"Your hair is too processed, look at it- it's bone straight from the root to the ends."
I distinctly remember the moment as a young adolescent when my former hair dresser informed me over the washing bowl of how damaged my hair was, and immediately how I so very ignorantly shrugged her off as nothing more than a hater. "Of course my hair is bone straight! That's how it's supposed to look when you wash it" I thought to myself. "She doesn't know what she's talking about. I've got that good hair." There it is, those two words- simple in it's meaning yet problematic in it's underlining implication: Good Hair.
This was my first realization of my own internal conditioning of white supremacy and the sobering reality that it was more than my hair that was processed. After years of straightening my hair and overly processing it with heat, I finally made the decision to go natural and big chopped my hair on December 10, 2011. It was one of the scariest but most rewarding decisions I have ever made for my life, in not only the overall health of my hair but in also acting as a catalyst in embracing my blackness. To some, hair is seen as secondary and insignificant. After all, hair is just hair, right? Wrong. Within a white supremacist patriarchal society that emphasizes a Eurocentric standard of beauty, black hair is Political.
Black hair has always been politicized and treated as problematic. Since blacks were stolen and sold into slavery in America, more specifically black women were forced to cover their hair as it was scene as "dirty", "ugly", and also a way of stripping black women from their femininity, as hair was seen as a symbol of beauty and docility for women within dominant culture. Black female slaves then found ways to intricately tie scarves around their hair in very obstentatious and beautiful ways, almost as a form of fighting back against a racist, Eurocentric system, and reaffirm their womanhood. For centuries to come, black women have been forced to assimilate to white culture based on Eurocentric beauty standards of hair, through various forms of processing and covering our hair. The term "good hair" was also coined, essentially placing hair on a hierarchy and wavy/loose textured hair at the very top. Black hair was even (and in many cases still) so much as legislated that made it harder for black people, more specifically black women to find jobs, positions, etc. with kinkier textured hair, thus forcing black women to hide away the natural texture of their hair. To hide their blackness. It wasn't until the 1960s where blacks began to use black hair as a weapon to fight against oppression by defying Eurocentric standards of beauty and associating black hair with Black Pride. Presently, more black women, such as myself, have gone natural and black hair is largely becoming more mainstream and accepted (though we still have ways to go).
When I first went natural, I did it for the overall health of my hair, and was unconscious of the larger implications it would have on my identity as a black woman in falling even more in love with my blackness. I too, was socially conditioned to think that "the straighter, the greater" in regards to hair. But as I chopped off my damaged hair, I also chopped off my damaged thinking and subtle form of self-hatred. Going natural has not only helped me embrace my kinks but to look at my hair as my own form of resistance to a system that was not created for me. My ideas and interests changed, my knowledge and passions vastly shifted and increased. I would even go so far as to say that embracing my fro acted as a catalyst in my journey into feminism and considering myself an intersectional/ black feminist (or as I like to say "3rd wave shawty"); ardently consuming the works of bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and Patricia Hill Collins to name a few.
Black hair will never just be hair. It is Political in its social implications, a symbol of resistance, a marker of black beauty and culture, defies homogeneity in its uniqueness, and a testament to our survival as black people. If blackness is rooted in acceptance and black pride, should it not start with our roots? With embracing the very thing that makes us unique from any other racial group: our hair? I am incondescently and unapologetically in love with my black identity, and my fro stands tall and halo-like in agreement to that very sentiment.
-Written by: Jewell Bell