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.


~see more at:


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.

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.”

Amazing Nigerian Hairstylin’ Photos by J.D. Ojeikere

Images sourced from:

J.D. ‘Okai’ Ojeikere was raised in rural Southwestern Nigeria in a village where photography was an exotic luxury. In 1950, he bought a modest Brownie D camera, and a neighbour taught him the rudiments of photography. In 1951 he began to seek work from the Ministry of Information in Ibadan, repeatedly sending the same letter: “I would be very grateful if you would use me for any kind of work in your photographic department.” His persistence paid off in 1954, when he was offered a position as a darkroom assistant. Just as Nigeria was shedding colonial rule in 1961, he became a still photographer for Televison House Ibadan, a division of the Western Nigerian Broadcasting Services, the first television station in Africa. Jazz musician Steve Rhodes was director of programming and Ojeikere has recalled the spirit of the time: “Just after independence, we were full of ideas and energy. We were going to conquer the world.” In 1963 he moved to Lagos to work for West Africa Publicity.

In 1967 he joined the Nigerian Arts Council, and during their festival of the following year he began to take series of photographs dedicated to Nigerian culture. This body of work, now consisting of thousands of images, has become a unique anthropological, ethnographic, and documentary national treasure. Most African photographers of his generation only worked on commission; this project, unique in its genre, flourished without any commercial support. The Hairstyle series, which consists of close to a thousand photographs, is the largest and the most thorough segment of Ojeikere’s archive. “To watch a ‘hair artist’ going through his precise gestures, like an artist making a sculpture, is fascinating. Hairstyles are an art form,” Ojeikere has commented. He photographs hairstyles every day in the street, in offices, at parties. He records each subject systematically: from the rear, sometimes in profile, and occasionally head-on. Those from the rear are almost abstract and best reveal the sculptural aspect of the hairstyles. For Ojeikere, this is a never ending project as hairstyles evolve with fashion: “All these hairstyles are ephemeral. I want my photographs to be noteworthy traces of them. I always wanted to record moments of beauty, moments of knowledge. Art is life. Without art, life would be frozen.”

Text sourced from: .

J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere: Moments of Beauty
Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland
and Center for Contemporary Art, Lagos, Nigeria

Sartorial Moments
Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, Nigeria

Maison de France
Lagos – Nigeria
and Blaffer Gallery
Houston – USA

Wedge Gallery
Toronto – Canada