. God forbid these men be too foolish to be ashamed.
For now, I just want to make some general observations about this portion of Black men who are turned-off by women who wear their natural hair.
1) Denial. I’m not sure if these men know it, but as Black men, there’s a greater than 97% chance that they have the exact same hair growing out of their scalps. So, I’m perplexed about how their hair is just fine in any style they damn well please but a Black woman, who chooses to embrace her natural hair just as these men embrace theirs, has made a grave mistake. Did they think this Black woman was really a non-Black woman in blackface? Have they never seen even their own afro-textured hair? If so, what did they think their wife/significant other’s hair would look like?
I get that when you’re being boorish and infantile on social media, facts, logic and introspection aren’t the first things that start working when your fingers hit the keyboard but this also goes for men in real life who are giving their wife/significant other the blues over their choice to return natural. As we know, once someone experiences something negative, they will often turn that negativity inward and start to believe it themselves (see internalized racism). This is the most compassionate rationale I can offer to the men out there who buy into this absurdity.
For those who are still on the “preference” train, how does it work when your preference goes against the very thing you are or have?
2) Misogynoir. Men should not be policing how women wear their hair. Full stop. The only time my husband has ever said anything about my hair is when I’ve asked him about it. This need to constantly make statements about why you think Black women shouldn’t make their own hair choices when you get to make your own hair choices quite frankly reeks of misogyny.
Pray tell: what makes men so much more competent than women to self-direct?
Black women are completely capable of deciding what works best for themselves in terms of their career, finances, health and beauty regimens. Male input is not required; especially when it comes with a side dose of internalized racism, slurs, and coded racist language and/or sentiment.
3) The veracity of the relationship. My husband and I were chatting about this blog. I asked him a simple question: “if a person dislikes an innate trait that their spouse/significant other has, up to the point of not even caring to see it, is it possible for that person to honestly say they love their spouse/significant other?” My husband gave a quick “no.” Now, my husband works in the medical industry. He is not a philosopher. But, he’s usually a man of few words and went on to opine that a situation like the one I described seems to him to be the perfect set-up for a failed relationship.
You’ll notice that earlier in this post, I used the word “adoration.” I was going to type “love” but again, I couldn’t. I’d never be so presumptuous as to tell you that if your spouse doesn’t like your afro-textured hair that they don’t love you. That’s something that you have to work out between the two of you. I’ll simply say that I think it’s worth examining and exploring his reasoning for this feeling because that’s the most important part.
However, if he is at the point where he uses your hair as the go-to for deprecating jokes, insults, or confrontations, I’d suggest that you can do better than verbal abuse.
If there are no papers involved (ie. just dating, engaged, boyfriend) yet, I’d take a minute or two to consider what a mindset like this could mean for your relationship and its future. Do you want to tether yourself to someone whose seeds of anti-Blackness are so deeply embedded that they can’t see that their beliefs about their own phenotype is problematic? Can you imagine if you have a daughter whose father hates afro-textured hair (one of the landmarks of Blackness)? Many of us returned to natural in order to cultivate a deeper appreciation of who we truly are. Imagine that journey if you’re trying to instill that same appreciation and self-acceptance into your own child and their other parent is so clearly and unapologetically anti-Black.
To Black women everywhere, married, coupled or single:
please know that if he can’t see your hair as the expression of God that it is, then there’s a problem and it’s not with you nor your hair.
Until next time…..