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November 15, 2011

The Politics of Natural Hair

by Jor-El of Manemanblog.com

Recently I came across a posting on Curly Nikki’s site that asked the question, “Does Natural Hair Make You Blacker?” If you are a Black American then more than likely you have explored this question or even had a discussion about it with friends. So does natural hair make you Blacker? In my opinion…yes and no.

For some, the process of growing out ones hair can be a very intimate and political experience. I have mentioned this before but for me personally, this is/was true. Growing out my fro is close to me because when I was younger I often received a variety of reactions to my hair, much of which was aligned with how others interpreted my bi-racial identity as a problem (ironically, my hair was almost exclusively in a low-cut, Cesar style). I grew up in an area with a very “Black or White” mentality and way of thinking. My hair was heralded as “good” compared to some of my other Black peers. This was often an uncomfortable experience for me because while a part of me appreciated the positive attention, there was another part of me who felt disconnected from the other Black kids at my school and in my community. I thought I, nor my hair, was any better than anyone else and it took me a while to understand how those reactions actually said more about my peers felt about themselves than about me.

Needless to say, now I know that people have different interpretations of what it means to act or “be Black” and I have come to accept my own personal definition of my “Blackness” and I do my best to not oppress others by expecting them to ascribe to my beliefs. That being said, “being Black” does refer to a set of stereotypes, both good and bad which sometimes I embrace and sometimes I reject. I think that is an important part of seeing yourself as both an individual and a part of any collective group. For me, having an afro does offer me a connection to my heritage as a Black person, most specifically a Black American. Does it make me Black, absolutely not. Does being Black make me any less Puerto Rican? Not to me! Does having an afro make me militant and anti-White? Not a chance.

When I decided to grow out my hair, it was empowering for me on several levels. To start, it was a way to both accept and reject the notion of having so-called “good hair”. Showing my fro proudly is a way to embrace my racial identity not only as Black man but more generally as a man of color with an eclectic heritage. For me, the variety of my hair strands and patterns is a nod to my roots in both Africa and Puerto Rico and I am as proud as ever to show that. *peacock strut*

Rocking a fro daily is also a way for me to reject some of those gendered norms set for men (of color). Only with more confidence in my identity am I able to sport my fro and deal with the perceptions from others about my loose natural hair. I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked, and very pointedly I might add, “What are you gonna do with it? When are you gonna braid it? Corn rows? Dreads?” The point I’m trying to make is that people will always make assumptions. We all do. That is what people do.

To tackle the question, “Does natural hair make you Blacker?” is an insurmountable task. I don’t really think there is any way to fully unpack what “Blackness” really does mean. Maybe it has very little meaning for our day-to-day lives, I don’t know. Like many of you out there know, the definition varies from person to person BUT (and that is a big BUT), when you think of what it means to be Black you usually think of stereotypes (both positive and negative) that you have learned over the years. Having natural hair may or may not be one of those stereotypes. We all have these of each group we come in contact with. If someone asks you what it means to be White, you also think of a set of stereotypes that you have learned over the years. The same goes for Latino, Native American and Asian people. Hell, we all even have a set of stereotypes for biracial/multiracial people too. So does natural hair make YOU blacker? Only you can truly answer that question.

What say you?

15 Chime in!:

carmella said...

This seems so controversial, yet very relevant. I feel that I do have more pride and confidence in myself as a young black woman. It's liberating. Almost a nod to James Brown's "Say It Loud" :)

Blacker? No. Proud-er? By Milestones.

Jami said...

Jor-El says: "I do my best to not oppress others by expecting them to ascribe to my beliefs." LOVE. THIS. It's about knowing your self and finding like-minded souls and getting along with those who are different and letting people be and have control over their own selves and lives.

I think natural hair does not make you Blacker. That's just like saying Whites, Asians, Latinos and others are more White, Asian, Latino when they do not chemically alter their hair. I think natural hair just makes you more "you," more individual, is a part of that print (think "fingerprint") that makes you truly yourself and unique at the same time. Because you can be unique with a weave or relaxed hair and you can be fully yourself wearing no clothes (lol) but natural hair gives you both without damaging your health or offending others. Even tho today some people find themselves offended by others (black women, that is) wearing natural hair... i dunno...I can't wait to see where we stand 50 years from today....

But on the other hand, today, since Black people are in a more unique position coming from a very unique history and having been degraded purely based on facial features and physical characteristics, and race still matters--maybe for right now, and a little while longer, those of us who chose to style our hair naturally are more Blacker.

?

Peace.

Anonymous said...

I've been really thinking about this issue lately, and have decided that it evokes emotion which is very complicated to put into words- without sounding offensive to someone else.

But here goes:

I was straightened (since age 5 with a hot comb) and relaxed (from age 9-30yrs). Never new my real hair in its virgin state. I have been comfortable with my blackness (as comfie as I think one can be in a country where everything black is standardly cast aside).

Having gone natural (embracing MY real hair rather than rejecting straightening/relaxing- there is a big differenc in these two), howvever, has fortified my feeling of COMPLETE self-acceptance and self-love. And yes, part of that has to take blackness into consideration since my hair is curly/kinky and is NOT what the standard/accepted beauty/professional image has been historically.
Self-love and acceptance, however, does not stop here and with accpetance of hair. It is a lifelong process. Kind of like the concept of infinite. . . you can always get closer, but you can never actually reach it (perfect self-love). I intend on getting pretty darn close, though.

Anonymous said...

I say a controversial YES, it makes you/me blacker because you are proudly rocking what naturally grows out of your scalp.

Instead of hiding it.

Anonymous said...

Agreed as well.

manemanblog.com said...

Man, this struck a chord with me: "Self-love and acceptance, however, does not stop here and with acceptance of hair. It is a lifelong process. Kind of like the concept of infinite. . . you can always get closer, but you can never actually reach it (perfect self-love). I intend on getting pretty darn close, though." Awesome.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully you recognize that being black and being Puerto Rican are not mutually exclusive. All Caribbeans are descendants of various Carib tribes, West African slaves, and European slave owners. Hopefully you also recognize that Puerto Ricans are American, so the statement about being a Black American and a Puerto Rican is a bit redundant, too.

Anonymous said...

Now you should know black Caribbeans as well as any foreign black LOVE to make sure all of us know they're not American blacks! ;-)

Anonymous said...

do you know that Puerto Rico is an island and Africa is a continent. Do you know that you can be black and from Puerto Rico? Ima need ppl to take a race and ethnicity class.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2:40, you're basing your argument on a logical fallacy (exclusion). Based on your argument all African American's should consider themselves Puerto Rican as well, regardless of where there ancestors were from. Also it's a bit presumptuous to state that you know the individual family histories of all Caribbeans well enough to know their genetic make up, don't you think? Race is an illusion anyway seeing as that race is generally appearance based, appearance is based on perception, and perception is completely subjective and highly fallible. Besides that point, the author does not show preference for one culture over the other.
Anonymous 4:30PM, Is stating one's cultural identity that offensive to you, really???

Anonymous said...

It's something about this dude that apparently be rubbing some of you the wrong way... sad.

I'm sure he's heard it all before though. You act like he denied his Blackness.

Anonymous said...

*scratching my head, very hard*

I read and re-read Jor-El's piece and fail to see any exclusionary ethnic lingo. I may be thickheaded or of thin IQ, but it seems as though he embraces being an African American AND a Puerto Rican (along with any and all other ethnic parts that he may have running through that big ole juicy fro of his). He does not disparage any group- African, Martian, European, Puerto Rican or African American.

Um, and yeah, Africa is a continent and Puerto Rico, an island, but they are in two very separate and distinct geographical locations. Although linked by history and the forced migration of people, they have separate and distinct cultural, racial and ethnic communities. American who have a degree of African ancestry and Puerto Rican who happen to have a degree of African ancestry have two separate and distinct cultures. One is no "better" or more evolved than the other.

Wow! just Wow. Can a guest blogger get some love up in here??

To Jor-El: Keep struttin' Mr. Peacock. lol!

Karmen said...

wow lol why do black folks get so mad when others take pride in their own heritage? I'm afro puerto rican also & no I do not treat one as if it's better than the other. Issues much? lol

Anonymous said...

I don't think that the way one chooses to wear his or her hair makes him or her more Black, White, or whatever! That's absolute nonsense! In fact, today, some ignorant @ss young black male yelled to me from across the street to make a snide comment about my hair. He yelled, "Fight the power!" Apparently, his ignorant behind thought that I was some type of Black militant because I wear my hair in its natural state. I'm in no way militant, nor am I particularly afro-centric. Through the years, I have been educated about the chemicals that are used in relaxers and I decided that I would like to keep all of my hair for a very long time. Hence, my decision to be natural. Since I thought he was a fool, I chose not to respond to his comment.

Although, his statement did not hurt my feelings, in any way, it kind of pissed me off. I was a little bothered by his statement because he was trying his best to shame and embarrass me to impress his little white girlfriend, which I thought was very sad and telling. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't care that this guy is dating a white chick, with straight hair. That is his prerogative. The thing that bothered me is that this self-hating fool decided to try to embarrass a woman who looks like his mother, so he could look cool in front of a female of another race. Black boys and men who behave in this manner are disgraceful and should bow their heads in shame! Even if one does not like natural hair, he or she should respect the choices of others. After all, it is their hair, not yours!

AfricanVenus said...

Wearing an afro doesn't make one more "Black", whatever that means. If we look to those who are genetically more "black" than anything else, i.e. sub-Saharan Africans, they don't typically rock 'fros. Are they no longer black? If they choose to relax their hair, are they somehow no longer black? Hair is hair. It's an accessory. Such heavy meanings shouldn't be attributed to it. If a white dude entrenched in the punk/ska subculture rocks a mohawk, is he less white? Does he become more Native American, specifically of the Mohican people? No. He's still a white guy rocking another culture's hairstyle. Same here. Rockin' one's natural texture or altering it in some way doesn't change your genetic "blackness." There are many black people without prototypical "black hair", i.e. kinky, coily, nappy etc. Check out the aborigines and people of the South Pacific or the Dravidians of India. Do they get kicked out of "blackdom?" How one wears their hair doesn't change who they are essentially. In this country, we have politicized black hair to the point where people feel they can't say they simply don't LIKE natural hair's texture. I would not be offended if someone said they didn't like my natural hair. That's their opinion. I could straighten it and they don't like that either. It's really not a big deal. If we act like it's no biggie, then people won't attribute "blackness" to natural hair or otherwise.

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