The Politics of Hair

Slowly, I began to hear my parents’ hushed whispers over the music blaring in my headphones. I turned down the volume just in time to hear my father say, “Yes, go get her.”

“Hi, Sky,” my mother said, standing in the doorway. “Come talk with us.”

I sat down and looked squarely at my parents across the kitchen table. “We think,” Dad began, “that your hair is not neat enough.”

I blinked. Twice. My parents were having an intervention for me—about my hair.

I suppose a bit of backstory is in order. Prior to my Junior Fall at Andover, I wore my hair in a cycle of relaxers (chemical treatments designed to alter the naturally curly, or kinky, texture of black hair to make it straight), straighteners and braids. Like many black women, this constant application of chemicals and heat led to hair loss. And that hair loss led to my decision to shave my head and start anew. Since then my hair has grown naturally, and my personal goal is a gigantic Afro (see Angela Davis, circa 1969).

And yet, suddenly my parents were telling me my hair was not neat enough. Once I got past my initial defensiveness, I could see the circumstances that shaped their opinions. Both born in West Africa, they had to observe and learn this country’s complex and confusing opinions surrounding race and race relations upon arriving in America. They saw their daughter at a primarily white school wearing a hairstyle largely unseen by mass media unless in hippie costumes or Austin Powers films and feared that it could be a cause for discrimination.

Their fear is not unfounded. Following the March implementation of Army Regulation 670-1, black hairstyles such as dreadlocks, two-strand twists and Afros were prohibited in an attempt to “maintain uniformity in a military population.” As Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs wrote in a petition to repeal these mandates, however, this decree ignores the fact that for “most black women, their hair doesn’t grow straight down, it grows out.” Fortunately, these specific rules pertaining to black hair have since been removed and understandably so—it is ludicrous to prohibit someone from wearing their hair in the state in which it grows.

Unbeknownst to those outside of its walls, the natural hair movement is growing. Black women everywhere are getting tired of being told there is something wrong with the way their hair springs forth from their scalps. And yet, many of the high-profile natural hair bloggers found online are fortunate enough to work in artistic or casual-enough environments that their choice of hairstyle is not called into question.

My parents have not seen many women rocking twist-outs in a board meeting or a female doctor with an Afro puff. And truth be told, neither have I. These women are out there, I am sure of it, but amongst the greater society they are few and far between. I understand my parents’ apprehension.

But I am also willing to take that chance. Perhaps somewhere down the line I will not get a position on a college club board because one of the members was not feeling my hair. Or later, a potential employer will catch sight of my ’fro and immediately dismiss me. While these scenarios would be horrible, I think I would probably rather not serve under or work for someone who believes that my choice to wear my hair naturally has any negative correlation to my work ethic, skill and value.

This is not a pro-natural hair PSA. Because if you enjoy relaxing your hair or wearing weaves, and that works for you? Kudos! I simply believe that all of us—not only black women—need to stop allowing predetermined “rules” and “guidelines” make our life decisions for us.

It is my hope that in unapologetically wearing my hair natural, it will one day cease to be seen as unruly or not neat or alien and just be seen as hair. Which it is.

_Skylar Bree-Takyi is a three-year Upper from Newark, NJ, and a Commentary Associate for_ The Phillipian.