If you are a dark-skinned black woman, chances are you are probably sick of the hair debate. I know I am. It is a necessary evil, unfortunately, as hair is a large part of any woman’s identity, regardless of her race or ethnicity. But dark-skinned black women, no matter how we wear our hair, bear the brunt of unfair criticism in the hair conversation.
I am not here to reopen wounds or throw darts with my words, but with all of the talk that is developing from Peter Thomas’s comments about black women wearing blonde weave, I want to weigh in on some of the inconsistencies that get applied to black women’s hair, especially in doing comparisons. If you are participating in perpetuating this, you stand to hurt yourself in the process.
First, I want to say that every black woman has the freedom to choose how she wants to wear her hair. Especially if it is growing out of your own head, you get to do whatever you want with it. The rising narrative for black women on the hair care front has been to embrace our natural hair as an act of self-love. Wearing natural styles and maintaining our hair naturally is also seen as a means of redirecting hair care profits from non-black companies (many of which are Asian-owned) to more black-owned companies for hair care and hair products.
From the natural hair rise has been a drawing up of sides, it seems. In recent years, black women have been separating themselves into “teams” based on common hairstyles, and each of these groupings automatically garners dialogue of criticism. Natural hair beauties have criticisms of straight hair. Women who wear weaves and sew-ins have criticisms of the look and upkeep of 4c hair. It seems that everyone throws the term “creamy crack” around when talk of women relaxing their hair surfaces. And, as mentioned earlier, black women’s hair colors are under a microscope too, with certain colors being deemed off limits for women with darker complexion.
This is not abnormal. In any arena where people are selecting their preference, there will always be conflicting opinions and dialogue. When the arena involves only women, the opinions and dialogue seem to happen more rapidly, and possibly more out in the open. These opinions are not the problem, but the inconsistency behind them is concerning. For example, black women who are criticized for relaxing or “texlaxing” their hair often get attacked on the basis of not loving themselves. Otherwise, why else would they chemically process their locks into something more closely aligned with European beauty standards?
But what about when the woman talking down about relaxers wears a wig or weave on her head (as a protective style) most days? Is it still a “protective” style when her natural hair only comes out from under the hair piece one out of seven days a week, all year long? Conversely, how does it look when a black woman with straight hair, either through relaxing or wearing hair pieces, pokes fun at a natural hairstyle on a dark-skinned woman or girl? It looks vicious and counterproductive, and those things are far from the love dark-skinned women need and want.
The debate likely will not be closing anytime soon, but I would like to propose some better ground rules as we continue the conversation. First, recognize everyone’s right to do what they want with their own hair. This means women have the right to moisturize, stretch, curl, straighten, and even appropriate, as much as they want to. Especially if it is growing out of their scalp, it is theirs. The color and texture of it is no one else’s business. Next, if you want to change it up with weaves or wigs, this is also your right, but it does carry implications. Your love of your blackness cannot shine fully through if the hair on your head looks far from what your phenotype might naturally possess.
Likewise, a protective style is just that, it protects your hair. But when the protective style is your go-to style, now it is a mask. You cannot dictate how another woman should wear her hair if you do not even wear your own. And lastly, while hair does form a large portion of any woman’s identity, for black women, it almost consumes our identities, and that was never the point. India Arie and many others have said it – we are more than just our hair. We miss out on the chance to find that out in each other when we make hairstyles a basis for which we critique and assign value to each other. That’s basic. It’s boring. Instead, I’d like to see black women and girls having debates about femininity, representation in STEM careers, and healthy living.
Antoinette is an online curriculum designer who moonlights as a writer/editor, podcaster, and yogini. When she is not designing courses or recording episodes for her podcast, she is usually busy enjoying life with her husband and two children. Find her on Instagram @msantoinettechanel.