Hair Raising Tale: The Beauty Supply Store


Warning: Gratuitous use of personal pics showing the versatility of my natural hair. Deal.
Anyone who reads Coffee Rhetoric or who knows me personally, understands that I am vigorously passionate about issues having to do with women of the African diaspora; Especially how we're portrayed, exploited, "fetishized", oppressed, suppressed, trivialized, marginalized, and perceived. Image, body types, and of course hair. The struggle will never get old with me. I won't ever stop negating the stereotypes and foolery continuously projected onto Black women. Whether media pundits sans a clue (with Steve Harvey's help) continuously resurrect a dead corpse, struggling to analyze the reasons why they think we're ALL hopelessly single to being told our brand of beauty doesn't suffice unless a bunch of prerequisites come before it, or it be someone staring at us with their mouth agape when they realize our features are in fact diverse and not as homogeneous as they think... And so this story goes... 
About a month 1/2 ago, my best friend The Notorious C.A.T. came for a long overdue visit. Of course lots of fun and foolishness ensued. Anything less wouldn't make sense. I introduced her to haunts new to her since her last foray into Hartford... we visited some old, familiar ones. Per usual, Cat insisted on making her annual pilgrimage to a certain beauty supply store downtown to stock up on the must-haves lacking in her adopted northern New York town of Plattsburgh. 
As the Korean woman behind the counter rang her purchases, I noticed her animatedly speaking in Korean to her daughter, who was also behind the counter reading. The conversation seemed to be directed toward Cat, whose unrelaxed, curly hair was pulled back at the nape of her neck, in a puffy ponytail. We both looked at the woman and her daughter quizzically. 
"Oh, we were just talking about your hair." The daughter said to Cat. "It looks really nice. Is is real?" She asked. 
While I struggled to not express a serious case of WTF-face, Cat, in an amused voice, answered, "Oh! Yes. It's real!" 
"Oh wow! Okay." The girl answered incredulously as she and her mother nodded their shocked approval. 
Cat and I exchanged looks, smirked, and thanked the inquisitive Korean woman for ringing our purchases and went back out into the cold... laughing that all-knowing laugh. We reflected for a brief moment outside the store... 
I told Cat what'd just transpired reminded me of the scene from Chris Rock's eponymous documentary 'Good Hair,' where he visits several Korean-owned beauty supply stores, afro-textured wigs in-tow in a humorous attempt to sell it to them and measure its worth against the more popular and preferred 100% Indian Remy brand, beloved by Black women who get their hair weaved. "They don't wanna look... Africa... like this! They wanna look the style!" one heavily accented Korean store owner exclaimed, stretching his hands out on each side of his head for emphasis. "Nobody walks around with nappy hair nomore!" his Black employee sneered. Other beauty supply stores had similar reactions. Alas, Chris Rock concluded that our afro-textured hair wasn't worth a damn, apparently. 
I presume to think that Korean-owned beauty supply owners are probably so accustomed to seeing Black women walk in, with their need-to-be-done hair wrapped up in scarves, to purchase Indian Remy- (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that)- that the mere idea that one or two would walk in with derring-do, their natural, neatly styled kinky/curly hair on display on a mission to buy Cholesterol conditioner to lovingly maintain and care for it, came as a complete shock to them. 
Perhaps the store owner (and many other shocked and awed of the like) couldn't ever fathom soft, healthy, thick hair sprouting from the scalp of a Black woman scalp or grasp the fact that many of us would rather wear it instead of what's sprung from an Indian woman's... or that, quite possibly, a head of healthy hair lay protected underneath the weaved heads of many Black women, who're merely giving their own hair a breather from styling and maintenance. 
On a few occasions, I've been asked if my own pulled back, 70's inspired natural hair was a textured ponytail piece or bun pinned atop my head. 
While I maintain that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a Black woman experimenting with her hair and wearing it however she sees fit, our hair and bodies along with our dating and sex lives seem to pique the curiosity of many and becomes a topic of debate amongst those not in the know or who think they do. However, I'm left to wonder if the minority of us who aren't merely just trying a different look and who do truly despise our features and resent the texture and depth of our hair, don't shoulder some of the responsibility for the reactions of those outside our community.
The hair issue is a perpetually complicated one.. and there are a number of beleaguered Black women who are downright indignant about the texture of their hair, as illustrated by the beauty supply clerk in the 'Good Hair' clip, who co-signed her employer's disdain for "Africa hair."  I'd be remiss if I also didn't call out so-called natural hair wearers who follow rigid, multi-layered hair regimens and live by that blasted hair typing chart popularized by Oprah Winfrey's long-time hairdresser, Andre Walker, in an attempt to monitor and alter the texture of their natural hair... perhaps to mimic a Bi/Multi-racial woman's hair type
Black women undoubtedly seem to be under a constant microscope. Other people outside our community pick up on the conflict that rages within the minority of my sistren who dislike themselves, and they run long-distance marathons with it... formulating these grandiose ideas about our appearance, particularly that somehow we all want to mimic a uniform look based on a euro centric aesthetic
I'm often quite dumbfounded and somewhat disgusted when other Black women, who aren't attuned to the actual texture of their own hair, express the same type of surprise at the versatility of my natural hair. As if they, themselves came out of the womb relaxed or be-weaved. It's akin to a clear case of mental conditioning (read: brainwashing).  
Listen, there is absolutely nothing wrong with experimenting with hair as a personal form of expression, but once Black women become that far removed from themselves that it extends beyond a personal aesthetic and simple vanity in a way that causes them to disconnect from what and who they really are, then it's damaging and it perpetuates the growing list of ignorant rhetoric about us. 
Be mindful. Why on earth would you co-sign someone else's virtual (read: distorted) sketch of your image and allow them to wage a totalitarian ideology of how they think you should look? 
That is all. 

4 comments

  1. I think it is sad that we are the only ethnic group that does not "know" our hair and we act like it is some sort of defect. I had been wanting to 'go natural' for a good 5 yrs and aug 2010 I was too thru. I thought, "if I'm gonna accept me (all of me) the way I was made it includes my hair. I am thankful I am getting back to me. It breaks my heart when it comes to the division within in terms of black women. We are all fearfully n wonderfully made and we as black women need to remember that. Once we accept our differences as black women what others think of us won't even matter.

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  2. How exciting! It's an arduous process in the beginning, but it's also a lesson in growth & patience. Which makes for a wonderful learning process. And I agree that we seem to be the only race of women conflicted about our hair's texture especially!

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  3. I watched Good Hair this weekend, and while it was informative on the perm and weave side of things, it disturbed me that there weren't more examples of women proud of their natural hair. Tracie Thoms made some good points about coming to terms with her own natural hair, but honestly most black women I know would be over the moon if their natural hair looked anything like hers. I couldn't be too upset though. I mean, it's a documentary by a comedian after all.

    When I first went natural two years ago, it was hard. Not for me, so much, but I never realized that perms weren't seen as a choice in my family, but a necessity. No one was supportive of my decision. My mother turned her lip up, my grandmother still laments over me cutting off "all that pretty hair" and my aunts and cousins just don't get it at all. When I did wear a style friends and family approved of (other than my proud and nappy fro) they would follow with, "I wish I could pull that off!" You can! It's your hair!

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  4. I felt similarly re: the Good Hair doc. I think it was a good effort... but wonder what it could've been if done from a FEMALE perspective. I won't comment on Tyra Banks' attempt on her defunct talk show. I was disappointed that Tracie Thoms was the ONLY natural hair rep for the whole movie.

    I had a relatively easy time transitioning to natural hair. The relaxer I struggled to hold onto in college (my hair fought it tooth and nail) ruined my hair. So I cut it all off... It was actually received well by family and friends. When I came home to Hartford, I got side glances from other Black women whose eyes read, "Why are you doing this?? You're ruining it for us!" Lol. But that was in like 1999 and I haven't looked back SINCE!

    The whole "I wish I could pull that off" commentary is what kills me and is part of of what prompted this post. It's almost like Black women FORGET they weren't born with relaxed hair, lace fronts, or wigs! It takes no more effort to care for natural hair or locs than it does to try to maintain weave or relaxers.

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