Yesterday on Facebook, Kevin Sumner posted a status. He boldly asserted that “Perming your hair so it looks straight is the number one self hatred actions still going on by Black people today. It needs to stop. If you are going to relax your hair you might as well get a nose job, slim down your thick lips and bleach your skin and get the full effect of trying to look or have Caucasian and/or Asian features.”
People kill me–especially those who are hasty to pull the self-hate card.
Before I launch into this diatribe, let me say this– the epidemic of self-hate is present within the Black community. This is not limited to Black Americans, but also other persons of color both inside and outside of the African diaspora. It is a disease of the mind that will only be addressed when we, as a people, learn that we are the only ones who can define our own beauty–we are perfect even with our imperfections, and God wouldn’t have it any other way.
It is a valid problem within our community, but like Racism and other prejudices, it loses it’s validity when there are people crying “wolf” when it’s barely even a Yorkie.
I have had locks since I was 11 years old. Contrary to popular belief, I was not raised by Black Panthers (although my mother is very Afro-centric), no one forced or even suggested that I lock my hair (in fact, my father was against it), and I did not get locks because of some deep rooted connectedness to “the Motherland” nor because (according to many) “Jesus had locks”. I was extremely tender-headed, to the point that I would cry and even vomit when people attempted to do my hair. I was put out of at least 3 hair salons that I can remember, and my mother would send my father to go pretend like he was a single dad with this crazy daughter and just really needed someone to do her hair. For me, getting locks was one of the best decisions I’d made. My hair is beautiful, healthy, and the best part is it hasn’t seen a comb in fourteen years. It’s been to my ass-crack and back at least three times, it’s been Irish-red (everyone was so surprised I dyed my hair when it was naturally light brown/blond), Malibu Barbie Blond, and now it’s some sort of hybrid between my natural color and the blond days. My sister has locks, and her hair has been at LEAST 5 different colors, and she has envisioned a different style every time she sets foot in the shop. Yes, wear our hair in a natural style, but like most women, we don’t hesitate to use our hair as a form of expression. I toy with the idea of cutting it all off just for the hell of it. After all, it’s just hair.
Getting a relaxer is a part of many girls’ hair story. By Kevin’s assertion, every girl who gets a perm (and actually, he’d have to include those who get presses too) hates herself. Blanket statements like these really do irritate me to my core. Plenty of my friends (in fact, most of them) have had relaxers in their lifetime, and the majority of them still hit the salon once every six weeks to keep their ‘do maintained. It is their prerogative. Most women change their hair as often as they change their draws. As I said before, it’s a form of self expression. A way to outwardly display how you might be feeling that day/week/month. Not everything is for everybody, and if a woman wants to perm her hair one day, gel it up the next, she should be able to do so without the entire weight of the Black world on her shoulders. Statements like the one Kevin made are just as racist and ignorant as the comments that White Supremacists make every day. By Kevin’s assertion, this would mean that those black women who might have naturally-occurring relaxed-looking hair are somehow “less black” than those with comb-resistant kinks. I guess he missed out on a good African American History class, because anyone with even a semester’s worth of knowledge knows that “black” is a socially constructed term, and that “Caucasian” is not a term for “white” people, but a term for those who’s ancestry originates from the Caucasus Mountains in Eastern Europe. But that’s another lesson for another day.
See, if he had done his research, or knew anything about the continent from whence his ancestors came, then he would know that Africa is a HUGE continent made up of roughly 61 territories, and that the people in these territories all look DIFFERENT. Many Ethiopians, Cape Verdeans, Egyptians, and South Africans have this “relaxed-looking” hair, yet Mr. Sumner, Mr. Black Power himself, is so hastily ready to give credit for this to “the white man”. Indigenous peoples of many nations, including the one where we live, have this same long thick straight hair. Dominicans, Afro-cubans, Afro-Brazilans…MANY OF WHOM are DIRECT descendants of Africa…have long thick straight hair. So why is it that by throwing a relaxer in, a woman is automatically trying to be “white”? Easy. Because the same society that Kevin is accusing of brainwashing “us” Black Women, has so subtly brainwashed him into believing that these features only occur in those with WHITE skin. Perhaps when his passport gets a little workout, he can go to places outside of these boundaries and SEE for himself that people of color are BEAUTIFUL and DIFFERENT and come in all SHADES and SHAPES and HAIR TEXTURES. He’ll probably be awed by the blond-haired thick-assed chocolate brown Brazilians with long brunette manes cascading down their shoulders.
Then he came back and said “well, why do we try to emulate white people if they don’t try to emulate us?”
Cue Uncle Ruckus, because last I checked, white women FLOCK to the tanning salon, they buy booty-pops, and they get perms to activate some curl in their flat hair. White men and women try to twist and tame their hair to emulate locks like the ones I have in my head. I don’t see white people with FB statuses calling a rally because they’re going to the tanning salon. There’s no public outcry because they want to look more and more like Willy Wonka’s little orange oompa-loompas. Black women have set trends for years, just by being us. We do what we want, when we want. We wear what we want, and style ourselves how we want to be styled.
His logic just wasn’t sound. If every girl who gets a perm hates herself, then every girl with a short hair cut wants to secretly grow a penis and pee standing up. Come on now.
But you all should have seen the “Amens” his status was getting. And of course there was one girl who hated herself when her hair was natural and thought she was ugly so on and so on. And while I respected her story, I had to remind her that HER story was not that of everyone else. Kudos to her for discovering that hair is just hair, but don’t put your unwillingness to embrace yourself onto those of us who already knew that hair was just hair. She countered that anyone willing to “willingly damage” any part of themselves clearly hated themselves. Well, last I checked, hair was nothing but dead cells. If she’s asserting that by killing something that’s already dead, you automatically hate yourself, I’m confused. I’m further confused because she had color in her hair, and unless she’s dying it with nuts and berries from the woods on Good Hope Road, last time I checked COLOR has CHEMICALS. She also had her eyebrows waxed, and believe it or not, every time you get your eyebrows waxed it weakens the little muscle beneath your eyebrow. She probably has had a manicure in her lifetime, and every woman knows that as soon as you step into a nail shop with those acetone fumes, you’re killing brain cells. We drink, we smoke, we get tattoos and piercings. We knowingly and willingly “damage” ourselves every day. But I guess that damaging your hair is just too much for the radicals to handle.
Blanket statements run the risk of making a generalization about an entire group of people not based on statistical evidence but rather based on opinions borne from individual experiences and assumptions.
Sometimes, changing yourself is a sign that you’re unhappy with yourself. Sometimes, we do things for the wrong reasons.
And sometimes, hair is just HAIR.