I’ve lost large patches of hair over the last several months. I finally decided it had to go short. One upside it that it allows me to have this meditation on hair.
Hair can be wrapped tightly with our identity. I was surprised by how many readers and friends were unacquainted with the nuances of black women’s hair and why we don’t touch it (here Solange Knowle’s song and video – 19.7m views – and check out the hair).
"Don't touch my hair
When it's the feelings I wear
Don't touch my soul
When it's the rhythm I know
Don't touch my crown
They say the vision I've found
Don't touch what's there
When it's the feelings I wear
They don't understand
What it means to me
Where we chose to go
Where we've been to know..." (Don't Touch My Hair – Solange)
It’s looked at here in a BBC article. I’ve had female friends say many men don’t understand.
Solange further writes this opinion piece here "You and your friends have been called the N word, been approached as prostitutes, and have had your hair touched in a predominately white bar just around the corner from the same venue."
The black hair experience for many is tied tight into culture, discrimination and all the way into slavery and freedom.
“All bodies are not equal, all hair is not equal. My WhatsApp group members still share experiences of being given unwarranted feedback, in a manner that is careful to avoid any mention of the words ‘black’ or ‘Afro’, that we looked ‘more professional’ when we wore our hair ‘the other way’, i.e. straight. We share first-hand dilemmas about life at the Bar (can you reasonably place a barrister’s white horsehair wig at high altitude over a voluminous natural hairstyle?), as a teacher (told you look too ‘young’ with natural hair), or stories we observe around us, like the woman who wore her hair in braids to a job…. interview in 2015, and was told that it was not a suitable hairstyle for selling ‘high end’ products. We noticed when, the following year, the fashion website ASOS announced that box braids, which have been loved by black women for thousands of years, were having a fashion moment –they had become a ‘thing’ –because the model Cara Delevingne, who is white, had decided to wear them. … Black women still experience a penalty for wearing their own hair in traditional, natural styles, one reason why they spend billions of pounds globally on straightening or covering their hair with European hair-textured extensions. Black children in Britain –and around the world –have been told they cannot wear their hair in cornrows or Afro styles to school. 31 When white-owned businesses, such as the Braid Bar, or white celebrities, such as Delevingne or Lila Grace Moss, embrace these styles as mainstream fashion, they often do so on platforms that neither reference nor credit the black originators of the craft, the black women who continue to remain invisible in mainstream fashion and beauty marketing. It’s no surprise therefore that ‘cash-crop cornrows’, as the actor Amandla Stenberg described them, feel to many black women like a further pilfering from the best bits of the black experience. A white child penalised for wearing cornrows to school can just revert to their natural hair again. A black child has to mould themselves into something else, something their institution deems appropriate, at the expense of their cultural identity. Taken together, these experiences leave many black people feeling that their ingenuity is ignored but its creations appropriated when it suits. This doesn’t feel like an exchange, but an ongoing kind of exploitation. There is nothing wrong with exchange –cultural ideas and identities are forever cross-pollinating, merging and evolving
….Black people do not wish to be the ‘gatekeepers’ of black hairstyles, policing the imagined borders between races, monitoring the exchanges that do occur. The debate about cultural appropriation is not about the hairstyles themselves, or Jamaican jerk chicken, now commonly served in restaurants with no black owners or staff, or African print clothes, often seen on the catwalks of European designers who continue to show little interest in black models. It’s about power. As long as black women feel the critical, even disgusted gaze of white, mainstream beauty standards, telling them that their hair, skin, bodies and clothes are strange, primitive or ugly, not worthy of styling, modelling or celebrating, or that their look is unprofessional, or associated with poverty, then the sight of these cultural markers in a white context is never going to feel like cross-pollination.
... It’s going to feel like an act of theft, with the sting of a double standard.”
I’m unsure how far empathy goes. The willingness to share grief perhaps can be shared. Personal grief itself is perhaps too unique and powerful to share.
Losing hair is a form of grief to some. I’m unsure if I’d go so far myself. Nevertheless my hair has been knit as a part of my identity.
Grown too long in teenage years in reaction to a nag from parents to have it short.
Spiky. Messy. Different. In my working years, a reaction to note, I’m not quite the mainstream City finance worker. O Lo No. I’m some thing else.
How do we fool ourselves?
Perhaps fooling ourselves is a very human way of getting on with life.