By: Deric Muhammad
Growing up on Houston’s northside, Jheri Curls were popular. Either you had one and you mattered or you didn’t. My mother, a licensed beautician at the time, used all of her professional powers to try and make my hair look like Michael Jackson’s, but her powers failed us. No matter what chemicals she used to make my hair straight, wavy or curly my African roots just kept rising up and rebelling. Once I figured out that the curl wasn’t for me, I tried to get waves like the rest of my friends. They told me all I had to do was brush my hair constantly. I did, exactly, that and never saw one wave. All I got were headaches for brushing my hair. I just ended up wearing a low cut and eventually shaving it all off.
Unfortunately, for Black women and girls it’s not that simple. I remember being told I had “bad hair” (my grandfather called me “Jim Nappy”), but I don’t remember feeling bad about it. But a female’s hair is considered her crown and glory. It is written that in 15th Century Africa a woman’s hair signified her social status, genetic pedigree, her profession and even her power. The Black man and woman’s experience under the yoke of white supremacy forced on us the notion that the features of the white female were the standard of beauty. The more straight, stringy and long it was, it was considered “good hair.” Four hundred and fifty-plus years up from slavery we are still suffering from this sickness.
The past few years I’ve noticed an unusual number of Black women doing what is termed “going natural”; swearing off relaxers, chemicals and straighteners. From dredlocks, twists, short afros and close crops, there is a movement afoot to rid our community of the social demons that suggest our natural hair is not good enough. This makes me, as a Black man, proud. For when you know your natural self and love your natural self then you will cease to be ashamed of your natural self.
Last year I was invited to be a panelist at the NZURI Natural Hair Extravaganza held at Houston’s Reliant Center where “Naturalistas” from across the country convened to share ideas, styles, experiences, support and hair products. It was an empowering experience for me to see so many embrace such an important part of themselves. Then I began to ponder over why hair salons are called “beauty shops.” How misleading to think a woman can achieve real beauty in a shop, when real beauty takes place from the inside out, not from the outside in. True beauty is not determined by the texture of your hair. True beauty is determined by the texture of your heart.
The Black Hair Care Industry is a 9 billion dollar industry. Statistics show that 30-34% of all hair products in the U.S. are purchased by Black women. According to comedian, Chris Rock’s critically acclaimed documentary “Good Hair”, hair weaves make up about 65% of hair care revenue. With poverty and unemployment rampant in the Black community, we could benefit from a 9 billion dollar industry; especially one that naturally belongs to us. Koreans literally control the Black Hair Care and Nail industry in America. I consider this a “Haircare Holocaust.” However, I saw something at the Natural Hair Extravaganza that was equally as powerful as Black women going natural.
I realized that “going natural” is not just about hair. Going natural is a thought process that begets a lifestyle. When Black consumers spend Black dollars with Black businesses, this is another aspect of “Going Natural”, because self-preservation is the first law of nature. I noticed that most of the Natural and Organic Hair Care product vendors were Black-owned. I saw Black-owned nail salon operators, braiding experts, lock experts, etc., being patronized by their own people. Then I realized that the more Black women “kick those chemicals to the curb”, the more we would be forced to buy natural products from our own people instead of the scalp damaging, skull detroying chemicals sold to us by the Korean community and others. I felt like I was in the midst of a slave revolt.
The Bible teaches us that Jesus had hair like “lamb’s wool.” But, to say that Jesus had “bad hair” would be considered blasphemy. We must swear off the language of White Supremacy among us and declare terms like “bad hair” to be blasphemous in the Black community. Self-hatred makes merhandise of the self-hater. I call it the “commercialization of self-hatred”, where white society convinces you that there is something wrong with your natural self and makes billions selling you products to “fix it.” Through the acquisition of the knowledge of self we can learn to better love our natural selves and UNITE to starve the monster who makes us believe we are not good enough in order to sell us that which is not good for us.
As a Black man, I would like to say that I am proud of all my sisters who have made the decision to wear their hair natural. Let no man tell you that it is unattractive. But, please do not pass judgement on my sisters who may still, for the moment, use perms, chemicals and straighteners. Instead, ENCOURAGE them by educating them on the dangers of such use and the practical reward that is to be gained when we stop spending large amounts of money buying weaves, perms and ponytails from others, negating our personal finances and the economy of our own community. Brothers let us encourage our wives, daughters and sisters as they journey to accept their own and become themselves.
(Join me for this year’s Nzuri Festival on December 8th & 9th at Houston’s Reliant Center.)