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June of last year saw me cutting off my relaxed tresses and going back to my natural hair as I was going through the, “I don’t need society to tell me my hair is beautiful phase.”

A year and a couple of months later and this is no longer a phase but rather, an act of self-love, not the fun type though, as if it is one thing natural hair teaches you is that you should never use small combs. Before the big chop, I would often hear and read stories about naturals and how they were made to feel shame towards their hair, especially in the work environment. Never being a victim of this, I could not relate. I remember having a conversation with one of my friends before I cut my hair saying, “she’s just being a stereotypical angry black woman,” in reference to a woman who was complaining about hair shaming. I said this because at the time I could not understand the difference between an “angry black woman” and an empowered black woman who did not yield to the whims of Eurocentric ideals. I had been conditioned to believe that any woman, regardless of race who protested and spoke against injustices, should be termed “angry.”

After I cut my hair and after the initial shock from family and friends, there came the criticisms veiled in questions. “Are you going to wear a wig?” “When are you going to straighten it again?” “How your boyfriend feel about you cutting your hair?” “How your hair look so?” These were all questions I was faced with upon cutting my hair and despite being a self assured person, I often in the beginning stages would wish I had not cut it. As it grew however, I learnt that learning to love oneself in a natural state should be something which is promoted. In a way, I guess my comfortability with my hair caused a lot of persons to become comfortable with theirs also and I feel proud to have at least in a small way help with that.

Due to my mixed parentage, my hair is curly and often soft, as such I have not faced as much negative remarks as those who may not have mixed parentage or took more from one parent than the other. Earlier tonight however, I realised that maybe there is some truth in the belief that a female social commentator is always an angry person as that was the exact emotion I felt when I was berated for not fitting the ideal of a “polished” looking worker.

“Aye you,” he shouted from across the room to me as I was about to leave, an expression of annoyance on his face, “muss comb your hair.” Uncharacteristically, I said nothing and quickly left, partly because I was hurt as this was someone I had a modicum of respect for, but mostly because I was angry and I have learnt to fear my explosive temper.

I spent the drive on my way home furiously tapping away into my phone, writing this post because I felt as if I did not get this out of me now, tomorrow i would turn into work and shout at him, “aye you, comb YOUR hair!” with an expression of anger on my face because I can hold grudges for very long. My inability to forgive is not something I am proud of, but I often feel as if it should be acknowledged, just so people know.

Now, this is someone who is constantly haranguing me to “dress properly,” “walk properly,” as “presentation is important.” I would mostly listen to these suggestions in silence and ignore them as I do dress “properly” and despite my tendency to slouch, I walk straight when I feel like I should. I can understand his reasons for his suggestions which come across as orders but that does not make them excusable. No one aside from him seemed to have a problem with my hair, in fact just today I was complimented on it  in an interview with one of the country’s Ministers. So of course my question is, why in a multiethnic society in which we have every hair texture possible is this still an issue?

Race and hair are in my mind, inextricably linked, as such, due to my overactive mind I quickly wondered, is he being racist? It should be pointed out that my co-worker who said this to me, is Indian. In our office, there is an Indian girl and an Amerindian girl whose hair also was visibly not combed. Yet, due to their ability to blend more easily with Eurocentric ideals and my evident “kinks,” I was singled out. I realise that while I can blame him, I cannot heap everything on him as he too has been exposed to social biases as it relates to black women and their hair from a young age.

Had he bothered to ask however, rather than giving me an order about the state of my hair (which in my opinion was not much worse than it usually is) he would have known that due to poor sleeping habits and time management skills, I had neglected to wash and comb my hair that morning. Had he bothered to ask, he would have known that I had planned on washing and combing it tomorrow as having thick hair with small pores, I normally do this every two days in an effort to keep it properly hydrated as it loses moisture very quickly. Had he bothered to ask, I would have done my best to respectfully educate him on why he should not be asking a black woman to comb her hair while other straight haired ethnicities were not asked to do that. I would have told him of the biases he appeared to have and I would have told him that often, very often, naturals doubt their self worth as they are constantly being asked to conform to what is considered “acceptable hair,” and that was what he was doing to me.

On the surface, it might appear a small thing to be worried about but it all goes back to Eurocentric ideals of beauty which labels natural hair as abnormal and out of place. This is sadly seen in many businesses who refuse to hire persons if their natural hair is “very” evident and also in their reluctance to hire those who may have dreadlocks due to the biases associated to Rastafarians.

The order to comb my hair, made me realise that the stereotypes we have fought against for years are still thriving in the most “tolerant” parts of our society. That order sadly made me realise that naturals may never be fully accepted due to underlying biases and prejudices ingrained within the minds of those who surround us. I guess I can eventually forgive him, as humans we are all prone to spew nonsense every once in a while but after being taught through socialisation and the mass media for years that our hair is unacceptable in its natural form, I do hope he can come to realise where he has erred. I hope he does this independently as I do not believe in educating people on issues which should be basic knowledge.

As an act of rebellion, tomorrow I will again not wash and comb my hair despite knowing I will have the time to do so. I will however wash it the next day because the reality is, my hair is really dry and needs to be washed.

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2 thoughts on “Hair shaming

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