In case you haven’t heard about it already, this week, a group of Black female students have been reprimanded for wearing their hair naturally, only this time in the Bahamas (sparking online outrage via the #supportthepuff or #isupportthepuff hashtags). Of course, this type of sanctioning is nothing new; there have been a number of other cases where natural-haired Black children have faced punishment at school for either wearing their hair out, in braids, or in locks. It seems like, for many, Black hair is not considered “school-appropriate” (or work-appropriate) unless it’s flat-ironed or permed, which I think is ridiculous. But what I find most offensive about these incidents is that, in many cases, the disdain for natural hair is coming from fellow Black people! Alas, the oppressed have now become the oppressor!
So, why is this happening? It is important to keep in mind that this notion of natural Black hair being “unruly”, “untidy” or “unkempt” by default is one that dates back to slavery, and has been ingrained in our psyche ever since. Negative rhetoric about African hair was used against slaves to rob them of their dignity and humanity, especially since hair design and care were integral cultural practices within African societies. Since slavery days, hair politics of this sort (in conjunction with colourism) have played an important role in constructing “otherness” as it pertains to Black people in society; and it has been perpetuated both within the Black community as well as through the media and social institutions. This is why in 2016, girls are being threatened with suspension from school for wearing their natural hair, in spite of the Natural Hair Movement. It is clear that Black hair is still considered an affront to mainstream culture.
Therefore, in a world that continues to make it hard for people of colour to feel comfortable in our own skin, I am urging parents and guardians of Black children to please
Support The PUFF:
Pride – We need to encourage our children to feel a sense of pride about their natural hair. After all, this is how their hair grows out of their heads. So why shouldn’t they be proud of it? Our hair texture and our hairstyles connect us to our rich African ancestry. Before slavery (and colonialism), African peoples took great pride in their hair. Back then, If you had a massive halo of Afro hair, it was a sign of good health and beauty! Moreover, African hairstyling was more than just hair maintenance: each hairstyle had significance and carried important messages about its wearer. Hairstyling was a revered occupation; and African hairstyles were (and still are) art.
Uniqueness – We should teach our children to celebrate the uniqueness of their natural hair. We all recognize that Black hair is different from everyone else’s, but that does’t mean that it’s deficient. Our hair can do things that other types of hair cannot: when it’s styled, it keeps its form and it can be sculpted into various shapes and designs. Not to mention the phenomenon of shrinkage—imagine, you can have long hair and short hair at the same time! It’s time for us to celebrate the unique properties of our hair, and to teach the next generation to do the same.
Freedom – We need to help our children embrace the freedom that comes from not feeling the need to conform to a straight- or long-haired aesthetic. Part of the reason why we often experience so much frustration with our hair is because we try to make it do things that it’s not supposed to do! [For more on this topic, check out Tress Stress – Pt. I: Have you ever tried to straighten a slinky?] When our hair is straightened, we try to avoid water like the plague—whether from sweating, showering, or the rain! And then when we decide to go natural, we try to get our hair to look like someone else’s—whether it’s trying to attain their definition, length, or curl pattern! If we would just accept our hair the way it is, and play to its strengths, we would be free to just be!
Fellowship – We should engage in the fellowship of the ever-growing community of naturalistas and natural hair lovers and allies. Thanks to the internet and social media, there is now a wealth of information, advice, and support to help our children wear their hair natural with ease—all available at our fingertips. There is no longer a need a to feel frustrated or overwhelmed by our hair care woes. We can find strength in each other!
So, together, let’s support the pride, uniqueness, freedom and fellowship that can come from wearing our hair naturally! Our children need to grow up knowing that they are beautiful—exactly the way they are! And if we don’t tell them, nobody else will.
Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America by Ayana D. Byrd & Lori L. Tharps.
What will you do to #supportthepuff?