say really mean things like, ‘You must be broke. We’ll do a telethon so we can take you to a salon,’” says the 25-year-old who blogs at missrizos.com. “To wear natural hair also means that you’re the weirdo in the room. It’s hurtful to live with this every day.”
Nearly 5,000 miles away from the Dominican Republic, Nigeria hosts its own form of kinky hair hatred. Africa’s most populous country gained independence in 1960, but many of her people judge their strands according to the standards of former colonizer Great Britain and the United States (arguably the world’s most powerful cultural exporter).
“We use pretty much the same terms as people in the U.S. The only difference I can think of is that we call hair that is closer to European ‘finer’ than our natural hair. That means ‘more beautiful’ in the local parlance,” says Natural Nigerian, a Lagos-based natural hair blogger who withholds her name because she works in a conservative environment. ”Even within the natural hair community here, there is a definite affinity for soft curly hair textures like 3b or 4a, which most Nigerians do not have.”
When I asked the 34-year-old mother of Igbo descent why a country with a Black majority would still subscribe to anti-kinky sentiment, she cited class and a supposed connection between tightly coiled hair and poverty:
“We live in a heavily class-ranked society where certain markers are used to define those that are in the ‘desirable’ classes. It is rare to find a working or middle class female wearing just her natural hair. She may be asked if she is ill or if she is having money problems. I’ve had close relatives say that it’s hard to believe that I am a college graduate because of my hair, and others have questioned my financial standing because they don’t understand why anyone who can afford a $10 tub of relaxer would rather go the ‘difficult’ route of leaving their hair natural. My personal hygiene was even questioned by a colleague.”
After hearing these stories, I’m tempted to think that African-Americans are more accepting of kinky hair. But in the United States, where having “one drop” of Black blood and telltale “naps” meant being vulnerable to lynching and unchecked rape, mass murder and false imprisonment, voter disenfranchisement and crazy-making Jim Crow segregation, that pain remains despite the brief respite of Black Power hair politics.
In 2012, we’re living in a Black hair funhouse where Nicki Minaj—a pop superstar who rocks ombre pastel Bride of Frankenstein wigs—spits lyrics like, “I’m the Terminator … These little nappy headed hoes need a perminator…” for screaming White fans. A place where we’re more likely to see Wendy Williams pull a Post-it note out of her lace-front on live TV than we are to see a Black female host wear her hair as it grows out of her head.
Even more disturbing to me is the sheer uniformity of Black women’s hairstyling in media. In hair color and weight-loss commercials, fashion spreads and model competitions, romantic dramedies and sitcoms, reality shows and music videos, about 90 percent of us are wearing some variety of bob wig or a long wavy weave. Sure, we can rationalize it as “protective” styling, but there is something fishy about how often we opt for looks that are biologically impossible for us.
After subjecting you to this treatise, I would love nothing more than to cite a cure-all. Sadly, I haven’t found one. What I can do is encourage you to read, think and talk about the roots of kinky-hair hatred, experiment you’re your hair as it grows out of your scalp, and take advantage of the thousands of natural hair blogs and vlogs that offer hair-care tips, styling advice and positive messages that transcend hair texture. As missrizos.com’s Conteras says, “Women are starting to question things, to love ourselves more whether our hair is kinky or straight. We’re making better decisions for our bodies and ourselves, and that helps us love ourselves—just as we are.”
*Full disclosure: I co-edited the anthology Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Hips, Lips and Other Parts with Ayana Byrd.
Akiba Solomon is an NABJ-Award winning writer, freelance journalist, editor and essayist from West Philadelphia. She writes about the intersection between gender and race for Colorlines and is the co-editor of Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Hips, Lips, and Other Parts .