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.

 

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Don’t forget about the hair: Symbolism in “This Is America”

If you have not seen Childish Gambino’s thought-provoking video for his new single, “This Is America”yet, please watch it:

***Warning: Violence and explicit language; viewer discretion is advised***

I myself have watched the video several times, and every time I watch it, I notice something else, from the minstrel movements to the fun-loving children dancing in the foreground while devastation unfolds in the background… With all of the analysis articles and commentaries that have surfaced since the video’s debut, it’s clear that every element of this masterpiece was intentional.  And I don’t think that hairstyle choices were an exception.  

In the video, Gambino dons a freeform Afro and a grown-out beard. Whether we like it or not, Black hair, in and of itself, tends to make a statement, and the Afro, in particular, makes a political one. As we know, Black/African hair is distinctive in comparison to other hair types; as such, it has been characterized as the most important feature to indicate one’s “Blackness”, even more so than skin complexion (Byrd & Tharps 17-18). As for the Afro, a result of the Black Power Movement in the 1960s and 1970s, the hairstyle is often conflated (and incorrectly so) with Black nationalist sentiments. Remember in 2008, when the Obamas were caricatured on the cover of the New Yorker? The Former U.S. President and FLOTUS were “supposed to be” depicted as “terrorists”; note that Mrs. Obama was depicted wearing an Afro to top off her paramilitary gear. 

Ever since the Transatlantic Slave Trade, wearing African hair in its natural state has been an affront to Western society, and, as a result, Black hair has been sought to be policed for centuries. For instance, one of the first things that slave masters would do to the enslaved African people was to cut off their hair, which stripped them of their not only their cultural identity but also their dignity (Byrd & Tharps 10).  Hair was (and still is) a big deal in African cultures: hairstyles provided important information about their wearers, such as their respective clans, social status, and religion. As such, cutting off the enslaved people’s hair robbed them of their humanity (Byrd & Tharps 11). To this day, in many ways, Black hair continues to be treated with disregard and disdain and is a cause for discrimination.

That’s why I think it’s no coincidence that Childish Gambino’s hair is in a freeform Afro: a style that is unapologetically and unmistakably “Black”.  Yes, I do realize that Donald Glover/Childish Gambino tends to wear his hair on the longer side in his everyday life—whether in a TWA, a sculpted ‘fro, freeform locs, or a hard part ‘fro—but in the video, his hair clearly stood in contrast to the styling choices of the other Black cast members, whose hairdos ranged from bald to high-top fades, curly weaves to straight-backs, which could be viewed as options that are more in conformity with a European aesthetic.

Runaway Slave Ad (Public Domain)

Furthermore, in a society where men are socialized to err on the side of keeping their hair short and being clean shaven, when men—and Black men especially—grow their hair out, it has often served as a form of resistance or protest, and I don’t think that Childish Gambino missed that point. Keep in mind this is not a new concept.  According to Tharps and Byrd in Black Hair in America, runaway slaves did the same thing:

“Even though unkempt hair went against the African aesthetic, some historians suggest that … unconventional styles [worn by runaway slaves] were a way for Black people to assert their individuality and humanity in the repressive slave culture. ‘Hair that was worn long and bushy,’ argue Shane and Graham White, authors of Stylin’: African American Expressive Culture from Its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit, ‘emphasized and even flaunted its distinctive texture [and] may have been an affirmation of difference and even of defiance, an attempt to revalorize a biological characteristic that White racism had sought to devalue’ (Byrd & Tharps 15).

And the same goes for Gambino’s beard.  Though beards and beard care have become popular in men’s fashion lately, notice that Gambino’s facial hair is not manicured, but rather scruffy; it does not appear that he’s looking to make a “fashion” statement.  As noted by Victoria Sherrow in The Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History, “[w]hen beards are in style, they may be regarded as a sign of manliness, health, and honor. In places where shaving is the norm, however, a beard might be a sign that something is amiss.  Perhaps the man is in mourning, lacks time to spend on his appearance, or does not care about social conventions? He might even be signaling disregard for convention and conformity” (Sherrow 56). Perhaps Gambino was trying to send all of those messages at the same time. 

Moreover, long facial hair for Black men, in particular, has been disapproved of, dating back to the Civil War era:

“It was considered best for Blacks, especially men, to keep a low profile.  Anything that a Black person had or did in excess was subject to the White majority’s intense scrutiny. This was even true with regard to hair.  In post-Civil War society, it was the fashion for White men to wear longer hair and beards, but when Black men allowed their hair to grow and stopped shaving off their facial hair (think Frederick Douglass), they were considered uppity and wild” (Byrd & Tharps 21-22).

Frederick Douglass, Abolitionist, Orator, Writer (Public Domain)

Taking all of this into consideration, I personally don’t think neither Gambino’s hairstyle choice nor his scruffy beard was an accident—I think he’s making an intentional statement: to be a Black man in America is an offence in and of itself, but it’s not one for which he is begging pardon.

Sources:

Ayana D. Byrd & Lori L. Tharps, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001.

Victoria Sherrow, The Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History, Westport: Greenwood Press, 2006.

 

What are your thoughts on the symbolism in This Is AmericaToo deep or not deep enough?

Share in the comments below!

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: Mrs. Natasha Patten

What is your name?

Natasha Patten

Where do you live?

Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

What is your occupation?

Creative Director at Blue Image Group, Outerwear Collection; Makeup Artistry and Makeup Education

What is your educational background?

Bachelor of Applied Arts, Ryerson University; Certificate of Pattern Drafting, Ryerson University; Diploma, Creative Makeup Design, Toronto School of Makeup Art

How long have you been natural?

5 years

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

I really just wanted colour in my hair and my stylist said I can’t lighten it with a relaxer—it’s too damaging. So, that day at the salon, I cut the relaxer out so that I could have the colour!

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

Short and blonde!

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

None at all. As an entrepreneur, I don’t have those same “run-ins” with associates, but I do have to meet new people regularly. I bring my confidence and professionalism to the table and hope that’s what they see.

What do you love most about your natural hair?

I love how easy it is to take care of! With very little effort, I’m ready to go in the morning. And of course, I love my curls!

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

In the beginning, I couldn’t find a style that was “me”; a signature cut, so to speak. That was the hardest part for me. Now I’ve found my groove.

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

With two small children, a husband, and a business to run, I don’t have a lot of time to devote to my hair. I need it to look good though—all the time—so, again, I balanced that by having it in a short, easy-to-maintain style.

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

Negative perceptions should never be taken on by the person to whom they’re directed. Don’t take responsibility for anyone else’s actions or thoughts: it’s way too much work! I know natural women who are partners at their law firms, doctors, architects, politicians and entrepreneurs. Don’t let that stop you from being yourself! As for maintenance, every hairstyle we do requires maintenance: it’s a fact of being a Black woman. The sooner you accept that, the easier it becomes to take care of.

***

To see Natasha’s masterpieces, visit:

http://www.mycoatisblue.com
http://www.blueimagegroup.com

Follow her on Instagram:
@jnatashapatten
@mycoatisblue

and Facebook:
My Coat Is Blue

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.

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

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

Women’s Month 2018: Phenomenal Professional Naturalistas

During the month of March, Women’s Month, we take time to acknowledge and celebrate the phenomenal contributions of women to society at large!

In honour of this Women’s Month, The Natural Hair Advocate will be showcasing a roster of Phenomenal Professional Naturalistas: women who are doing AMAZING things in their respective sectors—from law to education, medicine to business—while also shining in all of their natural glory! Each of these women has proven that you can slay—both as a professional and a naturalista—and so we asked them the secrets to their success! Join us this month, as we recognize, applaud, and hear from these natural brains and beauties!

 

…Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

‘Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me. 

~ “Phenomenal Woman” by Dr. Maya Angelou