Natural Hair Has Never Meant Freedom for Me

My Thing Is: The “revolution” just subjected the look I’ve always had to a different kind of scrutiny.

Posted: March 24 2014 2:01 AM



Growing up, I was the only biracial girl in a white family in a rural Wisconsin town. My hair has always been natural, but back then, I had no idea what “natural” was. I was raised ignorant of most black cultural issues, leaving my education about the debate between natural vs. processed hair to college friends and Chris Rock. (I didn’t even know what relaxer was until my teen years, and didn’t fully understood the mechanics of a weave until I started watching America’s Next Top Model in high school.)

Being mixed race, my genetic makeup expressed itself through my hair with a certain “in-between-ness,” claiming neither the color nor the texture associated with the polarized standards of white and black beauty. Its hybridity confused people, and as you can imagine, that confusion evoked questions, misunderstanding, touching and pulling. As a child, I was scrutinized in a way that felt merciless.

Any new hairstyle I wore to school elicited either a yea or nay from each passerby in the hallway. Worse than that, I’d find pieces of paper tucked into my curls with phrases like “Cut your hair” written on them.

The constant ridicule left me jaded, paranoid and riddled with a level of self-consciousness that would make me cry in the bathroom during school days.


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The Battle of the Hair Nap….Nappy is Not A Bad Word!


“Take The Kinks Out of Your Mind, NOT Out of Your Hair!”
-The Honorable Marcus Masiah Garvey

By Doniece Leshore

History has a way of repeating itself, especially if the bad is not challenged and the good not embraced. (Ferrell) From the time the black woman set foot in America through today she has grappled with the troublesome issue of how to care for her hair, to what textures and styles are acceptable.By the hundreds, black women are releasing the use of chemicals, pomades and straighten comb/irons trying not to embrace their natural coily, kinky, nappy hair texture.  Oh, Do I hold my tongue from saying nappy or should I be okay with saying I’m happy to be nappy?

The word nappy used in the context relating to a black woman’s hair creates much debate and negative emotions. Women, black women in particular, battle with the word nappy because it was once used to address slaves. Saying someone’s hair is curly is viewed as positive but saying it’s nappy is negative. They both mean the same thing. Words only have the power that we give them. Nappy is not a bad word!
“In its natural state, woolly, kinky, nappy hair acts as an antenna that pulls in the electrodes in the air around you. This increases the electrical activity around your brain. Your brain and the central nervous system generate 10 watts of electricity and operate on electrical impulses. Your coiled hair draws in the electro-magnetic activity and magnifies it. Theoretically, meaning more brain power, more intuitiveness and calculation. Nappy carpets and surfaces create more static electricity because they pull in more static.” (McCain) Therefore, the nappier the hair—the more the electricity—the more the electricity—The more the brain power! Nappy /’Napi/. The first recorded use of nappy in the noun form was in 1705, in the Oxford English Dictionary. It was referred to as ale or beer. Another form of nappy, according to the Oxford English Dictionary is an adjective defined as “of cloth: having a nap, downy”.  In the Miriam-Webster it’s defined as “having many tight bends or curls”.

In Australia, it’s diaper
In Britain, it’s a diaper
In America…it’s a shame

I used to hate being called nappy-headed growing up, but I’m in love with who I am and no one can take that love away from me.

Most Outstanding Award Winners for ‘Let’s Talk About Hair’ Symposium


Casarae L. Gibson (English) and Kadari Taylor-Watson (American Studies) won the Most Outstanding Award for their project titled, “Domesticating Blackness: Black Hair, Citizenship, and the Politics of Respectability at the first annual “Let’s Talk About Hair”: An Interdisciplinary Symposium. Gibson and Taylor-Watson’s multi-media presentation examined the political role hair played in defining how black women represented themselves as full-citizens and expressing femininity. One way to gain that status, they contend was to alter the hair texture in order to appeal to American civic and social institutions. In celebration of their win, the two graduate students were awarded $1000 and a certificate. Gibson and Taylor-Watson were most appreciative of receiving the award from the Black Cultural Center and the Office of Interdisciplinary Graduate Program. Their research was a personal reflection on the historical understanding of Black womanhood and identity.

The two scholar-activists are very happy that people recognized their scholarly contribution. Most importantly, they were appreciative of the many listeners from various ethnic, class, and gendered backgrounds who listen to their project openly, asking provocative questions, and overall being committed to learning about Black female identity and African American History.

I complained about winning a hair “prize”

I won a “prize” two weeks ago for attending a College of Liberal Arts Career Fair. Beforehand I found out in an email that I had won a prize. To my dismay, the email listed my “prize” as “salon products”. I had intially held out a sliver of hope that they might not ascribe to the hegemonic ideal that all hair should or ought to be straight.

But, I knew there would be a problem, when later on in the email, an unmistakable gender order emerged. All gifts were centered around gendered artifacts for career and professionalism, including gender-appropriate suits, portfolios, resume paper, and gift certificates. According to the prize email, I and other women were receiving the necessary gender-appropriate tools to enhance our career development, including salon gifts and tanning packages. Comedy ensued when my suspicions were confirmed as my boyfriend, whose name they thought sounded like a female’s, 

dfreceived tanning minutes. Not surprisingly, my prize were salon products for “straight sexy hair”.

Of course, I felt like the CLA was failing to abide by its diversity initiative listed below:

Improve the academic climate so that it is increasingly civil, respectful, accessible, and free from harassment; Create and sustain an environment that supports intellectual inquiry, cultural enhancement, and awareness of broader issues.


I felt the need to issue a complaint immediately, which brought me to the office of the career development director across the hall.

I revealed to the director, a straight haired woman of European descent, that the gift I had been offered was problematic. It was bought under a taken-for-granted assumption that it would be desirable to someone with straight hair, and, more specifically, under the assumption that hair should be straight. I tried to explain that her prize was not, in fact, a prize for many of those that belong to the diverse Purdue student body. Instead, it was a reminder of being at an institution that has for so long failed to grasp this quality. With this, she laughed at me, stating it was ridiculous that I was complaining about a ‘gift’. I asked if there was anyone else I could talk to that would hear me out and at least consider my point of view.  There wasn’t.

I left feeling chastised by her continued laughter, which trivialized my feelings. I was treated, as if, I was just being ungrateful. She only perceived the situation as some hilarious event where a spoiled student tried to rip her off. She said out loud, holding up a stickie pad as I left, “Please write this down because I have to remember this.”

The CLA Diversity Initiative was not honored in this case. Gender and racial discrimination were, in fact, reinforced with these gifts. As a mixed race student at Purdue, my presence as someone who mattered was not considered.

To the Liberal Arts Career Development center, who promote that professional hair means straight and sexy, and the admin I spoke to, here, “I wrote it down.”