Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been told how “good” my hair is. Men and women have stopped me on the streets and adorned me with compliments, friends and family have reveled on my length and texture, and I’ve always been made to believe that my mane is more precious than gold mines nestled in the heart of Africa. My hair has caused arguments and fights, snarling glares from envious girls, jealousy from friends, and hate from females whose names I don’t even know.
Over the years, I’ve had countless conversations with women who’ve made remarks about how not-so-good their hair is, and how afraid they are to unthread the weaves and throw away the creamy crack. I once asked a little girl how she felt about her sandy-brown knots, and she sadly confessed how much she hated them. She wanted locks that were fluid and straight like the long-haired girl in her class who made the boys drool and gave the girls green eyes. I cringed, but didn’t neglect to tell her that her knotty head was beautiful and just fine.
When I made the decision to stop chemically processing my hair back in 2008, I remember the negative reactions I encountered from old-schooled family members who believed my afros and wild curls were “a mess.” People who were used to seeing me with straight stands often thought I was having a bad hair day. Even now, my grandmother will look at my head full of knots, kinks and curls and say, “you need to do something with this hair of yours.”
When I was a young girl, I never realized the depth of this issue; the psychological perversion that we suffer from and the history behind it. Not until I became educated about the centuries of systematic brainwashing imposed on Black Americans did it all become clear: our people hate themselves and don’t even realize it.
From the slavery era when white masters coerced house servants to press their “wooly” hair and forced field slaves to wrap theirs, to modern ads that laud long tresses, flowing and straight, we’ve been made to believe that our natural appearance is inadequate.
Years of being told that our hair is unattractive and inferior has caused our women to walk around with weaves and wigs, neglecting their natural locks and harvesting roughness, breakage and damaged ends; it has ignited a sense of embarrassment in us, a shame that forces us to burn our scalps with relaxers and perms in order to attain a superficial beauty outlined by Europeans.
When we observe the news, look at music videos, or watch our favorite actress on the big screen, rarely do we see Black females flaunting their hair the way it was intended to be. In the corporate world, it’s almost impossible to spot a Black or Brown woman without a manufactured ‘do. The higher her position, the more unacceptable it is for a woman of color to wear her hair naturally. Just imagine how quickly Michelle Obama’s reputation would change if she strutted from the White House with an Angela Davis fro.
All of these things contribute to the perpetuation of the Idontwantnaps Syndrome: the hate or fear of naps and kinks. Now let’s be clear, not all African Americans suffer from this illness. We’ve recently witnessed a resurge of sistas who’ve embraced their natural kinks and curls, rocking everything from fros and locks to braids and twists, but the fact remains that the vast majority of our women still prefer their hair straight. And although I see nothing wrong with sporting straight hairdos (I believe that all types of hair are beautiful and won’t hesitate to blow out my waves and curls if I want to switch up my look), we have to ask ourselves why we go to such extreme measures to alter the appearance of our hair as it grows from our roots.
Why do we saturate our daughters foreheads with neatly slicked “baby hairs” and press their strands until their poor scalps are raw and sore? Why would some rather spend hundreds of dollars on new weaves than pay their light bills? Or why do we praise and envy those with the hair that swirls at the nape of their necks and chastise the ones whose hair coils at theirs?
Our people rarely acknowledge this problem. Some might not think there is one, others may not think that about it at all, but the Idontwantnaps Syndrome is alive and deadly, killing self-esteem, health and relationships. Whether the young girl who thinks she’s unattractive because her natural hair doesn’t mirror silk, or the grown woman whose subconscious self-hate manifests through promiscuity, jealousy or inability to maintain healthy relationships, this problem exists and needs to be addressed and cured.
We as a people are responsible for fighting against European beauty standards that have caused—and continue to cause—turmoil in our lives and communities. We have to make a statement that not only professes our innate beauty, but also encourages more of our people to love and accept how they were born to look. So, to all the women who are not afraid to let their natural beauty shine, I say: keep your head held high and continue to treasure those magnificent coils growing from your roots. I salute you!
To the women still apprehensive about unveiling those God-given kinks that hide beneath sew-ins and lace fronts, I plead: know that you are beautiful know matter how tough, knotted or coiled your locks are. No other race possesses the versatility that we have when it comes to styling our heads, so embrace your hair, don’t hate your hair!
Thursday, September 20, 2012
For Harriet is an online community for women of African ancestry. We encourage women, through storytelling and journalism, to engage in candid, revelatory dialogue about the beauty and complexity of Black womanhood. Learn more.