Black Hair Matters.

“We have outgrown slavery, but our minds are still enslaved to the thinking of the Master race. Now take these kinks out of your mind, instead of out of your hair.”– Marcus Garvey

All hair is NOT created equal. That’s the lye lie they are still trying to force into our heads. It is a sad day when the hair that naturally grows out of a person’s head is deemed unacceptable. I remember some 20 years ago having a conversation with a childhood friend who was telling me that it was against her school rules to comb her hair in more than 3 or 4 cornrows/braids. What was the logic behind this rule? I think she had said combing it in anything more than 4 braids would be akin to looking like a ‘Rasta’. But don’t quote me on that. Nevertheless, I found this rule weird and offensive since this was a school with a predominantly black student populace. Braiding is not only a way for Black people to show off our hairstyles and creativity but it is also a means of having one less thing to worry about while getting ready for school each morning. Since cornrows can last for at least a week once proper night time ‘tie head’ protocols are followed, this hairstyle is expedient. This rule posed a problem for my friend who not only had very short naturally kinky hair but who was a Christian in the Pentecostal faith. Her faith (church rules) prevented her from processing her hair and her school rules basically made it impossible for her to wear her hair in its short naturally kinky state. Since her hair would need at least 10 cornrows to be even considered “neat” by their standards, you could see that she was in a predicament of sorts. Though having never heard of Walter Rodney and Umar Johnson or knowing very little besides the names of Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X at the time, I still knew there was something ridiculously wrong with that picture.

It was a pointed display of arrogance towards most manifestations of non-European culture. A prominent Girls’ school in the capital Kingston & St. Andrew preventing a female student from wearing natural braids and cornrows- hairstyles synonymous with the African texture- is a school that had no intention of catering to the needs of its black students who by nature were blessed with short kinky hair. For me, this was institutionalized Racism and social manipulation at most; discrimination partly entrenched in the school rules under the guise of instilling discipline.

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“Who taught you to hate yourself? Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the colour of your skin?” Malcolm X

Fast forward almost 25 years later, Kingston College High School students in Jamaica are sent home, on an exam day, for wearing fades and mohawks. Black girls in the Bahamas are sent home for Twist Outs. Black girls in Barbados are sent home for Afros; And Bantu Knots (Chiney Bumps) are deemed inappropriate for school.  Some may say that the students are at fault. They know the school rule and should have, therefore, adhered to it. After all, as one teacher puts it, “school rule is school rule. Abide or get out!” But I’ll address that later. For now, I have a deeper concern.

Responding to accusation that the school is lenient with students of Indian and Chinese orientation, the Kingston College Principal said,” students expect them to bald their head like mine but it can’t be that the same rule applies for obvious reason. We have to use our discretion.” It is more worrying than hypocritical that the same authority that sees it fit to suspend black boys for wearing Fades, have seen it fit to use their discretion biases when it comes to students of Indian, Asian and Caucasian descent wearing the exact hairstyles deemed inappropriate when worn by their black schoolmates. What are these ‘obvious reasons’ to which he alludes? Apparently fades are only appropriate when worn by Indians, Caucasians, Asians, Soldiers, Presidents and Prime Ministers… but NOT black students.

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Why is it, in 2016 in Jamaica, over 17O years after the ‘Abolition of Slavery’ and ‘Emancipation’ and 54 years after ‘Independence’, do we still think that the afro, bantu knots (chiney bumps), twist outs and other hairstyles commonly worn by African women are ‘unsuitable’, ‘unprofessional’, ‘inappropriate’, ‘unrespectable’, ‘unruly’, ‘unkempt’, ‘untidy’, and ‘ungroomed’? Why are we still sending home black boys for wearing fades and mohawks? Why is the African hair not seen as ‘good hair’? We have been devalued through our history of enslavement. Yet we have, from generations to generations, continued to teach our own, whether through blatant, subliminal and even subtle messages, that we are inadequate and that all hair is NOT created equal. Some are more equal than others.

 “This was my first really big step toward self- degradation: when I endured all of that pain, literally burning my flesh to have it look like a white man’s hair. I had joined that multitude of Negro men and women in America who are brainwashed to believe that the black people are “inferior”- and white people “superior”- that they will even violate and mutilate their God-created bodies to try and look “pretty” by white standards.”- Malcolm X

Some years ago while attending High School, I was 13 at the time in 3rd form (9th grade). I usually travelled to school with my friend’s mom. Those traffic mornings led for great family conversations. I just listened. It was one of those mornings that my friend asked her mom if she would be allowed to process (cream) her hair for her Birthday. She was going to be 14 and that was the only gift she wanted. After negotiating with her mom the entire trip to school, her mom agreed that if she did well for the semester and got straight A’s, she would grant her that wish. ‘Creaming’ her hair was going to be her ‘reward’ for good grades and behaviour.

A friend of mine was in a long distance relationship and hadn’t seen her boyfriend in person for months. She had started her journey back to natural hair and had told me how she loved how her natural hair was looking and how excited she was at the sight of ‘new growth’. Her boyfriend was coming to visit and she gladly awaited the opportunity to spend time with him and show off her beautiful Bantu Knots. For those couple of days that he was going to be in the island, I knew I wasn’t going to see her. But after he left and she visited me, I was in for a surprise. She had exchanged her kinky curly natural crown with processed hair. When I asked why, she said her boyfriend didn’t like how she looked with hair natural. I was disappointed in her decision but I guess no one wants to feel “unpretty” especially to the one person who should be calling you beautiful. Her opinion of her hair didn’t matter because his opinion mattered more. Truth is, I don’t fully blame men for their opinions and preferences.  Men are very visual beings, and they unconsciously learn to define beauty by what society instills in them at a very young age.

Growing up in a Pentecostal Church, we were forced to keep our hair natural. With hopes of straightening my hair, I started questioning my mom as to the Biblical foundation of such rule. I tried to argue that there were no biblical grounds for such rule and even tried to negotiate terms but my mom was adamant that it wasn’t going to happen; At least, “not in my house!”  I kept nagging her about this stupid church rule until she called one of the Elders of the Church who I highly respected to talk to me about it thinking that it would have quelled my ‘sinful’ desire for the ’creamy crack’. As my mother handed me the house phone, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I said “Hello”. It was then that I heard a stern recognizable voice say,  “Are you telling GOD that you don’t like the way He made you and that you don’t think He made you properly or beautiful?” Pausing just enough to muster the confidence of Johnnie Cochran, I quickly backfired, “No, I’m telling Him I loved how He made me. I just want to look even more beautiful.” I don’t remember how the rest of that conversation went but, at that time, I actually felt proud of my response. I had made my case.

In retrospect, my reply only confirmed how deeply rooted the psychological legacy of slavery was and how successful Europeans have been in destroying our self worth and confidence by pushing their standards of beauty on us. Why would straight hair make me more beautiful? At least, why did I think it would? Why wasn’t my Kinky Curls enough?

I’ve had three friends with natural hair entered Miss Jamaica Beauty Pageants. They all entered in different years and they don’t know each other. They all passed the elimination round of the competition and made it to the finals wearing their natural curls. They all seemed like self confident and secure ladies who love their natural hair yet they all decided to ‘alter’ or ‘hide’ their natural curls whether through temporary straightening measures or in an up do. After questioning each of their motives,  I realized that the decision had less to do with what would complement the style of their gowns and  more to do with the thought that wearing their naturally kinky curly hair out for the evening gown segment was inappropriate as they needed a hairstyle that was more ‘suitable’, ‘formal’, ‘sophisticated’ and ‘appropriate’.  It’s not a coincidence that they all viewed wearing their natural hair out, for such a ‘distinguished’ and ‘special’ occasion, in the same light. Those with hair closer to Indian, Asian or Caucasian textures let their hair out for the evening gown segment all the time. There’s not even an inclination in their minds that this could be inappropriate. So why then would they think that wearing their naturally kinky curly hair out wasn’t evening gown worthy? Why did they think it was inadequate and not fitting for a formal occasion?

I told all these stories not to declare how many friends I have but rather to highlight how different persons, of different ages, from different backgrounds, who don’t know each other could hold similar demeaning perceptions or convictions regarding their hair.

We had to learn it from somewhere. This internalized form of racism is an invisible presence in our psyches, and some of us don’t even realize that it’s a factor in how we perceive ourselves and others. Thus, for instance, my friend’s boyfriend could think his attraction to straight long hair is just a ‘matter of taste’, and I could articulate that ‘creaming’ my hair would make me ‘prettier’. It’s a matter of identity, self-worth and self-acceptance. That is why I can’t agree with the notion that rules are just rules and, as such, should be blindly followed.. Rules are NOT just rules. Rules are a reflection of society’s standards, values and fears. How we view ourselves and others are directly related to how we act. When we continue to enforce rules that either blatantly reinforce or express subtle undertones of self hatred and discrimination towards non-European traits, we are teaching our children values that promote a mindset that there is no room for the idea of naturally kinky haired black beauty.  And we continue the cycle from generations to generations if those rules aren’t changed.

  

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A Part 2 will be posted this week which will offer ‘solutions’ as I didn’t want to make this post too long 🙂

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Love & Blessings,

Queen Stacia.

Follow on Instagram: @naturaliconbeauty

Personal IG: @staciadavidson

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Natural Icon Beauty Feature – KRYSTAL

Our Natural Icon Beauty for the Month of February is Krystal Tomlinson. Krystal is presently the PR Manager for the Digicel Foundation and have also shot up the ranks in Jamaican media in recent years. She has hosted across several platforms, including being the dynamic host of TVJ’s cooking programme, Nyammings and E-Prime. In the capacity of Social Researcher, she served as a panelist for the Gleaner’s live streaming of the recently held National General Elections.

She is such an accomplished young black queen that we could ask her so many other questions but we decided to focus mainly on her natural hair journey. We will definitely have to do another feature though as this Natural Icon Beauty is a force to be reckoned with and armed with a story that inspires many.
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Here’s our interview:

NIB: Hey Queen, I’m so glad you agreed to be featured as our Natural Icon Beauty of the month. Please introduce yourself to our readers. (Name, age, where you’re from, interests)

KT: Krystal Amoy Tomlinson, 25, born at in Kingston and spent my formative years growing up in Greater Portmore under the care of a strong matriarchal team (mommy, auntie and grandma). I have one younger sibling who towers above me in height so he’s launched an advocacy campaign for me to stop calling him my “little” brother! 😀

NIB: Define your style.

KT: I’m adventurous but I venture mostly between understated elegance and simple chic. I hate tight clothing, although I’ll wear it, but loose is always a preference.

NIB: What do you love about your natural hair?

KT: That it’s all mine. I love that it best reflects my personality (locs and their association with social rebellion); I also love low-maintenance hair styles and locs give me that freedom. It’s not expensive to maintain and the messier the cuter they seem to look. It’s also an expression of my willingness to take risks in a space where conformity is preferred. At the time that I locked my hair I was already on television but some persons thought it would offend viewers and get me kicked off TV. Though that never happened, I wasn’t worried about it but it did take guts to challenge mainstream beauty standards and it helps to see 4 other women also dominating the media space with their bold embrace of the black woman’s mane.

NIB: Have you ever processed your natural tresses?

KT: I tried to process the front once…when I was 18…to put in some version of weave. I hated the way I looked with straight hair and bought an afro wig to hide it until my roots came back.

NIB: When did you decide to loc your hair?

KT: In 2012

NIB: Some people are under the impression that having loc is hard and expensive to maintain, is that so?

KT: Not in my experience because my intention is not to have it slicked back all the time so I don’t tighten it often. I like when it looks a little messy. It would be costly to style your hair every week, whether processed or natural, so it really depends on the beauty standards of the individual.

NIB: What’s your hair regimen?

KT: I wash, treat and style my hair every two weeks. I use the Mango and Lime suite of products, coconut oil and sometimes shea butter.

NIB: I’ve heard stories of women who have been pressured to process their hair or who have experienced harsh criticisms, negativity and/or even sabotage because they wear their natural tresses. Have you had any such experience(s) solely or partly because of your locs?

KT: No I haven’t…I don’t think anyone is brave enough to go there with me. LOL.

NIB: What advice would you give someone who is experiencing such pressure?

KT: Be bold in your beauty. You have to decide what makes you beautiful because you are more than your hair. Own yourself! Love yourself! Live yourself! The more comfortable you get with who you are, the less concerned you’ll be with looking like other women and conforming to social standards.

NIB:  If you could describe your life, vision for your life, or guiding philosophy(ies) using three quotes, what would they be?

KT: 1. “Think generously, speak kindly, act fairly and live daily. Life is improved one thought, one word, one deed, one day at a time”

2. “Some people will speak kindly; don’t let it inflate your head. Some will speak unkindly; don’t let it deflate your heart.”

3. “Earn your success. If it’s handed to you , you may have to hand it back.”

NIB: You are such an inspirational young black queen and I know you are not one to live a life of regrets so what would you say was your most impactful failure or ‘mistake’? How did you rebound and what lesson(s) did you learn?

KT: When UWI (University of the West Indies) suspended my student privileges because of an exam riot that was led by myself and colleagues on the UWI Guild. I learned 2 things:

  1. As a leader you must be prepared to accept the praise and the punishment for the actions of those you lead. It’s a two-way street. If they succeed, you succeed. If they fail, you fail. You don’t get to opt out of the relationship when it suits you.
  2. Never out your name, face and voice behind a cause that you’re not willing to lose your reputation for. Thankfully, that was a cause that I truly believe in and so I was willing to accept the consequences.

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Thanks for those sound words Krystal. I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview. It was definitely enlightening.

I know most, if not all, will agree that Krystal is natural beauty personified, with a bubbly personality and good sense of humour. I have no doubt, if she continues on this extraordinary path, she is due bigger and better things. No pun intended 🙂

Love & Blessings,

Queen Stacia.

Follow on Instagram: @naturaliconbeauty

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Keep up with Krystal:

Instagram: @krystaltomlinson

Twitter: @kryticalmind

Facebook: Click Here

 

Credits:

Photography & Styling: @staciadavidson

Make up: @krystaltomlinson

Dress: @mamayashi

Earrings: @yaadtrendz