I was in fifth grade when I got my first relaxer. Up until that point, I had always received praise for my long, thick, curly hair, but that didn’t matter to me. What I wanted more than anything was to have straight hair like my mother, the women at church, my teachers and practically every other Black woman in my life. My desire to indulge in the “creamy crack” that would burn my hair into submission had nothing to do with Eurocentric beauty standards. For me, it was about maturity.
After years of begging my mother to let me get a relaxer, she gave in, but we both quickly realized that it was a mistake. My hair began to thin out and break off, so in eighth grade, I went natural. From then on, I reluctantly wore my fro and occasionally got blowouts until one day after leaving the salon I looked in the mirror and cried. It sounds dramatic, I know, but I felt that I had let my ancestors down. How could a proud Black woman such as myself have yearned for straight hair for so long?
I now realize that my shame on that day was ridiculous for various reasons. Firstly, like many other women, I began my natural hair journey because my hair was unhealthy, not to prove my blackness. If every woman going natural isn’t doing it to be pro-black, every woman straightening her hair can’t be doing it to be anti-black.
Secondly, I’ve met some extremely proud Black women with straight hair. Whether it be a blowout, relaxer or a sew-in, there’s plenty of “woke” women with straight hair. The natural hair and headscarves aesthetic we’ve come to associate with the proud Black woman is a closed minded and oftentimes inaccurate one.
Finally, I’m sure the ancestors have better things to worry about than my hair. It’s just not that deep. My work to help the Black community is much more important than how my hair looks while doing it.
If Angela Davis had done all her work with straight hair, would you really question her commitment to Black people? I’d hope not. If you feel the need to try and measure someone’s “pro-blackness,” then dedication to advancement should be the only metric. Getting lost in the superficial importance of hair only continues to tear us apart and creates a new form of Black elitism.
I’ve heard slick comments directed at sisters with straight hair at poetry open mics, in HBCU classrooms and even at protests. These are supposed to be Black safe spaces and safe spaces shouldn’t come with exceptions. We can’t call these loving environments if something as simple as hair gains some more love than others.
I can’t help but fear that little girls (and even grown women) like my fifth-grade self, who had no intention of making a political statement, will find themselves to be a target in places where they’re supposed to be loved. So here it is, my plea that we stop finding more ways to divide ourselves because that was already done for us. Instead, accept and support Black women (and Black hair) in all forms.