Beautiful, brilliant and bold are the three adjectives that I’d aptly use to describe bright-eyed multi-media journalist Shannon T. Boodram. For social media enthusiasts, they know that much like Toronto’s #1 news outlet CP24—she’s everywhere. The word omnipresent doesn’t do enough justice insofar as capturing just how far Shannon’s reach has become in recent years. And, when the charming photog is not jet-setting off to the Caribbean snapping magnificent photos at weddings overlooking pristine waters, you may find her on YouTube or behind-the-scenes while donning her writer’s cap, writing creatively-written pieces for both online and print magazines. You see Shannon’s got this intrepid spirit: she’ll venture into territory that most fear to tread.
Just a couple of weeks ago Shannon posted a link on Instagram which directed me to a missive she had written that was subsequently featured on NaturallyCurly. Upon reading her Instagram post which entailed the words: “My beef with the Natural Hair Community,” as the Editor of the natural hair blog IHeartMyHair.com, I knew I had to find out what was cooking.
After my having read the article, I immediately responded to Shannon’s candid exposé, citing that I’d appreciated her candor; albeit I didn’t agree with her sentiments which appeared to me to have been suggestive of the idea that the majority of the natural hair community’s members are extremists. Knowing that the online world is often rife with beef, it’s so easy to add fuel to the fire. So I figured, why bother? Like grown folk, I knew that we would agree to disagree. And while I had resolved that Miss Shannon T. is obvi entitled to her opinion and had assigned a new meaning to the word “natural.” Shannon wrote the following as a rebuttal to my attempt to mitigate what may have been (for some) the negative effects of her statement, my offering that Black women wearing their hair in its natural state should be glorified as it shows how far we’ve evolved from a place of self-hate to one of self-love:
“Nothing you said is untrue but I believe the extremity of the word [natural] used to describe the movement lends itself to inviting extremists. When not even those with dreads leave their hair uninfluenced who could make such a favourable claim as to say they wear their hair the way God intended. The ideals behind the movement are right the exclusive implications of that word, to me are not.”
To that, I’d respond that nobody appreciates an extremist but for fear of downplaying a movement that seeks to celebrate the intrinsic beauty of racialized women whom for so long have been perceived as unattractive from the purview of the dominant society, I find the Natural Hair Movement to be so pertinent to our current epoch. As a matter of fact, it excites me to see the widespread celebration of beauty amongst racialized women who are collectively rejoicing on Tumblr, Facebook, natural hair blogs, Twitter, donning afros, protective styles, TWAs and fades—it’s truly amazing.
There will always be bad apples who spoil it for the bunch; in this case I’m talking about the extremists. Extremists often want everyone to do things in their desired way. In that regard, I share Shannon’s sentiments in that it takes the fun out of what is otherwise a progressive movement when some people are trying to spread their evangelism onto people who have no desire to rock their natural hair.
I believe life should be about allowing people to express themselves in the best way they know how, hoping that their choices sit comfortably within their souls. Not everything is for everyone; I get that. My only hope is that racialized women the world over are not continuing to wear weave or relaxing their hair in order to fit into society’s aesthetic standards. I knew that once Shannon had posted a link to her article that our conversation had just begun. I asked Shannon if we could continue our convo in the form of an interview and she quickly obliged.
After speaking with Shannon over the telephone, the theme that became most pervasive to me throughout the duration of our conversation was that of refusing to be defined by narrow definitions. Even down to her own identity, Shannon refuses to accept labels that in any way relegate her to a constricted definition of self. Some of the commenters on CurlyNikki who have caught wind of Shannon’s sentiments have decidedly labeled the brown-skinned pundit bi-racial. “I’m multi-racial,” Shannon retorts as I even hint at the idea of her self-defining as bi-racial.
What I think Shannon would like the world to realize is that she admits to being a devil’s advocate and is naturally inclined to ask, “how do we raise the conversation?” If there are one million and one reasons as to why the world should love Drizzy-Drake, Shannon will dig deep for the one reason as to why we shouldn’t. Whether Shannon’s writings have propelled the masses to reflect upon the many implications that could be inferred as it pertains to one wearing natural hair, is open to interpretation. Perhaps, Shannon has done more good than harm; this again is open to interpretation. For instance, it’s quite possible that Shannon’s honesty may have led some people to begin to ask such questions as: what are the implications of one identifying as natural, yet dyeing their tresses with super unnatural ammonia and paraben-containing substances? Or what are the implications of one wearing their hair in its natural form, yet wearing a face full of make-up? These are the types of questions that simultaneously cause a stir and lead us to formulate sensible opinions/ideas about issues that affect the ways in which we relate as racialized women.
From a young teenager who once relied on the popular U.S. based magazine “Sophisticate’s Black Hair” for hair tips for her hair which she informed comprised of varied textures and curl patterns throughout, to a woman who admits to using texturizer today—Shannon has come to realize what works for her hair. That’s her natural.
It’s not that Shannon is against the natural hair community or people who wear their hair in its natural state per se; rather Shannon is opposed to the notion of “natural being used to explain how things are supposed to be.” Although, she’s received a barrage of comments from people in response to her infamous write-up—some positive and informative, others negative and outright-near-abusive—Shannon understands the nature of the internet, in that it is not always the most pleasant place to be. Sparking progressive conversation is often Shannon’s aim when she sets out to write convincing articles, even if that means it’ll be much to the chagrin of others. It’s true, as Shannon suggests that people are often inclined to react to the title of an article, whereas they really should be reading between the lines.
She gets it people. She understands the importance of the movement. Just as people are often protective of their family members, even though it may not be perfect from an insider’s vantage point, she understands the reason as to why racialized women would be up in arms upon reading a heading of article alluding to someone’s beef with natural hair. And, although Shannon says things like, “I almost start to get bothered by people who identify me as being natural.” I still get her.
But, what I take from Shannon’s explanation is that no one should instruct another about the way in which they should go about living their life. Shannon loves natural hair! In fact Shannon is not the least bit pleased about the appalling incidents that have been faced by Tiana Parker and Vanessa Van Dyke this year in the U.S., whereby school administrators have used dress codes and grooming policies as guises for the purpose of urging students to alter their hair to suit their standards or else face expulsion.
In short, Shannon’s issue has to do with the (mis)use of the word “natural” and her beef with extremists who seek to dictate for others what makes them who they are. It’s up to an individual to decide what natural is. Revealingly, Shannon has a line of beanie (hats) that she sells on her website, which read quite loudly woven in upper-case letters, N-A-T-U-R-A-L. In her own words: “You can tell them [people] about your own experiences but, you can’t tell others what to do.”