In my last post, I mentioned that I went to a forum on black hair. The event - "Natural, Perm, Weave, Braids: A Dialogue about Black Hair in a White Space" - was put on by two groups at my school and there were two parts to the event. The first was a photo call (they sent out a message inviting people to take their photos) and the second was a forum with guest speaker Lurie Daniel Favors of Afro State of Mind. I had a field trip that day but I wanted to go to the event. I decided to go on a later field trip and I'm glad that I did. The event was just about hair but it wasn't just about hair. It may seem like I'm being dramatic but it made me start thinking how fascinating it is that you can analyze aspects of society by looking at black hair.

Here's a (slightly blurry) picture of Lurie.


The first part of the series was a photo call by a student named Isabelle. She was inspired by the Afropunk Hair Portraits by Awol Erizku and decided to do something similar at Brown. (You can see some of Isabelle's photos on her blog here). I participated and had my portrait taken. Storytime: I almost didn't take my portrait because I thought my hair looked too plain. I wanted to do something bigger like a braid-out but it was a busy week and I didn't have time. When I thought about it, I wondered why I had a problem with my hair in a bun. However I style it, it's still my hair and that's what the photo call was about - showing how different people are and the things they do with their hair.

The second part was the talk and forum with Lurie Daniel Favors - an attorney-at-law, author, and public speaker. This part of Lurie's story began with a photograph of her in an afro that went viral. Since then she has written a book (Afro State of Mind) and talks about her experience with her "nappy" hair. (Here's a video on her website describing what she does and why she does it.)

 I won't give a play by play of Lurie's talk but I left with a few thoughts.

I grew up with a mindset that longer, straighter hair was better. My mommy always had twists when I was growing up and never even suggested that my sister and I cream (relax) our hair. Even with this background, I know I had moments when I wished my hair was straighter than it is. Some people might say that I was lucky because my hair was "tall" (Jamaicans like to ignore the rules of gravity when it comes to hair) but even with that - it's almost like they said my hair was acceptable because despite the kinks, I could achieve length with it. Even now as I'm learning to take care of my hair on my own, I have to remind myself that length does not equal health and that healthy hair is the goal.

Not everyone understands natural hair. There are those, even in the Caribbean where there's no lack of black people, who think that natural hair is untidy or unprofessional. "Understand" seems like an odd word to use but the past few years have shown me that I don't always understand my hair. I've learned that combing my hair isn't good for it because that makes it break like crazy. I've learned that my belief that my hair stopped growing past a certain point was wrong. It doesn't stop growing (I'd probably be bald if it did) but it breaks because hairdressers tried to get combs and blow dryers to glide through it smoothly. My hair isn't designed to do that. I have a friend with a similar experience. Her mother is Cape Verdean and her father is black (possibly Ghanaian roots). When she was younger, her mum would comb her hair until she could pull her fingers through it. Her mother treated my friend's hair like she treated her own but my her hair wasn't designed to do that.

Can I see myself rocking a full afro? I can see it more now than before. My only concern is that if I choose not to do an afro, it's because I don't want to and not because I'm worried about what other people will think. In the back of my mind I think that being natural means I'm in touch with my roots and should either be Ras or don a kente cloth. It doesn't automatically mean that. For me, "natural hair" just means I spend a lot more time detangling.

I should just have fun with my hair! After all, it's just hair. But it's my hair and I love it.

I felt empowered when I left the room. Being in a room of ladies who were there to talk and share about hair was refreshing. I think that's the main point of this post. I guess I wanted to say some things about my hair. Also, I've been stewing over what to write for over a week and I think it's about time I publish it and see what happens. 

I'll leave with the blurb I wrote for the photo call:

"A friend once described my hair as “sentient”. I still smile at that because it’s almost true. I like that my hair has life and whims of its own. I can have plaits and a neat bun or full, bouncy curls or shrunken coils - all in one week. I know that a woman's hair is often tied to her beauty and I’ve fallen into that trap: wondering if my hair was “good” enough or wishing it was something that it isn’t. I’ve realized that my hair is a part of who I am but it doesn’t define me. It’s pretty cool - I find that as I learn more about my hair, I discover more about myself."

If you have any thoughts or stories that this brought to mind feel free to share in the comments area. The song is "Geronimo" by Sheppard.

Thanks for reading,
Keren 


2 Comments

  1. Hi Keren! Great blog post! You touched on a lot of the points of Lurie's talk that made me think deeply about my hair as well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. x

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    1. Hi Isabelle! Thank you! I'm glad you connected with what I said. Thanks for reading. [=

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