I recently had the honor of chatting with the brilliant and gorgeous T’Keyah Crystal Keymah. She’s an actress, author, director, producer, singer, and comedian. Like many of you, I grew up watching T’Keyah on In Living Color- she was a part of the original cast. You may also remember her as Erica Lucas from the CBS sitcom Cosby, and as Tanya Baxter on the Disney Channel sitcom That’s So Raven. She has been a hair idol of mine since….forever, and I’m very excited that she took the time to share her thoughts and beauty tips with the CurlyNikki.com community.
CN: We all have a story to tell. Tell us yours.
T’Keyah: Like most little Black girls my age, I sat at the stove getting my ears burned before picture days and other special events. Like most little Black girls I believed that straightening my thick, nappy hair was the only way to make it acceptable, and I looked forward to the occasions that allowed me to be pretty. Eventually, thank goodness, it occurred to me that something was wrong with that thinking and that my hair should match my face. I have been natural for a little more than twenty years now and off and on before that. When I first appeared on television, there were no other actresses with natural (nappy / curly / wavy / kinky / thick) hair on prime time television other than those with locs or short afros. Consequently, I received quite a lot of mail from fans asking how I styled my hair. There were no books out at the time that dealt with the subject. In fact, there weren’t even any television hair stylists that did natural hair. That’s when I decided to write a book about natural hair. It took me a while to get around to actually doing it, but eventually, I found time to finish Natural Woman / Natural Hair: A Hair Journey, Hairstyles and Hairstories for the Front with Simple Step-by-Step Instructions on Taking Care of Your Natural Hair. I decided to use the book to support Black businesses so it has been distributed chiefly through African (American) owned stores. (More on that below.) Check out my website, for personally autographed copies of the book, and lots of other products.
CN: What’s your current routine?
T’Keyah: When my schedule it tight, I wash and condition my hair once a week or so and braid it flat to my head. I make a small part in the middle or on either side, braid then pin the braids with bobby pins. It’s a neat, carefree style that will last the week if I’m careful with it. I usually take the braids out and wear it out a day or two before washing it again. I use many different products including Bianca’s Botanicals. The last time I did my hair I used Dudu-Osun’s Black Soap to shampoo Niyat’s shea butter for conditioner, Bianca’s Botanicals’ conditioning spray and Organic Root Stimulator’s Temple Balm.
CN: If you were stranded on an island, what two products would you need to preserve your sexy?!
T’Keyah: Olive oil and Shea butter. Olive oil for my scalp and hair, Shea butter for the rest of my body. If I were on an island, I could wash my hair in the ocean and exfoliate my skin with the sand.
CN: Do you feel that your natural hair has ever helped or hindered your chances of getting a specific role? How so?
T’Keyah: With the preponderance of wigs, weaves, pieces, coloring and styling tools available, an actor’s natural hair usually shouldn’t be a factor in hiring for anything other than shampoo commercials. Still… I have had a casting director tell me I’d work a lot more if I would ‘do something’ about my hair. I’ve been hired to play a negative role because the casting director assumed that I would wear my hair naturally in the role (not!) and I could continue… No doubt this choice to wear my hair naturally is on the list (Black, female, over 22, outspoken, well spoken etc.) that gives people cause to pause before hiring me. But I’m okay with my list. It’s who I am.
CN: What advice would you give to a natural newbie?
T’Keyah: Be patient, open minded and brave. If you are new at this, you have likely been raised to be a stranger to your own hair. Take the time to introduce yourself to it and get to know it slowly and lovingly. Accept it for what it is without judging it for not being familiar. Learn and celebrate its unique tendencies, needs and attributes. Ready yourself for resistance; your own, those around you and society’s – there is a billion dollar industry that sustains itself by keeping women convinced that nappy / curly / kinky / wavy / thick hair must be straightened or covered with wigs. Don’t be surprised at the new thoughts your brain begins to form once your crown belongs to you again.
CN: Many naturals look to you for inspiration. Who is your natural hair idol?
T’Keyah: Rosalind Cash. I had the great though far too brief honor of being her friend. She sometimes tried to convince me to loc my hair, but I actually like the feeling of those thousand pinpricks when I comb it. We talked once about how our natural hair choices had been and would continue to be a professional hindrance and how it was more important to us to be ourselves off screen than to get more work onscreen. Obviously it was a tougher choice for her to make, which made my journey much easier to navigate.
CN: What should we be on the look out for….what’s in T’Keyah’s bright future?!
T’Keyah: I am currently directing two stage productions, S.I.S.T.E.R and Preacher’s Kids: The Untold Stories both in Chicago. I am planning to film my own show Some of My Best Friends starting later this year and am set to direct a wonderful film called Lemon Tea next summer.
Somewhere in there I hope to finally get a music project off of the ground and work on another book. When I have time, I’m going to get my website updated and then more information can be found there.
CN: Any closing thoughts for us?
T’Keyah: YES! Be an advocate for Black businesses! They are closing at shocking rates! Search for them. Go further to get to them. Pay a little more for their products. Ask them to order what you want (and be patient). Register with them for weddings and showers. Hold meetings, parties and conventions in their establishments (even if you have to scale down to do so). Buy books and music from them instead of chains and non-Black websites. Stop buying bootlegs! Buy hair care products from Black manufacturers (and not the fakes that slap African or Pride on their jars to trick you). Buy at least some of your wardrobe from Black designers or boutiques. Buy when possible from Black distributors or from manufacturers, authors or artists directly. Be as patient with them as you are with those whose presence in your neighborhood is a sign of your demise. Bank at Black banks!!! Who else should be holding your money? Independent businesses can’t offer the same services or prices as chains. But they could do more if they had more support. We cannot afford to continue to let our businesses close. If we don’t turn this around; we will wake one day to find that ALL of our businesses are gone and we are again subjugated to absolute dependence upon others …sound familiar?