Natural hair has been a passionate topic for me since I went natural eight years ago. I gorge on “natural hair porn” online. I stop women at random and chat about how they did their hair and how fly it looks. And for the most part, I have received nothing but love in regards to my hair. But writing about backhanded compliments reminded me of a trend I see frequently on social media:
Black men are using the natural hair movement to shame Black women who wear their hair straight or weaved.
The guys in my poetry troupe, Black on Black Rhyme, were my biggest supporters when I first went natural eight years ago. They would sidle up to me during poetry shows and gently slip their hands into my growing coils. Their fingers read my scalp like Braille and they whispered the message into my ears: “This really becomes you.”
While natural hair is almost ubiquitous now, it wasn’t back then; I faced more ignorance than I did acceptance. My then-boyfriend was of the opinion that “Afros were ugly,” and opposed my going natural. So it bolstered my tenuous confidence to know that my brothers still considered me beautiful with an inch of hair.
Many Afrocentric men I know are generally supportive of Black women with natural hair–but not without a catch. There is a recurring theme among some men to uplift natural hair while spitting in the face of women with weaves or relaxers. I’ve written previously about my irritation with backhanded compliments but these men skip the “compliment” part and go straight for the backhand. Their palpable disdain grinds my gears for different reasons than the ones I enumerated before. Like to hear it? Here it goes.
I resent wholeheartedly being used to scold other women for their choices in hair care.
The fallacious line of thought is that only “real” women wear their hair natural. Anything else–relaxers, weaves, creative colors–is “fake,” but not just fake in the sense that the hair is synthetic. To these men, a woman with a relaxer “cannot be taken seriously” or respected simply because her hair hangs downward.
In one meme, they show a picture of a Black woman with a weave and another of a White woman with blond hair. The text reads, “We don’t see White women rocking natural hair weaves, so why we do we see Black women wearing straight weaves?” The question is valid, but the motivation behind asking it is not. Men can be more willing to ridicule Black women as self-hating rather than understand that our complexes about our hair run deeper than a track of Remi. Or not…sometimes it really is just about wanting beach waves to tickle your breasts on a Tuesday.
Black women’s hair is not a barometer of Blackness where kinkiness is directly proportional to racial pride. Yet, people draw all sorts of conclusions on mere sight of an Afro. One Facebook friend in particular likes to post pictures of women with Afros or other natural styles, saying, “I love to see Africans who look like Africans.” Read: with natural hair. Because Africa’s children are only identified by the texture of their hair?
My natural hair doesn’t mean I’m healthy, holy, conscious, or more Afrocentric.
It makes me a Black woman with an Afro, full stop. But women with relaxers and weaves are unfairly maligned with negative stereotypes. A friend of mine likes to make the point that certain men will ignore what a woman puts into her body (foods, alcohol) in favor of the bush atop her head. Men cannot read our strands in some strange art of divination to reveal who we are inside. But they try.
What is most galling about their criticism is that it ignores the years of insecurity we have been dealt at the hands of Black men and other Black women for our hair. It ignores the barrage of Eurocentric beauty Black women still face in this country. It turns whatever insecurities we have into monsters of our own flawed construction. Their repudiation hurts more because we have looked to Black men for validation and have often heard, “slap a perm in that,” or “light skin, long hair.”
I like that so many Black men love natural hair now. But after being told our short curls made us look like boys, no, we don’t take kindly to those same men telling us we’re unloveable in relaxers. Same abuse, different aesthetic. Women shame each other over hair all the time (#teamnatural vs. #teamrelaxed, hello!). We don’t need Black men to make natural hair a site of further contention and competition.
I talked to one guy about his harsh language for women who wear weaves and managed to pull out this nugget: [typography font=”Josefin Sans” size=”20″ size_format=”px” color=”#40c1c7″]”I just want women to know they can be beautiful with natural hair.” [/typography] I almost applauded. Then he promptly went back to saying wearing weave was silly and self-hating, and some women don’t deserve understanding about their hair preferences.
For years, so many Black women felt nothing but shame in regards to their natural hair. The natural hair movement of the past decade has grown because of the support women show each other. Not because we’ve shamed each other, again, into conformity. Shaming tactics will never effect the “positive” change men claim to want because shame disempowers rather than strengthens.
I would accept Black men as an ally for natural hair any day if I knew their love for Black women did not come with follicular conditions. I will not allow my natural hair to be used as an oppressive tool against the women who are my sisters and my friends.
This is what the argument boils down to for me: you cannot preach self-love with an attitude of contempt. If Black men cannot actually demonstrate love to the women they claim do not love themselves, then who is really guilty of self-hate?
I promise I’ll be nice: What are your thoughts on weaves, relaxers, Afros, and your hair?