Unless you have gone natural all of your life, at some point you must have had an occasion where you thought the perm was gonna eat your scalp right off. I don't know about you, but I used to believe that I had to suck it up and deal with the burn until one day, it burned my hair and scalp so badly that the hair was burned to my scalp. Yes, burned to my damn scalp.
You would think that after that experience, that I would have given up on the creamy crack, but you would be wrong. I actually kept straightening my hair for another 3 years. I have to admit that part of the problem was that I had no idea how to care for my natural hair, and the other was that at my place of employment at the time, natural hairstyles were considered radical and therefore not allowed. You would not believe the amount of racism and negotiation that went into getting my employer to allow me to wear my hair in its natural state.
I recently came across the following video of a home relaxer gone wrong, and decided to post it because I know that so many will be able to relate to it.
Many Black women grow up with the notion that they have to suffer to look good. Even as the young woman wants to wash the perm out of hair, because she is clearly in pain, she is being chastised for protecting her scalp by running water on it. In the background you can hear a young man laughing. I think she was well within her right to tell him to be quiet, because chances are that as a male of color he will not know the pain of the relaxer.
We all know that Black hair means expense, because there is certainly no going for a cheap cut and perm. When I used to go the salon regularly to perm and style my hair, I would spend 80 dollars and then a further 20-30 dollars weekly for a wash, blow out and style. Do the math, that's some serious cash just for my hair. When things inevitably got tight, I attempted to perm my hair at home. It is worth noting that quite a few women are not in the position to spend the money that processed hair requires, and do their perms themselves at home. Not surprisingly, the one time that I did burn my hair to my scalp, it was a home perm.
Now that my hair is natural, I can tell you that I don't spend as much as I did when I was perming my hair, but the amount that I spend on products to keep my natural hair healthy and strong is still a lot. I suppose I could make the products myself but really, who has the time to do that regularly? Part of the issue for me is that I cannot just walk into the local drugstore and pick up a bottle of shampoo the way that White women in my area can. A lot of shampoos on the market have too many chemicals and they dry out my natural hair. Natural hair is extremely fragile and so dryness is just asking for the hair to break and get split ends.
I think when it comes to hair, Black women simply cannot win. If we are natural, we are accused of being unkept and radical. Each time we process our hair, we risk damaging our selves as the long history of burns and even balding has proven. Natural hair still needs work to be maintained and requires products that are more expensive than products used by White women on average, but it is the more healthy option.
I fully expect when this post goes live that some White person will show up to accuse me of whining or making a big deal out the video and or the complications of Black hair, and that is precisely why from time to time I like to put these posts on the blog. The bottom line is if you are a marginalized person, it costs more to live and negotiate isms, and conformity often comes at a personal cost. Black hair is a big deal because White supremacy has made it a big deal. Other than our skin color, it is one of the most visible markers of difference.
Whether it's the inappropriate touching, or comments like gee I wish had hair like yours (heavens knows they only want to appropriate when it seems cool, and certainly don't want to walk around with Black skin), or the characterization of hair as making a political statement, Whiteness is heavily invested in shaming us for our hair, or outright disciplining how we choose to wear it.
It saddened me to watch as the young girl was not allowed to wash out the relaxer, lest she wash to much out and be unable to do it again for another six weeks. I know that we have to encourage women's choices, but there is a part of me that is really conflicted when it comes to relaxers, because they first became popular due to the internalized racist belief that the closer one could mimic Whiteness, the more value a person had. Today, a lot of women will tell you that it's not about mimicking Whiteness, but about having easy to manage hair and this answer also saddens me. We don't grow up learning to care for our natural hair, because of a legacy of slavery, and White supremacy. We have become disconnected from our own bodies. If a choice is made based on inaccurate facts or because of a history of oppression, can we really say that a choice was made?
I am here to tell you that natural hair can be wash and go. Relaxed hair only seems easier because that is what you are used to. If you have any doubt, check out the great tutorials on youtube, on how to work with your own hair. If you are going to relax your hair, at least make sure that it is an informed choice, and not something you turn to because you have no idea what your natural hair feels like or looks like anymore. I know that professionally it can be risk, because I faced the same challenges before I started working at home, but don't we owe it to ourselves to learn about our own bodies and make decisions based on what works best for us? Natural hair is just as flexible as relaxed hair, and it comes with the one bonus you will never again have to risk a chemical burn, or going bald - those facts alone should make it something we all at least give serious consideration to.