Tracing our Roots: On DNA, African Ancestry and hair

I recently came across this video on Facebook from the “Back to Our Roots” episode of the talk show, Sister Circle. 

***Please note: I do not endorse AfricanAncestry.com nor the validity of their DNA testing.***

 

After watching this clip, I really felt tempted to do the DNA test. I (like I’m sure many other members of the African Diaspora) would love to know exactly where my ancestors came from.  However, I do have certain reservations about giving companies access to my genetic information, who may then, in turn, be selling that information to third parties; so I don’t know if I’ll ever do it.

Although I may not know the precise ethnic group I came from, my hair and my melanin-filled skin serve as constant and powerful reminders of my African ancestry.  As stated by Dr. Gina Paige of AfricanAncestry.com in the clip: When we [displaced Africans] got [to the New World], we lost our names, our languages, everything. We are the original victims of identity theft, but we didn’t lose our DNA.  Her statement really resonated with me: though the enslavers tried to strip us of our African culture and all of those practices that made us “human”, they could not erase our DNA.  But for those particular elements which they could not destroy—our skin, our features, and our hair—they simply demeaned.

Try as they might, however, Africa is (and always has been) with us.  Africa is in our hearts and in our souls, and more importantly, she’s inscribed in our genetic code. And the global spread of the Natural Hair Movement is a clear reflection of this: while we, members of the African Diaspora, may have various ethnocultural and linguistic differences, our unique hair texture is a distinct genetic marker, connecting us together and also linking us back to the Motherland.  As noted by Byrd & Tharps in Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, ever since the Transatlantic Slave Trade, hair, rather than skin colour, has been used as the main identifier of “Blackness”, and this notion is evidenced by the way Black people around the globe can relate to each other’s experiences with their hair (and the politics of hair), no matter our geographic coordinates.

So, until I take the DNA test, I may never know exactly who my “people” are, but what I do know is that I belong to a resilient community of people of African descent, who not only share a common history of enslavement, resistance, perseverance, but also similar lived experiences, foods, music, artistic and cultural expressions, and of course, hair.  And I think that’s good enough for me…for now, at least…

Would you trace your ancestry through DNA testing? Why or why not?

Share in the comments below.

 

Phenomenal Professional Naturalista: Ms. Sybil Thompson

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your name?

Sybil Sakle Thompson

Where do you live?

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

What is your occupation?

I’m a lawyer by training.

What is your educational background?

My Bachelor’s degree at the University of Toronto was in International Relations and Social Cultural Anthropology. I then did my Master’s degree in Social Anthropology at Oxford University. I studied Law at McGill University and was awarded both B.C.L. (Civil Law) and LL.B. (Common Law) degrees. I was called to the Bar in Ontario in 2010.

How long have you been natural?

Since the age of fifteen.

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

My hair has always been coarse and styling it was a constant source of pain and frustration, even in childhood when my mother would braid it once a week. As I got older I tried out Jheri curls once, then defaulted to regularly relaxing my hair by the age of ten and occasionally wearing braided extensions. Even though relaxing was supposed to be less painful than braiding my hair once a week, and less expensive and time-consuming than having braids put in, it didn’t make taking care of my hair any easier—occasionally the scalp burns I suffered from the relaxer were far more painful than having my hair combed.

Because I associated my hair with frustration and pain I neglected it and it didn’t grow. By the time I was in my teens, I was tired of fighting with my relaxed hair every day and dissatisfied with the way it looked—unkempt and uncared for.

Cutting it off and adopting a short ‘fro at age fifteen was a liberating experience, and I have never once regretted it.

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

I keep my hair natural and very short, cut close to my scalp with clippers by my barber.

Have you ever experienced any challenges in the workplace due to your natural hair?

I have never had anyone confront me directly about my hair or offer any negative comments or criticisms. Inquisitive and sometimes dismissive looks have sometimes been directed at me from afar in some workplaces, but no one has yet had the courage to tell me that my hair is inappropriate or unprofessional.

I look forward to having the opportunity to converse with and educate anyone who in the future might offer negative criticisms of the way I choose to wear my hair. Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes that are associated with natural Black hair through respectful dialogue with parties who are interested in listening to and learning from my experiences as a natural hair “advocate” is always a pleasure.

What do you love most about your natural hair?

Natural hair to me means freedom. I always feel most beautiful when I have just had my hair cut short and my edges lined up with a straight razor. I find the very process of having my hair cut at the barbershop to be a restorative and cleansing experience.

I value the fact that wearing my hair cut close to my scalp means that there is nothing for me to hide behind. Everything about me—my face, my comportment, and my affect—is immediately visible to anyone who chooses to look at me and take the time to see me.

Short hair also means that my grey hairs, wrinkles and acne scars are as apparent as the shape of my skull. Each of these individual elements contributes to the unique whole that is me.

Accepting my self in my natural state encourages other people to consider the possibility that Black is normal and natural—and that it can beautiful as well.

In short, for me, keeping my hair short and natural affirms to myself that there is nothing about myself that I want or need to hide.

What have you found to be most challenging about being natural?

Because my hair is very short I don’t have the option of adopting lots of different hairstyles. I do sometimes tie my hair up with fabric when I want to try something different. Making different shapes and folds and carefully pleating the fabric of a head tie can sometimes be as time-consuming as styling longer natural hair—at least it is for me, since my fingers are not so nimble.

How do you maintain your “work-hair-life” balance?

My hair stays the same no matter where I find myself—and that consistency of style contributes enormously to my efforts to maintain balance in my very busy life.

My short natural hair is very low-maintenance. I wash and condition it once each week with a plant-based, sulfate-free, unscented shampoo and conditioner. I also wash my hair whenever I exercise at the gym. I use coconut oil to condition my hair and scalp after they are washed. I comb it a few times each day with a fine-toothed comb. I have it cut every four to six weeks at a local barbershop. I use a lidocaine-based ointment to prevent razor bumps along my hairline. Otherwise, I leave my hair to its own devices.

What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is considering going natural, but may have reservations due to their profession?

Do it and don’t look back! You will be liberating others from the misconception that natural hair is inappropriate in any workplace.

You will also be giving yourself a gift. Your natural hair will require a different kind of maintenance than your current style, but that maintenance is a part of the self-care that is so important for every person to engage in. Never doubt for a moment that this self-care is something that you deserve:

Condition your scalp well with coconut oil and shea butter. Rinse your hair with water steeped with cinnamon, and soothe itchy spots on your scalp with drops of peppermint oil mixed with charcoal. Wrap your braids in soft fabric before you sleep, and pick out your ‘fro with a wide-toothed wooden comb in the morning. Use sweet-smelling cocoa butter to loosen any stubborn tangles and kinks.

Take pride in the glory of your hair, and don’t begrudge yourself the time spent taking care of it and yourself.

As well, please don’t be afraid to ask questions of other women (and men!) whom you see wearing natural styles about what their experiences have been, in reflecting on what style or styles might work best for you. Remember: in choosing to adopt a natural hairstyle you are in step and in solidarity with many other people who choose every day to make this transition!

Phenomenal Professional Naturalista: Mrs. Kimberly Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your name?

Kimberly Johnson

Where do you live?

Scarborough, Ontario, Canada

What is your occupation?

Service Manager in the Federal Public Service

What is your educational background?

Bachelor of International Business degree, Carleton University, Ottawa

 

How long have you been natural?

I started transitioning in October 2015, but I did the Big Chop in January of 2016, because I couldn’t deal with the two textures.  It was very annoying, and none of the styles looked right—when it was curly, I had straight ends.

I went to the hairdresser in January 2016, because I didn’t know how to manage it and I was looking for support. I wasn’t planning on cutting it that day- I went in for wash and style—and then I saw these straight ends, and I was like, “No. Cut it off.” Initially, my hairdresser refused to: she thought I was being emotional; but I insisted.

I was sitting under the dryer after my hairdresser had cut it all off, and I texted my fiancé (at the time), and told him, “Yeah, I cut off all my hair.” So he asked me to send him a picture. Keep in mind that this was January before my wedding in August.

Did I have regrets? Well, the first time I came to wash it and do it, I didn’t have a clue; so I felt like, “What did I do?” So I started asking other naturals, I tapped into the community, and I used YouTube like crazy; that’s how I learned how to manage it.

 

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

That’s a loaded question.  I had several reasons, one of them being for health reasons—in preparation for having children—I knew that I couldn’t be relaxing my hair.

I could no longer reconcile perming my hair and thinking about what I’m going to tell my kids. They were going to see my straight hair, and then out of the other corner of my mouth, I would be telling them that they are beautiful. Now I could deliver that message without being a hypocrite.

I wouldn’t want them to get caught up in the foolishness that I did, taking years to be confident with my hair in its natural state.

But I had to be converted. I had a “Damascus Road” Experience because I was hard-core on the creamy crack! I was the last person in my nuclear family to go natural—my mother and my sisters have been natural—way before this “Movement”. Since age 13, when I went to the hairdresser to get my first relaxer, I hadn’t seen my natural hair.  When I got my first relaxer, I wanted it. It was like a rite of passage for me; it wasn’t a question. I realize now in my journey that I CANNOT go back!

Also, I was emboldened by one of my colleagues, who is a very good friend of mine: a few months earlier [before I decided to go natural], she came to work and she had chopped all of her relaxer off. Because she was in the government context, and she had done it, that encouraged me.  Since she had done it, I knew I could do it.

It’s about passing that torch: the more of us who do it, the more we will encourage each other to do it!

I realize in my current context that I have Black females who report to me; and in the 6 months I’ve been [in this department], I’ve seen two of them chop their hair off. Perhaps it could be coincidence; but I believe that they could see that I’m their boss and I go to work like this, so they feel like they could do it, too.

 

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

Wash-and-go, all day, every day! Part of it is because I really haven’t figure out how to do anything else! But I will do the occasional twist-out. It’s all about the wash-and-go though.

 

Have you ever experienced any challenges in the workplace due to your natural hair?

I guess, the comments. Sometimes I’ll put braids in or protective styles, and then everybody on the floor has to come and parade in to see Kim’s new hairstyle. I’ve had people stop meetings with big wigs, even, to come and say: “OMG! Kim changed her hair again, I can’t keep up!

Sometimes people think they are giving me a compliment, and for most people, it’s not coming from a malicious place: “I like it when you do your hair all crazy!” Or when I do stretched styles: “I like it when you do it all big and crazy!” Those kind of underhanded micro-aggressions. I really believe that for some people they are really trying to compliment me, but the question is, “Would you say that to your other colleagues?” No, because you don’t think that their hair is crazy- you think my hair is crazy.

 

What do you love most about your natural hair?

At first, I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t love it; but there was one day, that I just realized that I “love this”, I love ME; it was like a switch that went off.  It had to do with me figuring out my own hair.  I love the versatility of it; I love the fact that it’s MINE. It’s my authentic self. That’s what I love about it. It’s Me.

 

What have you found to be most challenging about being natural?

The TIME—don’t let anyone tell you the fallacy that natural hair is faster or more simple—there’s nothing simple about it! It’s a lie from the pit of Hell- it’s very time-consuming. Especially for the wash-and-go, it’s time consuming on the front-end, but you get a lot of longevity out of it—at least out of my wash-and-go, I do.

Also, the expense with respect to products because the industry realizes that it’s the new “in” thing. They want to charge $30 for 8 oz.  It can be very expensive if you want to get the good quality stuff.

Another thing is dealing with the ignorance, sometimes from people at work with the “I love your hair when it’s crazy” comments, and sometimes it has been from my extended family: “Kim, your hair was so pretty, and so long!” My relatives who haven’t caught it yet are usually from another generation, not my generation; they haven’t been delivered yet.

 

How do you maintain your “work-hair-life” balance?

I just try to find styles that will stretch—for me, it’s all about the longevity. I don’t straighten it, partly because I haven’t been able to get that longevity out of it. Since going natural, I’ve straightened it about 3-4 times, but I don’t like the idea of putting heat on it—I know it’s not good, so I don’t do it.

 

What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is considering going natural, but may have reservations due to their profession?

I would say, just do it! Just do it! Take the hit, because you will get a hit.  The first week or so, you will literally be on parade.  One of my girlfriends and I were laughing about it: I knew everyone at work would come to my cubicle to spectate.  So take the hit for the week, and then everyone will move on to something else. The freedom that you will have from taking that one single action is worth it.  It’s worth the parade past your desk and the spectators! So, just do it!

It all depends on the sector you work in, but there will be a reaction, so don’t fool yourself! But just move on with your life in FREEDOM!

Also, you will feel ugly for a period of time—especially if you do the Big Chop. It looked bizarre to me! You’ll feel like there’s nowhere to hide, and that’s the part that was very unnerving for me, the high level of exposure and vulnerability.  But you have to push through that.  You have to learn how to love and become reacquainted with yourself.  So prepare yourself for feeling ugly.

Phenomenal Professional Naturalista: Ms. Kimberley Tull

What is your name?

Kimberley Tull

Where do you live?

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

What is your occupation?

Manager, Community Development & Engagement; Project Manager, Access Programs, in the Post-Secondary Education Sector

What is your educational background?

BA (Hons.), Specialist Political Science, Minor Economics, University of Toronto Scarborough; Post-Graduate Diploma, Arts Administration & Cultural Management, Humber College; Event Management Certification, George Brown College; and Master of Education, Adult Education & Community Development, University of Toronto

How long have you been natural?

23 years (give or take a two or three years in there when I decided to switch it up, so probably 20 years in total).

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

Well, I didn’t “go” natural, I went back to being natural. I was a student-athlete, who was trying to rock a relaxed short cut, but with all of the sweating, the back and sides of my hair would revert to natural. I was rocking a half-fro and that was not cute! I was also putting super, extra-strength relaxer on my hair every couple of weeks. One day, I said, “This is enough”… So, I cut it all off, and rocked a TWA; and that’s when I felt like me. I fell in love.

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

Two-strand twist/twist-out, usually in a pin-up, updo (warmer weather); here, in Toronto, my hair is against the cold temperatures, so it hibernates in the winter under crochet braids, twists or faux locs.

Have you ever experienced any challenges in the workplace due to your natural hair?

I have; but it has never been an issue at my place of business. I can say, no one close to me has ever told me that my hair is unprofessional (whether family, friends, or colleagues). Those that do, my response is: “How can something that grows directly out of my scalp be considered ‘unprofessional’? Whose standard of ‘professional’ are we talking about?” That being said, I’ve been fetishized; treated like I was the entertainment; petted; asked the infamous “Is that your hair?” question; othered. It took me a while to learn to find the words and ways to call people out. As a Black woman, I had to set and stick to my boundaries.

What do you love most about your natural hair?

I get to do whatever I want with it; it’s flexible, and my kinks and curls have their own personality. It’s freeing and it’s unapologetically me!

What have you found to be most challenging about being natural?

Finding ways to keep it moisturized during the different Canadian seasons. My hair responds differently to the different seasons; as a result, I have to change up my products to suit, from shampoos to moisturizers. And, of course, wash day, potentially a full day off the grid (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing!)

How do you maintain your “work-hair-life” balance?

My hair forces me to take time out of the day just for me, so whether I’m twisting it up for the night, detangling, two-strand twisting, crochet braiding it, I’m forced to sit and be (somewhat) still. I look at that as a bonus, it’s me time and I get to reflect or binge watch a show.

What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is considering going natural, but may have reservations due to their profession?

1. The natural hair journey can be a long and daunting one – manage your expectations – it will take some time to figure this thing out

2. Let go of the control and follow your curls, they’ll let you know what they feel like doing

3. Accept your curl pattern. We tend to longingly look at other people’s hair wishing and wanting their curl pattern, their thickness, their length but that’s their hair, not yours. You’ll never be truly content with your hair unless you own and accept your hair.

4. Let other people own their issues with natural hair, that shouldn’t be your concern or business. Oh, you have an issue with natural hair… oh, well that’s your issue, you can keep it.

5. Don’t suffer in silence. Find your circle of care and ask for support, opinions, recommendations.

6. Have fun! Play with it, braid it, twist it, wash ‘n’ go it, colour it, cut it, grow it … but most importantly, love it!

***

Follow Kimberley on Instagram: @kaeniktee

or Twitter: @kimzies

or visit torontoaka.ca or misseducation.ca

Phenomenal Professional Naturalista: Mrs. Shaneka Shaw Taylor

What is your name?

Shaneka Shaw Taylor

Where do you live?

Toronto, Canada

What is your occupation?

Lawyer, Partner at Boghosian + Allen LLP

What is your educational background?

Honours Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the University of Windsor; Juris Doctor from Osgoode Hall Law School, York University

How long have you been natural?

From birth until around 1995; and since 2004 to present.

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

I just really wanted a change and a fresh start. I had just started undergraduate studies when I started my dreadlocks from 2004. I cut my locks in 2011 when they got too difficult to manage and I didn’t have the time to spend on my hair as I previously did. I cut my hair to a low fade, and the rest is history.

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

Hahaha, a side part with slicked sides and a side tapered afro.

Have you ever experienced any challenges in the workplace due to your natural hair?

Not to my face! I have heard of other negative experiences but I personally have not had any challenges due to my hair.

What do you love most about your natural hair?

The curls! I have tight coil curls that resemble the spring coil inside a pen; however, I have noticed that my curls have changed over time, perhaps due to the chemical colouring of my hair.

What have you found to be most challenging about being natural?

Maintaining the right balance of moisture in my hair and trying to get it to grow. It perpetually seems to be staying at the same length.

How do you maintain your “work-hair-life” balance?

Honestly, I don’t do anything different. From season to season, I try to mix it up with crochet or regular braids, and once per year, I get a blowout. Otherwise, my hair does what it wants!

What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is considering going natural, but may have reservations due to their profession?

Embrace your curls. Do not feel limited by others’ perception of what your hair should look like. Once you accept your hair, the way it grows and the way it makes you feel, others will learn to accept and appreciate it. Do not feel the need to conform to Western society’s beauty constructs, as that narrative often does not view Black hair as beautiful. The more you embrace it, the more others will. Get a great stylist who is adept at working with natural hair and get him/her to teach you how to properly care for your curls. Be kind with yourself!

***

Follow Shaneka on

Linkedin: shanekashawtaylor

Instagram: shaneka_taylor

Twitter: @shanekashaw

or visit: http://www.boglaw.ca/shaneka-m-taylor

Phenomenal Professional Naturalista: Ms. Janine Clarke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your name?

Janine Clarke

Where do you live?

Toronto, Canada

What is your occupation?

Process Excellence and Operations Management in the Financial Services Industry

What is your educational background?

Bachelor of Business Administration, University of Toronto; Master of Business Administration, Queen’s University

How long have you been natural?

Almost a decade…and a lifetime to go!

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

After decades of chemically processing my hair (since childhood)—from Jheri Curl, to Hawaiian Silky, then Wave Nouveau—I started to notice a lot of breakage. Since my hair had always been curly (albeit with chemical assistance), I already really loved curls and was curious to see what my natural curls looked like. It was initially challenging to find the right products and to figure out how style my hair, but after years of trial and error, I figured it out and love my hair so much!

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

I love doing flat twist-outs. The style keeps my curls poppin’ for days!

Have you ever experienced any challenges in the workplace due to your natural hair?

No. I’ve been fortunate to work in organizations that embrace diversity and authenticity. My colleagues often compliment me on my hair and are impressed by my range of styles.

The only disappointing experience I can recall happened just as I was finishing up undergrad (my hair was curly, but not natural at the time). My family and I stopped by the office of a (former) family friend, who was also a successful entrepreneur from our community. After I excitedly told him about the different potential career paths I was considering after graduation, he said to me “…whatever you choose, you’re going to have to straighten that hair if you want to be successful.” This happened so many years ago, and I can still remember leaving his office feeling so deflated. On the bright side, I’ve definitely proven him wrong!

What do you love most about your natural hair?

I love that my hair is healthy and versatile.

What have you found to be most challenging about being natural?

It has taken me years of trial and error, years of being a product junkie, and many #hairfails to figure out what works best for my ever-evolving mane. I don’t view this as a challenge though. It’s really a labour of love and ongoing self-discovery. I consider the time I spend on my hair to be an expression of self-care and creativity.

How do you maintain your “work-hair-life” balance?

The short answer is: I don’t! LOL. I’m often up late “setting” my hair so that styling in the morning is easier and my hair looks on point. One thing that has helped me save some time is protective styling. After years of our long and frigid winters taking a toll on my mane, I finally decided to introduce more protective styles into my repertoire. While I’ve embraced experimenting with different styles (mostly variations of crochet braids), and appreciate the time I save by not having to set/style it daily, I really do start to miss my own hair after a few weeks. Haha!!

What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is considering going natural, but may have reservations due to their profession?

Our hair is so beautiful and versatile. Embrace it. Learn about it. Seek out help and advice (friends, YouTube, hairdressers, etc.)

Many of us are raised to believe that our hair is what defines us. It’s a lie. What defines me at work is being an exceptional leader, my subject matter expertise, and how I drive results. I have zero tolerance for, and would seriously question the vision, mission, corporate culture, leadership, and frankly, the long-term sustainability of, any organization that would limit my professional advancement based on my decision to wear my hair how it grows naturally out of its follicles.

 

Phenomenal Professional Naturalista: Ms. Fana Gibson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your name?

Fana Gibson

Where do you live? 

London, UK

What is your occupation?

Strategy Consultant, Financial Services

What is your educational background?

Howard University, BS Physics, BA French; University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School, MBA, MA International Studies

How long have you been natural?

For most of my life. My hair was permed for three or four years as a teenager but I got tired of the maintenance and grew it out. Two other times I’ve gone back for a ‘change’ but those periods have always been short-lived (a year or less) before I revert to being natural.

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

I don’t know if it was ever a decision to “go” natural as much as coming to the realization that putting a chemical in my hair for it to look a certain way doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve spent a lot of time in extensions, either braids or crochet styles. Now I’m challenging myself to leave even those behind and to learn to style my hair as is. This, of course, is a process, and I feel like I’m still on that journey of loving my hair for what it is.

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

Twist-out or a braided two-strand flat-twist.

Have you ever experienced any challenges in the workplace due to your natural hair?

No. I’ve worked in a corporate role for my entire career and have never been made to feel singled out because of my natural hair.

What do you love most about your natural hair?

The versatility. We can do so many great things to how we look by simply changing our hairstyle, whether it’s a two-strand twist, braids, a blow-out, or picking it out into a beautiful Afro!

What have you found to be most challenging about being natural?

Figuring out how to take care of my hair in the right way has definitely been a challenge. Black hair is so diverse that the same hair care routine or product range won’t work for everyone. In the beginning, I’d get frustrated because I just wanted someone to give me a handbook of all the right things to do, but unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way. So it’s been a journey of discovery learning about my hair – from porosity, to the LOC method, to how weather and seasons affect it. You just have to keep trying and tweaking your routine- which sometimes can feel like a hassle but the end result is beautiful, healthy hair, which is worth it.

How do you maintain your “work-hair-life” balance?

On weekends I usually spend several hours washing, conditioning and moisturizing my hair. During the week I have a very busy schedule so I try to minimize time spent on my hair to 5 minutes on mornings. I have two or three go-to styles that fit into that timeframe: either a braided flat-twist or a twist-out which I can quickly unravel if done from the night before (usually takes 20 minutes while watching TV).

What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is considering going natural, but may have reservations due to their profession?

You should be able to bring your full self to your job and part of that is deciding what hairstyle is right for you. The key is to own that decision and to have confidence while doing it – then it won’t matter what anyone says. In terms of maintenance, it’s definitely a journey – one that can sometimes be frustrating, but, more often than not, rewarding. Throw yourself into it, learn as much as you can, and create a routine that works for you and your lifestyle.

Phenomenal Professional Naturalista: Dr. Shelby Wilson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your name?

Shelby Wilson

Where do you live?

Atlanta, Georgia, USA

What is your occupation?

Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Morehouse College

What is your educational background?

B.S. Mathematics and Computer Science, Spelman College 2006; Ph. D. Applied Mathematics, University of Maryland, 2012

How long have you been natural?

I’ve been natural since I graduated from Spelman in May 2006.

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

My original motivation was simple: Perms burn my scalp. I tried every technique possible, and couldn’t keep my scalp from burning. At some point, I just asked myself “Why?”, and decided to stop getting touch-ups. I still straightened my hair on/off for the next 6 years. In 2012, I moved to France and committed to not putting heat on my hair. It was in my time overseas that I took the time to learn how to work with my hair.

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

When my hair is long, I typically wear it in a twist-out. When it’s short, I sport a wash-n-go.

Have you ever experienced any challenges in the workplace due to your natural hair?

I’m fortunate in that I work in a mostly black city (Atlanta) in a mostly black environment (an HBCU). So there’s very little pressure in my daily life to conform to certain hairstyles. But on multiple occasions, at professional conferences, I’ve been told that my appearance or hair was “unprofessional” or made people uncomfortable. Early in my career, these types of reactions really discouraged me. But I let these negative experiences spur my outreach activities aimed at changing the perception of what a mathematician “looks” like.

What do you love most about your natural hair?

I love how BIG it is!

What have you found to be most challenging about being natural?

Learning to accept what my hair “wants” to do. This can be related to the weather, the health of my hair, the time I have, or a slew of other things. My hair doesn’t always do what I want/plan for it to do. I had to learn to accept that and work with what I’ve got!

How do you maintain your “work-hair-life” balance?

This is something I really struggle with. Before I had kids, I had all the time in the world, and my natural hair was long, healthy and beautiful. Since having kids, I have trouble finding the time to put together professional styles for long natural hair. Now, I mostly opt to keep my hair short. This gives me a professional look without too much time spent on my hair each morning.

What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is considering going natural, but may have reservations due to their profession?

Go for it!! Don’t let your colleagues send you the message “We can accept you as long as you’re striving for unattainable standards of beauty.” Also, find a good natural hairstylist. A good stylist will definitely have you looking super-polished and professional with your natural hair.

***

Follow Dr. Shelby Wilson on Facebook: Shelby Wilson Chembo, Handle: ScrabbitNicole

or visit: www.shelby-wilson.com and www.mathematicallygiftedandblack.com

Phenomenal Professional Naturalista: Mrs. Racquel Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your name?

Racquel Brown

Where do you live?

Brampton, Ontario, Canada

What is your occupation? 

Instructional Coach, Peel District School Board; Founder of Empower & Equip, an organization that provides resources to support parents in their journey to raise passionate, empowered children

What is your educational background? 

Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education, Redeemer University College.

How long have you been natural?

14 years

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

When my husband and I decided that we wanted to have a family, I started to think about the impact that chemical relaxers could have on a baby. I had no scientific research to back anything up – it was just a decision that I felt was right for me and more safe for my baby.

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

TWIST OUT, 110%!!

Have you ever experienced any challenges in the workplace due to your natural hair?

Well, when I went natural, I just jumped right in with a big chop! No transitioning, I just ripped the band-aid off and went for it. I Kept it short for a long time – my barber was my bestie! As is began to grow, I felt that I needed to flat iron regularly to feel comfortable around my colleagues. Now, to be clear, no one ever said “straight is great, and fro is no”; it was something that I just felt and never questioned. Over time I began to realize that I was the one who needed to be comfortable with my Blackness and stand in the truth that my hair is a huge part of who I am, and I need to own my right to wear it 100% natural—with confidence. Sooooo, enter big chop #2! I started fresh, and as it grew, I embraced it, and I have not straightened it in 7 years.

What do you love most about your natural hair?

EVERYTHANG!! The shape, the versatility, the sheen, the curls… LISTEN!! There is nothing like a fresh twist-out that is 100% behaving itself!

What have you found to be most challenging about being natural?

Sometimes Wash Day can be tiresome (maybe that’s why it is Wash DAY). I also have two daughters so Wash Day x3 can be a bit much. But I have a system, and I am slowly teaching my girls how to wash their own hair.

How do you maintain your “work-hair-life” balance?

Well, contrary to what some think, I do not spend hours twisting my hair every night. My routine is manageable and I don’t feel like my hair is “in the way”. I do have to strategically plan when I wash, twist, rock a puff…but all of these things are probably the story of every natural out there.

What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is considering going natural, but may have reservations due to their profession?

IF you are wearing your hair straight because of external pressures or perceptions, whether real or imagined), that is a form of colonization that you deserve to be free from. Black women are crushing the European standard of beauty, and we will continue to do so. If we want the world to accept us for who we are, we first need to accept our beauty and wear our skin and hair with confidence. IF, however, you choose to rock your relaxer, weave, wig, locs, braids, twist-out, fro because it is what YOU choose, I say to you, “Go, on girl! Do your thing!” Once YOU have made that choice, walk with the beauty and grace of a beautiful Black queen.

***

Follow Mrs. Racquel Brown on

Instagram: @mrsracquelbrown / @empowerandequip

Facebook: @Racquel Brown / @Empower & Equip

The Crown Was ALREADY Hers: A 2017 Natural Hair Win!

Miss Jamaica 2017, Davina Bennett! (courtesy of davina_bennett_)

Just a few days ago, the popular Miss Universe pageant came to a close. And although my fellow Jamaican naturalista Miss Davina Bennett didn’t win the title of Miss Universe, she has made a glorious win for the natural hair community!  Her confidence was showing, and her hair and skin were glowing, as she displayed her beautiful natural hair for the whole world to see, wearing it loud and proud on that stage!  Miss Jamaica fought back against the Western standard of beauty and owned her look, which must have made her feel empowered in the way that all women and men ought to, regardless of their hair texture.

In doing so, she has personified the following key affirmations which lead to naturalista success:

Miss Jamaica 2017, ripping the runway for naturalistas everywhere! (courtesy of davina_bennett_)

1. “I am not my hair, but my hair is an important part of me; therefore, I will wear it how I see fit.”

2. “The way I choose to wear my hair shouldn’t alter the way that others view me; I am still very much ‘me’- the same mind, spirit, personality- you name it!”

3. “My hair, which is my crown, shines beautifully at all times.”

4. “I have no need to fear: this is me in my purest state, and I’m comfortable enough to share it with the world.”

5. “Even if no one else will cheer me on, my hair stands tall and cheers for me at all times!”

Miss Davina Bennett, a natural beauty! (courtesy of davina_bennett_)

Miss Davina Bennett slays all day, every day; and we, at The Natural Hair Advocate, are here for ALL of it, and then some!!!

Thank you, Miss Jamaica, for making naturalistas all around the world proud!

 

How do you “rip the runway” that is Life with your natural hair choices?

How do you make sure you feel be(you)tiful in the skin you’re in?

Let us know in the comments!