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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Columns

The case for coils: Don’t you know straight hair ain’t got no curl?


Hair products with natural ingredients best suit non-relaxed hair. | Dana C. Jones/The Cougar

Black women have spent their lives hiding the hair they were born with so they can survive in a hostile land. Hair is a significant issue for black women, and in an era of Black Girl Magic and #melanin, black women have an obligation to sport their natural hair in the classrooms, restaurants and corporate offices in the United States.

Black hair is fascinating. On a daily basis, my hair has done everything from love me to bully me to showing me the future. Last year, in the summer of 2016, I wore my natural hair for the first time in fourteen years.

A lot happened to me in those fourteen years. I got my hair relaxed, straightened, with chemicals that were invented in the late nineteenth century by a child of former slaves named Garret A. Morgan. Apparently, he wanted to make black hair more manageable.

I can remember my hair causing me a lot of unhappiness and making me compromise between who I wanted to be and who I was. I watched, and denied that my hair was falling out; I was so embarrassed. It quickly became apparent that my hair was not becoming more manageable. Instead, it made an absolute misery of my life and my impression of what being black would be like for the rest of my life.

In black homes all across America, you will rarely find a woman or who has not been initiated into the oppressive system of hair relaxers, wigs and weaves. These shameful attempts to disguise our natural hair contribute to the longevity of the brutal legacies of slavery.

The enslavement and oppression of African Americans has always been inherently physical, but what black Americans have to consider today is how that physical oppression can still lend itself to a mental clutch.

Today, members of the black community still hold dear the idea that in order to participate in American life, they need to “fix” their hair. “Fixing” a black woman’s hair means relaxing it or wearing wigs, weaves or extensions so that black women look more acceptable.

By acceptable, I mean less black and more white.

When black women spend their lives wearing hair that is not their own or paying to have it chemically altered, it is not just dehumanizing. They are saying there is something inherently superior about white features. As always happens with oppressed people, we become the co-signers on own oppression.

I think that we have an obligation to the little black girls who will grow up one day to figure out the equality that her country has touted is flawed, and that her countrymen will ask her to ignore this fact while they slick back their edges and talk about being slim-thick.

Our legacy is baby hair, and Afros, and taking pride and showing strength in the bodies that have been victimized and will give our children a stake in a country that could not have been built without their ancestors. 

We have to show them that our bodies, the histories of which are so torrid — violated, captured and incarcerated — are worth claiming. Our hair is an important part of our identity; it is versatile, strong and manageable enough with all of the Cantu, Carol’s Daughters and YouTube tutorials that a gal could hope for. 

The history of bodies like ours has to be honored, and the future of bodies like ours have to be planned for.

Our generation has a unique vantage point on the history that was hidden from us. We see the revolutionaries, and we see the hypocrisies, but we also see the future. We have the opportunity now to create the things that we want to see.

Our obligations are not limited to the generation of young women below us; we also owe the women who came before us in a time when it was less appropriate to have such radical claims to their own humanity. 

Assistant opinion editor Mia Valdez is a creative writing senior. She can be reached at [email protected]

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  • Jacob Hernandez

    While I agree that wearing your natural hair should not be seen as a negative, it is important to keep a professional look. Not white, but well-kept.

  • UH Cougar 1980

    To me, happiness with one’s hair is universal, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, etc. No one ever seems to be happy with the hair they were dealt from birth. As a white female, when I was young, straight hair was the only kind of hair one wanted. (And blonde, so much so that some of the “surfer dudes” used to peroxide their hair. And, for those that are old enough, remember “Sun In”?) Curly, frizzy, anything but straight, was not “cool”. (And, let’s not even talk about those who had to wear glasses at a young age AND have curly hair.) I can remember “wrapping” my hair to make it straight, and others “ironing” their hair. As I got older, I would dry my hair using a brush to make it straight. And, years after that, I colored my hair to hide premature gray, because gray was not expected at a young age. However, I always hated the course texture of my hair after it was colored. Now my hair is what it is, including mostly prematurely gray, and I am happier than ever. If I only had all the time back for the time I wasted trying to look like others thought I should look.

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