It was India Arie who penned the words, I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within. The song and the message are very poignant and it allows women of color to consciously think about their attitude to hair and how we treat our hair. Additionally, it allows those of us who are thoughtful enough to look at how we view others based on what we determine to be beauty starting with their hair.
Through the years our hair has told the story of our history, it has gone from chunky plaits to using hot combs and relaxers, to the years of the Afro, to the ease of weaves, wigs and hair pieces and back to natural hair and sister locks. Believe it or not our hair makes a statement to the person’s around us. Why? Because it is the first thing that people see. We can’t escape it, that’s just the way it is and once we live with other human beings judgment will be passed on our outward appearance because that is what people see.
According to my grandmother, the concept of beauty among black people has changed drastically since her days. She bemoans the modern concept of wearing wigs and weaves and hairpieces belonging to animals and people of other races, and longs for the day when black people can understand their own hair and wear it with pride. Her issue is not with the fact that women relax, jherri curl or wear Afros and dreadlocks, her issue is with the prevalence of what she calls the ‘other’ hair.
She has reason for being dissatisfied with this practice and her concerns are not unfounded because everywhere you go these days, in the park, the supermarket, on television, in the clubs or church, you see black women and the majority of them wear some form of ‘otherness’ to their real hair. It is so prevalent now, that persons who understand their hair and cultivate it naturally are the exception to the norm. This should never be. In this the twenty-first century, black women who wear their real hair should not be the exception to the rule. Where did this prevalence of ‘otherness’ originate from anyway? When did we become so complacent that we can’t be bothered with the hair that God gave us to the point where we have closets dedicated to our weave and wig collections?
And even more troubling some of the black artistes and actresses who black people look up to are so conformed to the status quo that one popular person once said that she would never go in public without her weave.
But are we too judgmental? Does wearing the other hair mean we are self- haters or we don’t have black pride? After taking up an informal poll on a university campus, the answers I received were varied and thought provoking. One student said she did not wear her own hair because she did not know how to take care of her real hair and she was too busy to learn. Another student said she was always wearing braids and now she has such severe traction alopecia that covering up her edges with wigs is her only alternative. She showed me the damage done to her hair side and it brought back memories of Naomi Campbell’s sparse hair side that was captured for the world to see. And finally, one student looked at me long and hard before replying, she laughed and said she looked prettier with her weave, previously boys would not look at her in class but now that she had a long Beyonce lace front wig she was the hottest girl around.
The stories continued and through it all, I came to the conclusion that there was a lot of love for the ‘other’ hair and little love for our own. Which is sad because we bandy the term around that black is beautiful but we really do not grasp the whole concept of beauty in black women if we are wearing the ‘other’ hair.