The Deal With Black Hair
Hair! The hair that grows from our head, it’s versatile, it’s volatile, it sometimes seems to have its own personality. We comb it, cut it, some color it, and style it in so many intricate ways. We change it, manipulate it and even try to tame it, to fit the way we feel or even hide our age. For many women we use it as a symbol of beauty. In many cultures it shows status and pride. However long or short, our hair says something about who we are. For Black women, in particular, our hair has been the topic of many discussions.
If you are a Black woman who has not gone through several different changes with your hair, I would call you rare. For most Black women there is an identity often hidden in the way that we style our hair. My own hair journey began as a little girl, responding to what I saw as hair beauty.
“PC Jammin, PC Jumpin, PCJ No Lye Relaxer. PC Jazzy, PC Joyful PCJ No Lye Relaxer! The name that mother’s trust.”
This was the jingle that was in my head growing up for PCJ No Lye Relaxer. It was supposed to be a gentle relaxing creme to chemically straighten natural hair. Many of my friends used PCJ in their hair and I wanted the straight hair that others around me, even my mother and sister had. I sang the PCJ jingle all the time and it seemed to always be on the radio or TV. My mother promised that I would be able to get a relaxer when I turned 13, but I guess I had worn her down. Two years early, the day before I graduated from the 6th grade, my mother sat me down and relaxed my natural hair. The process took a few hours, but for me then, having my hair silky smooth was worth it.
The “creamy crack” that is what some call the straightening cream or relaxer that many women have applied to their hair, to tame their virgin kinks. This name is given in jest, due to the addictive nature of needing to have this lye-based cream applied every month or two, depending on the growth of your hair. This process for some has become an addiction, to keep their mane perfectly straight.
Over the next decade, I followed the routine and rituals of most Black women in caring for their now straight hair. At night roller setting or wrapping my hair and tying it down, so that it could keep the bouncy curls or the straightness we needed for the morning. I came accustomed to patting instead of scratching when my scalp itched close to my “touch-up” day. For if I scratched, that may irritate my scalp, causing a chemical burn during the relaxing process.
Many would ask, why even go through this process to change our hair?
Black women relax, braid, install weaves and wear wigs, to somehow fit the standard of beauty that has been shown to us from an early age. According to the 2018 Mintel Market Trends report, it is estimated that African American women spend $1.2 trillion annually on hair care. Many ensure that they block hours of their weekend schedule, sitting in salons to prepare for the following week with their trusted hair stylist.
Corporate America has played into those pressures for Black women and their hair. For decades since Black women have gained entry into corporate America, our hair has been a highly discussed topic. The way that we wear or change our hair is often met with questions, remarks or confused stares. In some corporate offices there have been dress codes which have made the wearing of natural styles against company policy. This practice would keep many black women feeling the need to conform in order to have the ability to advance in their careers. Some resort to weaves or even wigs to mask their natural hair texture.
In recent years some have waged a rebellion of sorts.
Many have made the decision to embrace their natural hair, some undergoing “the big chop” cutting off all or most of their hair and reclaiming their virgin curls and coils. With more women embracing their natural roots, this has given rise to reformation within the workplace. Actresses such as Viola Davis and TV News personality Tashara Parker, have come under scrutiny, but have given voice to women wearing their natural hair. This has allowed more women to feel comfortable wearing natural styles.
We have seen instances where girls and boys have been restricted from sports, activities or even sent home from school, due to the wearing of natural styles. In January 2020, DeAndre Arnold, a high school senior in Texas, faced suspension from school and the possibility of being banned from his walking at graduation, due to the length of his dreadlocks. In 2018, a high school wrestler was forced to cut his locks in the middle of a match or he would not have been allowed to compete. Though made famous by Venus and Serena Williams, wearing hair beads was a topic of controversy when Nicole Pyles, student in North Carolina, was made to take her hair beads out during a softball game, when the referee decided to enforce the school district dress code, which would bar her from playing for her team.
Those are just a few examples of race-based hair discrimination. With the passage of the Crown Act earlier this year, it is the hope of many that these types of race-based hair discrimination will come to an end. Hair is a feature of our bodies that for many, is still complicated. It shows our culture, it shows our confidence, it expresses our personality. However we choose to wear our crowns, it should never be discriminated against.