“My Hair Is Not an Apology”

ENSEIGNE AFRICAINE. “Coiffeur de Dames,” Cotonou, Benin. Photographed by Lionel Adenis (Postcard from my collection. Purchased).

Every semester I choose a “theme” for my first year writing courses. The past semester’s focus–one word–misogynoir.

Misogynoir is an amalgam of the word “misogyny” (dislike or contempt for women) and “noir,” the French word for “black.”

Moya Bailey coined the term to “describe the racialized misogyny aimed at black women.” But many were writing and thinking about misogynoir long before there was a word for it. In fact, I recall writing an essay in junior high about intra-racism and the experiences of darker hued Black women in New Orleans. Basically, all the work of my “professional life” is a response to misogynoir.

In my classes, our goal was to find constructive strategies to cope with and combat the effects of misogynoir. Discussions covered many topics: images of black women in the media–including social media; representations of black women in music, film, art, literature; controlling images of black women; black women’s invisibility; politics; health and housing disparities; police brutality; systemic biases and treatment. The list goes on and on and on.

Obviously, there was no way we could cover all the topics, particularly since new issues emerge(d) frequently. But it was interesting  to note how often black women’s hair entered the conversation.

Of all things.

Books have been written about it. Documentaries filmed. Policy written. Memes created. Regular discussions held around the dinner table and on social media.

Black women’s hair.  

Little black girls are removed from classrooms. Nursing students are “forced” out of programs. Professional women are fired. Because of  hair. Because of hair. Because of hair.

Let that sink in.

Black women are targeted when we refuse to press or relax our hair, when we insist on loving our natural selves–including our hair–when we reject conformity in favor of self-love, when we shun the European “standard” of beauty because we know there are countless ways to be beautiful.

I’m not sure other women are advised [urged] to damage their hair to make it [read: themselves] more presentable, or told their hair is intimidating.

Does this happen to non-Black women?

When they were undergraduates, my [former] students, Lauren and Jasmin, performed a powerful piece on this very topic. Take a listen.

23 thoughts on ““My Hair Is Not an Apology”

      • Jay says:

        I am a lover of words much like yourself. Although there are times those same words can expound upon a meaning or clutter that meaning. Usually, when there is a problem, I tend to search for the basic and bare-bones reason to the problem.

        People tend to use victimization as a tool to achieve a better tomorrow for themselves or the collective. Once wrapped in that warm blanket in the midst of the dark cold world, it’s almost impossible to shed the extra layer because there have been moments where it has brought comfort or possible real-life changes.

        Cocooning oneself in victimization relies solely on a codependent relationship between the self-professed victim and the alleged abuser.

        Should I cry or complain about it? Sure, whatever gets you through the day. Do I need the alleged abusers’ acceptance? Therein lies the problem.

        Many people, once wrapped in the victimization blanket, need validation from the alleged abuser in order to escape the self-imposed prison. The issue with this is that the alleged abuser doesn’t have the key and never has.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Chandra Lynn says:

        Thank you for your explanation. But please understand neither my post, discussions in my class, nor the spoken word piece “Ode to Blue Ivy” are about “crying or complaining,” victimization, codependency, or (seeking) acceptance from abusers. Each was/is about self-love and empowerment; each advocates defining ourselves for ourselves and eschews defining ourselves against (or because of) “other” standards.

        Like

  1. Lona Gynt says:

    Lauren’s and Jasmin’s piece is wonderful! I love “God saw that it was good- IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN GOOD!” Your post is great also “black women have been fired – because of hair- let that sink in”. So unfair, so unhair. Have you seen the short film “The Big Chop?” Thanks for this. 💜 it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chandra Lynn says:

      Wow! I read the article. The goal of the Japanese schools seems to be to stop girls from dying their hair and to remain natural. So the intent was not to make the girl “conform.” It seems they simply didn’t believe her natural hair color wasn’t black. Sad and unfortunate. But nowhere near the systemic bias against BW in the USA.

      Liked by 2 people

      • franhunne4u says:

        Did you read that other schools, too, demanded black as the only acceptable hair colour? Yes, it is no RACIAL discrimination. That is clear. But yes, the intent IS to make the girls conform. To what the schools see as acceptable hair colour.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Chandra Lynn says:

        By “not make them conform” I meant “not make them conform to a standard of beauty that is not natural to them.” But yes–I get it, and am against any policy that polices the bodies (including hair) of women and girls.

        Liked by 1 person

      • franhunne4u says:

        And rightfully so. I think any way people want to wear their hair is the right way. Natural or not, hidden or not, open or extremely tied up, woven, braided, pinned, bound. Who are other people to decide what is the right way? A beauty standard is just that – a way to tell other people how they have to look. Which is ridiculous. Difference should be appreciated, not feared.

        Like

  2. Dr. Mon says:

    Great course topic! When I teach interracial communication, we discuss colorism and often run into examples of skin lightening in other cultures, but I can’t recall seeing the same pressure on hair. Good question.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sarah says:

    A very interesting post, Chandra, and a topic I would love to learn more about. Living in Europe, Germany to be specific, this kind of problem does not often present itself, at least as far as I know of. For me it’s actually weird to think that people, women could be discriminated because of their hair of all things. One of my students last year came from Ghana and I thought her hair was glorious when she wore it open and without any restraint, and I think the other kids thought so too. It’s so strange for me to imagine that people could feel threatened in a way by it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ellen Hawley says:

    The only white woman I know who anything like this happened to was a kid I went to school with who had–predictably enough–a kind of Jewfro: the kinky hair that shows up periodically among Jews. When she got it straightened, the way she was greeted at school would’ve made you think she’d been reborn.

    Like

  5. brianasymone says:

    I felt many things while reading this. Thank you for sharing this insightful message. It’s almost laughable that a group of people wearing the hair they were naturally born with IN IT’S NATURAL STATE is as unacceptable as it currently is. Wearing my natural hair is almost a political statement every single time. Thank you thank you thank you for this post.

    Ps: I love Jasmine Mans

    Liked by 1 person

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