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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mitigating, Myths, and Black Hair

This blog I will focus on a particular "myth" about black women and hair, as well as what I feel is the truth behind the matter.

Myth #1:

Women who wear weaves are actually "trying to look white" or "be white."

Why This Myth Exists:

Where do I begin? Well, there are many reasons why people think that women who wear weaves secretly want to "look white" or even "be white," when majority of the time this is not the case. I would guess that one of the reasons for this thinking is because in slavery the black women (and men) who had lighter skin and a hair texture closer to white people, could "pass" as being white. Therefore, they had a better advantage of escaping the bonds of slavery, living undetected amongst other white people, and having a better standard of living. An example of this would be depicted in the book, Incidents In the Life of A Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs.

Another theory that this myth stems from has to do with assimilation. Relaxers, pressing combs, and flat irons were used to "get the kink out" of African American hair because for a long time in this country black women did not want to draw attention to themselves. In a time when African Americans were fighting so hard for equality in this country, many black people thought it was best to blend in as much as possible, in order to be treated as equal as possible.

Camille DeBose, an African American sociology professor at DePaul University notes,
“We try to mitigate our blackness. We want to be black but not too black.”
Interesting choice of words by DeBose. According to Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, Mitigate means to "make less severe or painful" or "to become less harsh or hostile." That sort of wording is touchy because it actually implies that my race, my "blackness" is something that many races (including my own?) [still] view as harsh, hostile, and painful to others.

As sad as that statement sounds in the 21st Century, I agree with DeBose when she says that African American women want to "be black but not too black" because it means that many of us try hard to maintain our culture and be proud of who we are, while still blending in, and being accepted by the dominant race in the United States. "Mitigating" is a practice that not only black women feel pressure to succumb to, but many other minority races living within the United States.


Take a good look at these women:

Even if you just glanced at them, Did any of you mistake them for white women? Probably not.

In modern days this myth does not exactly hold up entirely. On one hand, if I were to dye my hair blond, relax it bone straight, and grow it to my waist, there is no way that I would ever be mistaken for a white woman. On the other hand maybe I did subconsciously relax my hair because I wanted to "fit in" with the other girls at school and because it was what I saw all around me.

Therefore, I personally never relaxed my hair because I secretly wanted to be white. In fact, I have always loved my skin, my culture, and my heritage. I relaxed my hair because I was expected to. I like many young black women thought that relaxed hair was the norm because all the women in my family, at school, and on TV all seemed to do it. I was never taught how to take care of my own kinky texture in its natural state.

It is not uncommon in the African American community for girls to get their hair chemically relaxed from as early as 3 or 4 years old. As a matter of fact, the prevalent use of chemical relaxers on the hair of children in the black community is what sets us apart from any other race that uses chemical straightners, weaves, extentions, ect. The use of harsh chemicals should be reserved for women who are adults and can consiously make the decision to use them on their own.

Therefore, since so many African American women were uneducated from an early age about how to care for our own kinky, curly texture we turned to relaxers because for us its more convenient, the norm, the accepted, and easier to care for (or so we think).

As many of you already know relaxers can cause serious damage if not properly applied by professional and knowledgeable stylists. Hence, the popularity of weaves. Many black women have abused relaxers so much that a never ending cycle begins. From natural, to the pressing comb, to the relaxer, to the weaves, to the wigs. The evolution of black hair is still evolving as we speak.

So if you see a black woman with a weave or a relaxer please don't assume that she secretly wants someone to make her an honorary member of a straight haired race. Most likely, that woman was misinformed at an early age about how relaxed hair is not only easier to care for, but also more equivalent to mainstream America's standard of beauty. She could also be practicing the accepted norm in the black community, or an even "crazier" notion.

Maybe she just wants the same versatility and freedom to wear her hair straight without worrying about a drop of water falling on it and messing it up, just like many White, Asian, and Hispanic women have been doing for years through chemical processing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Black Women BEWARE: Your Secrets Are Out

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, black hair was rarely ever openly discussed. This was a time when weaves, hair dyes, and wigs were just one of women's many little secrets. Secrets that you just don't ask about, discuss, or bring up in a public place. Other "Secrets" that you might be familiar with include waxing your mustache hair, your mother dying the grey on her head, plucking your eyebrows, or even trimming your bikini line.

See we women, especially black women, have worked hard to preserve our secrets. We have walked out of our houses bright and early on Saturday mornings with a pony tail in place, scarf on our heads, and black shades on our faces. All so we can be as incognito as possible as we travel to our haven, our destination of choice, to purchase our drug of choice. The one place where we can be ourselves, show our real selves, and emerge the woman that all of you see on Monday morning.

Some of us tell ourselves that we only want the creamy crack. Who are we fooling? The creamy crack is usually just the gateway drug of choice to the dyes, the weaves, and the lace-fronts that our stylists convince us to try.

And you better believe these shops know what they're doing. You think your stylist is driving that 5-series BMW by flipping burgers at Burger King on the side? If you saw the previews for the new Chris Rock movie, you know that the black hair industry grosses over 9 billion a year.

You see all the stylist has to know how to do is slap on the chemicals, sew in the weaves, and style our hair. They leave the brainwashing up to the media. Some of them are so slick about it all they have to do is leave a few black magazines laying about, and you can instantly pick out something that will make you look like your parents had Indian, Brazilian, hell even Asian in their blood. No one will ever know that it's not yours. I think actress, Ms. Joy Bryant herself, said it best HERE. She rocks her weave according to how she feels that day, not according to how someone else thinks she should look. She did not mind letting people know that she is a proud "weave-aholic."

We live in an ever evolving society. And today that society has decided that my secrets are out.

My hair is the new "IT" topic of discussion in the black community. It is being debated about on the Tyra Banks show, written about in the NY Times, and even documented by comedian Chris Rock. If your reading this blog, chances are they've leaked your secrets out too. We should be appalled and outraged at such shameless, open displays of what we have worked so hard to protect. Who's With Me?

Huh? No takers? Fine, well at least I know one woman agrees with me. I do not know her name or where she is from, but I do know that she stood up on the Oprah show and let Chris Rock have a piece of her mind. She argued that her "secrets" are now all out in the open for the world to see. The same "secrets" that have probably "secretly" held her mind (and hair) in bondage for the past umpteenth years.

So what do you think? Good Hair, Bad Hair, Relaxed Hair, Natural Hair, are all terms used in the black community. Some black women are so scrambled in their own thinking that they don't want "unwanted attention" called to something that they don't fully understand themselves.

Many don't understand the reasoning behind their decision to chemically alter their hair, nor do they understand the social history, nor damage that can occur from having a "Good Hair/Bad Hair" mentality. And for the ones that do understand- for the ones that say using chemicals on their hair, or wearing weaves, is a personal preference and nothing more, they should have no problem discussing their "secrets." In fact, many are down right proud to share and let you in on them. [See Joy Bryant again for proof].

So, if you go to work Monday morning and a woman comes up to you and asks you if your wearing a weave, go ahead, share away. If your not comfortable then go ahead and ask them what brand of facial wax they use. I'm sure they'll get the hint.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"We're all the Same in So Many Ways...except our Hair" (Oprah)

ATTENTION. THIS JUST IN!! Oprah has a full head of beautiful hair- sans weave!! She even lets Chris Rock run his hands through it lol. This was actually aired like last week, but in case you missed it (like me) there is a link to the video HERE. I can't wait to see the new documentary Good Hair coming out this month. Enjoy :)

My Natural Hair Journey....!

Top Pic: Twist Out October 2009

Second Pic: I decided to go natural! July 2008 (Relaxer)
Third Pic: After a lot of mini disasters, this is the day I decided (ahem, my stylist did convince me to go ahead and do it ;) to cut out the relaxed ends of my hair July 2009 (Transitioning)
Fourth Pic: The BIG CHOP!! July 2009
Fifth Pic: September 2009 (Wash and Go)

*I know there is like a year gap in my photos! lol But basically this is because after a bad sew in I was left with REALLY short relaxed hair. I was so uncomfortable and insecure with it I wore hats and avoided cameras at all cost. I transitioned by flat ironing (if I could do it all over again def wouldn't choose to transition that way, because I lost a lot of hair!). Anyways, this is it :)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Freaks of Natural

a person or animal that is markedly unusual or deformed

Whether their called relaxers, perms, straighteners, or even creamy crack, one thing is certain. Chemical straighteners in the black community are here to stay. Some of the most famous African American women in today's society use chemical relaxers. From Tyra Banks, to Halle Berry, to Oprah Winfrey, even Michelle Obama.

When a black woman walks into a room with her hair chemically straightened she is considered well groomed, professional, and even docile to her peers. As one comedian, Paul Mooney, jokes, “If your hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed.” “If your hair is nappy, they’re not happy.”

In my own life, I have observed that when a woman walks into a room with natural hair, one question is always asked by many people in the black community. This question asked of me repeatedly is, "What made you go natural?"

Well my problem with such questions is this: Why are relaxers the norm and why is natural hair the radical? I chemically straightened my hair for years and years and no one ever asked me once why I decided to put foreign, harmful, chemicals on my head. Chemicals that not only irritated and burned my scalp, but even made my hair fall out in clumps. What sense does that make?

Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) based and Calcium Hydroxide based are the two main types of relaxers sold in drugstores today. That's right-Sodium Hydroxide- the same stuff used to make liquid Drano Drain Cleaner.

Many African American get their first relaxer way before they are able to make the decision for themselves. On an episode of the Tyra Banks show entitled, "What is Good Hair,?" women proudly boasted about relaxing (and putting weave in) their little girl's hair because it is "easier to manage that way." It does not matter that the child is only eight years old (the youngest being three), and that the process could damage her hair permanently in the long term.

Another segment of the show where Tyra interviews young black girls about their hair, one child says that her hair in its natural hair is "low class and ugly." I think its really interesting to see how relaxing a child's hair can mentally affect them, as well as how much kids really pick up on negative attitudes towards themselves. It's easy to see how many African American women get caught in a non stop cycle of a self-hating mentality and a unhealthy dependence on chemical straighteners.

While I do not think Tyra Banks is necessarily the most reliable source of information when it comes to a lot of issues, she really hit the nail on the head in portraying the most common attitudes towards African American hair in its natural state.

Now I don't people reading this to think I am a Natural Hair Nazi (my take on this article coming soon...), I just think its important for people to realize that the decision to use these chemicals on one's hair, especially the hair of a child, is a bigger issue than people make it seem.

I am tired of people thinking that it is "no big deal" to relax African American hair. There are many risks, dangers, and disadvantages to relaxing ones hair to make it "easier to manage, more professional looking, and more convenient to one's lifestyle," like many women state.

I guess the cliche saying is true for many African American women, who truly believe that the only way to attain their definition of 'beauty' is through pain. Pain physically and most importantly, pain mentally.