Hair Raising Tale

Recently, while browsing in a store at the mall, an attractive, young Black woman and sales associate (she worked at the store) around my age approached me. "Excuse me, are you from around here?" she asked me. A bit perplexed I answered, "Yes. I am."
She said, "Like reaally from around here or from somewhere else?" "I dont' know how you mean," I answered. "Do you want to know if I'm from this particular town, or if I'm from this state??" "Well, I'm asking you, because I think your hair is BEAUTIFUL and I love it!" she exclaimed. "Wow, thank you!" I answered sheepishly. "No really!" she said. "I think your hair looks great. See, I'm not from around here. I just relocated from Minnesota. I live in Middletown, CT. I've been here for six months, and the towns I've frequented so far haven't been that receptive to my hair." Confused, my gazed found the top of her head... "Oh, I'm wearing a wig." She said, shyly. "My hair is natural underneath here, and I usually wear it in a style similar to yours. Since I've moved here, I haven't worn it that way though." "Oh why??" I asked her. "I don't know," she started. "but I get this weird feeling when I'm out shopping at organic food markets or if I'm out and about running errands, people stare at me disapprovingly. Like they don't like my hair! And the job interviews I've gone on since moving here... I since that they find my hair inappropriate... plus I'm a full-figured woman so I feel..." At this juncture in the conversation, an older White sales associate happened upon the conversation and listened with interest. "Well what towns are you going to? I know Middletown is known as a relatively artsy town." I conversed. "Well, towns like Glastonbury..." she started. I rolled my eyes knowingly, as did the White sales associate. "Firstly, Glastonbury??" I smirked. "Look girl, I think you should not hide your hair underneath that wig. I get nothing but positive feedback from people. I've been on numerous job interviews with my hair just like this! Perhaps it's my attitude and demeanor. But I've never had that issues. And if someone doesn't like it, I could care less. My hair is neat, I keep it combed and it's not unruly and unkempt when I venture out in public. I completely understand that 'feeling' you get, however. And it's certainly valid. I don't understand why someone would demand that we wear our hair a certain way that isn't natural to who we are ethnically!" She nodded appreciatively. The white sales associate (who's hair was dark, somewhat course, and curly) opined that she doesn't understand why someone would discriminate against the texture of someone's hair. She also pointed out that people in the major cities and towns (in Connecticut) could care less! I agreed and told her the black hair issue is a complicated and multilayered situation. And that it'd be hard to explain and chop up in just fifteen minutes. "Look, wear your natural hair." I told the young sales associate. "Don't hide behind the wig." "I just want to thank you!" she said. "You've inspired me to do just that! You really have. I'd like for you to return so that you can see it! Perhaps we can become friends and you can suggest other places and towns I can roam freely, without feeling insecure!" I told her it was a done deal. And that I'd return to the store, when time permitted me to.
The issue of Black hair is indeed a touchy one for the Black community. Many of us have a difficult enough time coming to terms with specific aspects of our ethnicity, but when you have White people weighing it, it makes it all the more difficult to navigate! While the situation is a little more tolerable now, Corporate America has, for years, made it taboo and uncomfortable for Black professionals (especially women) to sport braids, dreadlocks, and naturals to work. Preferring that we chemically process our hair or sport hair extensions to properly "fit in" with what 'the majority' considers to be the norm. I highly doubt White-American women would be asked to tan and perm their hair, to add texture if they want to be hired or considered as a candidate for employment. So why are Black women, Black people expected to change those parts of ourselves, we can't help being. Natural hair dictates just that! Something that's natural to our ethnicity and race. Glamour Magazine came under fire last year when an editor accepted an invitation from a New York law firm, to present a slide show on the "Do's and Don'ts of Corporate Fashion."
The first slide allegedly featured a Black woman wearing a stylish afro. "A real no-no" scoffed the Glamour editor. Who followed up by stating that dreadlocks were "truly dreadful!" She continued that it was ’shocking’ that some people still think it ‘appropriate’ to wear those hairstyles at the office. ‘No offense,’ she sniffed, but those ‘political’ hairstyles really have to go. I'd be willing to wager that the offending editor pissed off several African-American lawyers, who were undoubtedly present during her presentation.
Glamour Magazine found itself doing major damage control, by hosting a panel discussion in November, dedicated to Women, Race, and Beauty. The March issue featured a transcript of said discussion. Not good enough, because the fashion industry and society, no matter how many panel discussions (a seemingly common solution to flagrant bigotry)- are hastily thrown together, Black beauty will forever come under fire. And quite frankly, I'm sick to death of it. Period. I find it appalling that a woman who makes no apologies for her "blackness" is accused of trying to make a "political statement." Or is described as a "nappy-headed ho' "
Perhaps if I bleached my skin along with over processing, beweaving, and damaging my hair, I can avoid offending racist and self-hating zealots who refuse to acknowledge that blond, skinny, and spray-tanned is not the sole criteria for beauty. I'm sorry (not) if my brown self and kinky hair offends. But then again, that's not MY problem. It's White and Corporate America's hurdle to get over. Black people... Black women specifically need to get over it and stop allowing society, people, Black men, other Black women, White men, purported White "fashion mavens" and the media dictate and define how our beauty should register, just so they can feel comfortable.


Anonymous said...

It saddens me that this is still such an issue, but it certainly doesn't surprise me. People truly think they can determine whether or not you're militant, how intelligent you are, how well-mannered you are, etc. based on your hair! I find it fascinating, really. I have a short 'fro and love it! I dare anyone to try and figure me out based on my hair. I am not my effing hair! Hair should be more like the crowning jewel to your ensemble, you know? If you choose to make your hair a political statement then it should be. If you choose to make your hair healthy and happy then do it. Why should anyone feel obligated to wear their hair one way or another? I don't want to get a relaxer so I don't do that. I love my curls and even when I can't get a pick through them I still prefer them to the flat, smoke-filled stuff I used to have before allowing my hair to do what it does. I hope more people do what they want with their hair instead of doing what they feel is forced upon them by a tacky society of tasteless people with limited fashion sense!!!

- Cat

BeautyinBaltimore said...

Coffee, hair is such a multifaceted issue in our comminuty. Most non black people(African-American) have no idea. I think I read somewhere that Jewish women have issues with their hair too but I don't think they have the issues we do. People within in our community make so many judgements about us based on hair. I am going to link to this post if you don't mind.

TiffJ said...

Cat, hahahaha @ I hope more people do what they want with their hair instead of doing what they feel is forced upon them by a tacky society of tasteless people with limited fashion sense!!!

@beautyinb'more: Black hair is indeed a touchy hot button situation, in the Black community. Which we don't really need non-Black people, corporate types, The Majority-(who know eff all about the dynamics of black hair or culture really)- weighing in the issue, calling us "nappy headed ho's" and saying our natural hair is an office "no-no." We reeally just don't the extra criticism.

Anonymous said...

As a brother who grew up in Philly (and has tickets to Erykay badu at Radio City in NY this May,) I looove naturals.

And I miss the smell of hair grease and the sights of my Mom braiding my sister's hair (w/o extensions, not that it's a bad thing, mind you!

Brothers out here looove naturals and the ones who don't scarcely deserve you fine lovelies anyway!

af said...

hey! bnbmore directed me to this post, and i must say it's quite interesting. we can all tell when someone is wearing a wig, so why not just rock ur own hair as best u can? i know someone that wears the same nasty weave ponytail everyday!

what wude u recomend for maintaining natural blk hair? ive herd products like "lusters hair lotion" actually suffocate ur scalp causing dandruff and dry brittle hair.

u might think about doing a post about asian owned hair care stores

stop by my blog and tell me wuh u think

Amadeo said...

Mind over Matter.

They don't matter and I don't give a shit.

Wait that's not how it goes...but still.

All-Mi-T [Thought Crime] Rawdawgbuffalo said...

from what i can see your hair is beautiful

TiffJ said...

@Anonymous- Firstly I covet your flipping tickets to Radio City to see Erykah and The Roots! Secondly, I'm disovering that more and more Black men praise women with naturals, even though their behavior may be contrary at times. Either way I'm still going to do and be me. I definitely appreciate the love! Perhaps I should hang out in Philly.

@afrp jamaicano- bunk ass wigs and nasty behind fake ponytails are a big no-no. Keep it fresh if you're going to wear that ish! Also, I don't use Luster's Pink Oil Moisturizer myself. I deep condition with Cholesterol conditioner in shea or olive oil, and prefer using Carol's Daughter and other similar products. Hair butters, Blue Magic, products made for a baby's virgin hair, etc. Glad you made it here by the way,
I'm on my way to your blow now!

@Amadeo- I think I like your version of the old adage better.

@Torrence Stephens: Thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

I live in rural England and i can almost count the amount of black people i know on one hand (maybe a little bit of an exaggeration but you get my point).
I myself am mixed race and sport some pretty crazy afro hair...
that i wrecked straightening.

i totally agree with what your saying and i know about the whole nappy head insult thing but no ones heard of it around here so i don't get insults thrown at me but what i do get is people, sometimes total strangers, asking to touch my hair if i'm wearing it free and natural. They ask stupid questions like how long does it take to get it like that about 6 times, it's kind of nice they're interested but each person asking a million times is kind of frustrating and i think people need to be educated about other races and stuff and learn to accept each others traits and beauty as you said. although i want to sometimes, i don't often wear my hair natural cos people stare and stuff and i become so self-concious.

i guess i didn't really think that black women would get grief in most parts of the US about their hair. i spose its not just countryside dwellers from England that need educating.

Thanks for writing, it helped.

TiffJ said...

@Martha: People who aren't worldly, or attuned to different cultures will stare at anything that deviates from what they consider the norm. Sounds like the issue with the peeps in your small town. As far as strangers asking to stroke or touch my hair, that's an absolute no-no to me. Why? Because I'm not an animal and this ain't a petting zoo. Anytime anybody asks to touch my hair, I politely but emphatically tell them, "I'd PREFER if you didn't." Or I'll simply say, "Um, no." Sans explanation. While I know people mean well and the intention behind it is innocent, it's rude and very intrusive. The only way they'll come to the very same realization, is if you say, "No." Particularly if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

I'm always interested in hearing stories like this from people of color, living in different parts of the world. Seems the issue (despite small differences) are universal!

If people stare at my lovely hair, in it's thick, natural glory, I don't notice, because quite frankly I don't care. I figure it's not MY issue, it's theirs. I feel regal in my skin and act it.

It's also not my job to teach a grown ass adult in the 21st century how to accept other people's differences. Some things are fundamental, and we've evolved far enough that people should know better. Unfortch, they don't. Because they've no desire to know or learn.
People have to WANT to come out of their comfort zone, out of THEIR OWN curiosity.
In this day and age, they need to get over it.

Thanks so much for visiting!

Makeup Theory said...

I love this post! I said something similar in a hair interview I did a few days ago on Keep It Kinky's blog.
However, I have had people (not strangers, but friends from other cultures) ask if they could touch my 'fro. I don't mind at all, but that's just me. I've wanted to ask people from other cultures if I could touch their hair - just because it's so different from mine.

But America's whole obsession with straight hair and skinny white chicks is beyond me. It's like that's all they can see. And nothing else is attractive. Crazy.