Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Natural Hair, Community and Loss

Afrophoto © 2008 Shanna Riley | more info (via: Wylio)

It took me a very long time to love my hair.  As a child I thought perming (for white folk: Chemically straightening) my hair was a sign of maturity.  It was something I wanted desperately.  The older I got however, the more tired the routine got.  My hair never took a perm well and my naps would quickly reassert themselves.  Approximately 10 years ago, I did the chop.  The first thing I did was to grow dreadlocks, but after nearly a decade of that, I had had enough and desperately wanted a new look.  Let's be honest, dreds are hot as hell during the summer and a pain in the ass to wash.

After I cut off my dreds, I was forced to figure out once again what to do with my natural hair.  I looked at natural web hair sites, but the best and by far the most informative place believe it or not was youtube.  There I would find Black women whose hair was various textures trying different styles and products.  As I have mentioned before, living in a small town means that I have no access to a hairdresser and therefore; I have to manage my hair myself.

Yesterday, I went to the salon to get my hair coloured and trimmed.  I walked out with a small afro, firm in the knowledge that I still had to go home and oil my scalp, as well as moisturize the hair itself.  I then sat down to the tedious task of braiding my hair, so that when I took it out the next day my hair would have a nice curl. I then put my silk cap on head so that when I slept, my hair would remain neat while encouraging the oils to stay on my scalp.  I only recently learned the silk cap tip.  When you don't have salons that cater to Black hair, the final work will always be yours.

Natural hair is work, because we have become separated from the knowledge of how to care for it properly. I have beautiful thick hair that is very healthy, thanks to the all natural products that I use.  It is probably the healthiest that it's ever been.  I know that as much as I have learned over the months, I still have so much to learn.  I think that the effort is what makes people frustrated.  Let's be honest, when you first process your hair, you have to learn how to style it, and what products work best for your hair as well.  The issue here is most people have been processing their hair for so long, that they have forgotten about the learning curve.  Natural hair gets easier, you just have to stick with it.

The other thing about natural hair, is that unless you are using a hot comb to straighten it, you need to let go of European standards for what looks neat and tidy.  I must admit letting go, was the hardest task for me.  To be honest, I still don't like the look of an afro on me.  Something about it makes me feel old. I do however love rocking my braid out.

I must admit that while there is a strong movement for Black women to wear natural hair, we have certainly seen this before.  The afro as a sign of racial pride, quickly gave way to the soul glow days of the jheri curl.  I think we should take a moment of silence for all of the clothes and furniture that has been lost thanks to that look.  If you are still rocking the jheri curl (yes I know someone who is), it's time to get with the times.

I started writing about my hair because I realized sitting in the salon yesterday once again how much I miss a Black hair salon.  Black hair salons and barbershops aren't solely about getting your hair done; they are about community. Walking into a Black hair salon, is to immerse yourself in culture and it feels like home.  Yesterday, as I sat with dye on my hair surrounded by White women, there was only silence.  There were no conversations about politics, entertainment, loud laughter and raunchy talk about sex.  Not a single person said giiirl.  Not being able to buy products like shampoo or makeup hurts, but the loss of community cuts even more deeply.  For years, outside of church on Sunday, the barbershops and the hair dressers were the only place that Blacks could safely congregate away from the prying eyes of Whiteness.  There we could speak our true minds, without having to defer to what Whites thought.

This loss is what makes living in a small town so difficult.  When I expressed how losing things like the ability to purchase make up and shampoo makes it hard to live in a White dominated area, some in the comment section were absolutely incredulous.  If you have never been a minority in this situation, you have no idea what it is to struggle for basic needs.  Your whole pattern of behaviour changes, and you find yourself acknowledging people of your racial and ethnic background, because you are thankful to see someone that looks like you.  When I lived in Toronto, I would walk by Black people without a second thought, today however, I  am sure to nod, smile, and say hello. At my former place of employment, I made it point to get to know other Blacks, because there were so few of us.  We would compare notes and point out Whites to be wary of.

After living in this small town for well over a decade, I can say without reservation that no matter how multicultural we claim Canada is, it is in smaller communities that one can see racial bias most obviously.  It happens at the restaurants that can't say that they don't serve Blacks, but do everything possible to ensure that you don't return.  It happens when you walk into large chains and discover that there isn't the smallest attempt to cater to your needs.  It happens when the police harass you in your own neighborhood, because apparently a Black person is suspicious. It happens when people assume you rent, rather than own your own home, and finally it happens when you are so starved for people that share a common experience with you, that you are willing to drive two hours to see a movie with Black actors.  So when you question why not being able to buy a product in this town is so hurtful, please remember that it is just the tip of the iceberg.