Hair texture discrimination is the flower in the attic of the natural hair community. We keep it locked away whilst we feed and nourish it enough for it to thrive. When questioned about its existence, we do little more than motion towards the attic as if confining it has eliminated it.
We are reluctant to admit that, though it resides in the attic, despite our efforts to uplift every kink and curl, we are somehow still afflicted by hair texture discrimination.
When, though, did the community open its doors to the subtle discrimination which bred curl envy? The natural hair movement did not, after all, spring up from a bed of discreet hair hatred. It instead sprung up from a bed which emphasized “‘becoming black people'” and embracing “‘a new, Black-identified visual aesthetic, an aesthetic that not only incorporated an alternative to straight hair but actually celebrated it.'”
It did more, though, than celebrate that alternative. It proudly showcased afro-textured hair, even in all of its undefined glory. Afro picks and disrespectfully huge fros with nary a curl in sight abounded.
The movement was, unfortunately, short-lived. It began in the 60s, peaked in the 70s, and faded into near obscurity in the 80s. Even at the end of its life, however, it stayed true to its roots. The movement did not attempt to sell curl definition as a part of this black-identified visual aesthetic it celebrated.
The community would only start to see this obsession with so-called “curls” after the movement was revived a couple of decades later.
The New Natural Hair Movement
We are currently in the midst of a revived natural hair movement. The movement’s new face makes it markedly different from the crusade of the 60s and 70s. Commercial curl-defining creams and growth serums line the shelves at our local shopping centers. Black women desperate for curl definition try their hands at the long and arduous maximum hydration method.
All of the products and the methods seem harmless, but the language they rely on is often problematic. Must all products promise to define our “curls”? Must our hair have some degree of definition to be considered presentable or appealing?
Most importantly, where do these promises of curl definition leave women with the kinkiest hair textures, the women who find that they cannot attain these coveted curls?
Because, truth be told, these defined spirals and coils are not attainable for all black women.
Still, a segment of the community insists that, with the right products and techniques, we can all have the definition we dream of. This segment is so adamant about its claims that women who can’t achieve curl definition are often infantilized. Women who have proudly sported their 4c hair for almost a decade are now being told that their hair lacks definition because they just don’t understand how to care for it.
To make matters worse, the community of natural hair vloggers has inadvertently contributed to this curl-worshipping culture. Some of the most popular vloggers often go on and on about how defined their curls are after using certain products or methods.
No, they’re not referring to the definition they get via manipulation. They’re talking about those natural, defined coils which manifest themselves every wash day, those coils that many of their followers simply don’t have.
Call me crazy, but I fail to see how highlighting natural curl definition is essential for, say, a twist out or braid out tutorial. We don’t, after all, measure the success of a twist out or braid out by the definition of each curl or coil on our heads. We measure the success by how well our hair takes on the pattern provided by the twists or the braids.
So again, I ask: Must our hair have some degree of definition to be considered presentable or appealing?
Addressing Hair Texture Discrimination
This overwhelming obsession with curls has opened up a space that was once thought of as “safe” for black women to a subtle form of hair texture discrimination. How, though, do we even begin to address the issue at hand? If the past is any indicator, the community is not altogether comfortable with openly discussing this discrimination.
Some three years ago, for example, 4c YouTuber Jouelzy tried her hand at calling out the community for texture discrimination. The reactions with which she was met were a little surprising given the history of the natural hair movement. Several members of the natural hair community swooped in and immediately attempted to delegitimize her claims.
The means by which they did so varied. Some of them outright denied the existence of texture discrimination. Others only halfway conceded her point, some of them going so far as to say that 4c vloggers were overall less successful because many “kinky-haired YouTubers” just don’t have “the ‘whole package’ of an engaging presence, a good personality, AND great video quality.”
Imagine that. A sizable portion of the natural hair community was twisting itself into a pretzel in order to disprove the existence of hair texture discrimination or minimize its effects.
It wasn’t all bad, though. Other members of the community would speak up after Jouelzy. The conversation would eventually, however, fade into obscurity.
It sometimes rears its head again, but it is quickly beaten into submission whenever it does. I’ve witnessed the phenomenon firsthand on multiple occasions. A member of the natural hair community will attempt to raise awareness about hair texture discrimination only to have a bunch of women claim that the problem doesn’t actually exist.
I’ve even seen women say that kinkier textures aren’t well-loved because the women who have these kinky textures don’t love their own hair enough, an argument that amounts to little more than victim blaming.
Obviously, this conversation is, just like hair texture discrimination itself, locked in the attic. The only difference between the two is that we starve the conversation instead of feeding it.
So how do we even begin to address the issue when a large portion of the natural hair community has decided that it’s best left unaddressed? Your answer is as good as mine.
The Future of the Movement
Despite the community’s glaring issues, I’ll concede that it has inspired more black women than I can count to give up chemical relaxers, and it will likely continue to do so. The community has also fostered change in the black hair care industry, greatly expanding the natural hair care industry over the past decade or so.
At times, however, the natural hair care industry mirrors the industry which dangled relaxers in front of black women’s faces for decades. When companies marketed chemical relaxers to us, they played on our insecurities about our kinky hair. Now, when they market curl-defining products to us…they play on our insecurities about our kinky hair.
Of course, their products couldn’t define our hair if they wanted to. Black hair is already defined by virtue of existing, by virtue of society’s inability to completely contain it.
Perhaps the movement will embrace that idea one of these days. Only time will tell.
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