Hair Extensions and All
I’ve had long hair, short hair, different shades of blonde hair, locs, braids, cornrows, wavy, kinky, curly, you name it. All these different looks have been an expression of my feelings and mood at the time. It’s been a way to switch up my mindset creatively, the same way many people do with fashion. In some ways it’s for convenience and in other ways it’s a political statement whether I consent to it or not. The remarks I receive for these varying styles are often laced with an intrusive and inquisitive nature, which is frequently judgemental and very rarely a compliment. But why is this the case? Why can’t I change my hair as much as white people without drawing so much attention?
“Is that your real hair?”, “your hair is really long!”, “how long is your hair?”, “are you bald?” and the dreaded “can I touch your hair?” These remarks often leave the lips of white people, namely white women, in my experience. When a colleague or acquaintance sees me with a new style they can’t help but state the obvious that my hair has changed since the last time we met, and not in the complimentary way you’re probably saying in your head as you’re reading this. It’s more like “oh my gosh, your hair!” and then we both stare blankly at each other while my colleague waits for me to pander to her blatant ignorance. This type of observation reads as though the person is more or less saying “I know your hair is fake but I want to point it out to you, so you know that I know and you’re not fooling anyone”. It’s pretty juvenile, but time and time again white people want to play a game of one-upmanship which is thoroughly exhausting and I’m ready to tap out. Is it that difficult to say “I like your hairstyle” or simply let your top lip and bottom lip become one as John Boyega would say? Apparently so.
In the year 2020, it seems unreasonable that any woman could feign ignorance when it comes to extensions, weaves and wigs or changing hairstyles in general, when we’ve lived through a whole bald Britney Spears one minute and full-on hair extension pop princess the next. White women have been wearing extensions since at least the 20’s but the approach to Black women’s hair is starkly different. It is not embraced with a warm welcome of admiration but rather the curiosity of watching an alien land from Mars. The undertone of this judgement I believe is hidden in the fact that white people seem to want to believe that Black women are bald, because they choose to wear hair extensions or wigs. The idea that Black women can’t grow long luscious hair would tie in nicely with the racist notion that Black people are sub-human and therefore, if our hair doesn’t grow then, of course! That makes complete sense! It’s a cheap shot at making Black women feel less beautiful than everyone else. But listen dear friends, this is a complete lie and I will say this one-time only, because the fact that it even needs to be said is utterly frustrating. Black women grow beautifully long hair, unless they have an exisiting medical condition.It’s just different to the beauty standard that’s been set. The women of Chad have hair that rivals the lengths of women in Malaysia but that isn’t a narrative that’s popular. I’ve cut my own hair several times in my life and I don’t mean the £80 trim that white women call a ‘cut’ at Vidal Sasoon’s, I mean the big chop where you see actual scalp, and I can assure you it grows back every time.
For centuries Black women have been conditioned to think their hair is less than, which is something many of us struggle with. I can admit that as much as I enjoy changing my styles, sometimes opting for a straight, mainstream hairstyle is convenient. It means that I can get on with the rest of my day quickly and without being bombarded with questions about it or feeling like people are staring. This attitude is changing rapidly though, as natural hair bloggers and hair gurus have gained prominence in the Black community. More focus has been placed on embracing our tight curls and protecting them. There are now more Black hair products to nurture Afro textures and Black women are taking control of the narrative on beauty and taking more risks with how people might potentially view them. However, despite these efforts, my natural hair is a political statement and I am judged for it. If I went into a job interview wearing my natural hair in locs, it might paint a picture in my potential employers head about what type of person I am. If I shave my head completely, this will also draw some conscious or unconscious bias. Whereas, if I enter a job interview with a short, straight and silky bob, then it’s probably a safe bet that my potential employer will think nothing of it, and voila! I will have passed the first hurdle of not being placed at a disadvantage simply for the texture of my hair. The effects of having Black hair run deeper than convenience and creativity and they are tied to so many racist aspects that are becoming more covert with time.
People ask me, “do people actually try to touch your hair?” and the answer is yes. Yes, they do. There are some human beings out there who truly know no bounds when it comes to asserting their “white superiority” over Black women. Black women have to overcome their own insecurities around their hair because society tells us that it is ugly, and once we are bold enough to go and wear it how we prefer, despite what ridicule may come, to then have someone touch this crown that you have protected so much is a complete violation. This gross behaviour tries to deny Black people the right to personal space and boundaries, which has been a running theme for centuries. This idea that white people can own anything including people, is steeped in a history of running zoos that featured Black people as the main attraction. Before any whataboutism’s pop into your head, I want to make things clear. Though some might want to believe that wanting to touch someone’s hair comes from a genuine place unfortunately, white people simply do not share this experience from a racial point of view. Therefore, it is not for white people to justify or explain why touching someone’s hair or asking to touch it is ok.
I hope that this piece gives people enough information about Black hair so they can go forth and be good citizens in society, who look but don’t touch, and think constructively about what they are going to say when remarking on Black hair.
This has been a public service announcement.