When 12-year-old Vanessa VanDyke, a student who attends Faith Christian Academy in Central Florida, was told that she needed to cut her “distracting” hair, the message was clear:
The European standard of beauty — a tamed, relaxed mane — is still champion in society. Even if black women have to go to unnatural lengths and undergo a psychological beating to get the look — pulling, burning, straightening, damaging and obsessing like Pecola Breedlove did over her desire to have Bluest Eyes. It is both physically and mentally detrimental.
And when I learned that she was facing expulsion if she didn’t cut or straighten her crowning glory, which school administrators thought was in her best interest, the rage couldn’t be contained. Didn’t we just deal with this a few months ago when 7-year-old Tiana Parker had to switch schools because the way her natural hair grew out her head was too radical and offensive for school officials?
The coding is no longer subtle. The way a black woman’s hair naturally grows is completely “unacceptable.” And whether she wears it in locs or a majestic free afro, it’s never “neat” or “tidy” enough to fit in racism’s small boxes. It, like our blackness, is abhorrent. Just like society chooses not to see color in this “post-racial world,” blind to the main identifier of our being, refusing to accept or see our natural hair is further diminishing our personhood.
Would it be better if we didn’t exist at all?
The message isn’t even subliminal — our hair isn’t “good” enough. And so, our little black girls, like Tiana and Vanessa, won’t think they’re good enough. That’s called a breakdown. You see what society is doing there?
Sadly, Vanessa’s story is bringing society’s disdain for black, natural hair to light for many who weren’t aware of the struggle. But the micro-aggressions have been going on for as long as I, a natural girl for nearly 10 years, can remember.
There was no better way to gather the frustrations of women wearing natural hair than to take to Twitter. And by scrolling through the hashtag #livingwhilenatural, started by Brokey McPoverty, it was clear that Vanessa and Tiana were not alone.
a coworker used to constantly introduce me as ‘tracy with the wild/crazy hair.’ #livingwhilenatural
— Brokey McPoverty (@brokeymcpoverty) November 26, 2013
& when i came to work w/ my hair straight, same coworker yelled WOW YOU LOOK SO PROFESSIONAL NOW! #livingwhilenatural
— Brokey McPoverty (@brokeymcpoverty) November 26, 2013
Getting my hair pressed tomorrow. My advisor goes “aww you are gonna look so neat and put together. Send me a pic” #livingwhilenatural
— Lauren (@telekendall) November 26, 2013
People touching your hair w/o permission then commenting on how it feels like “cotton”. Where have you touched cotton ?¿#livingwhilenatural
— QueenofVersailles (@AdrianVenzo) November 26, 2013
When people ask dumb questions about your heritage in an attempt to justify & understand your curl pattern. #livingwhilenatural
— Reá (@thiswomanswordz) November 26, 2013
Yes…all of those are called micro-aggressions. And they are insanely insensitive and offensive.
So, just for the record, if you’ve ever said or implied any of the following:
– Natural hair should be straightened before an interview, it’s more professional.
– Straight hair just looks cleaner.
– Touching natural hair without permission.
– Commenting on natural hair that you touched without permission (and likening it to cotton, wool, or any other fluffy substance).
– Reveling in how “soft” it feels because you weren’t expecting it to be.
– Assuming that we are “mixed” with something if our curl pattern is different.
– Assuming we’re not mixed with anything if our curl pattern is coarser (BTW coarseness refers to how thick a strand of hair is and DOES NOT equate to “nappy” or bad).
– Explaining to coworkers why you chose to wear your hair curly or straight if you are natural.
– Thoroughly explaining the ins and outs of different hairstyles you wear (basically, this looks crazy, explain to me what you were trying to do here).
– WHEN SOMEONE TELLS YOU YOUR HAIR LOOKS PRETTIER WHEN IT IS STRAIGHTENED.
– Being told ‘it’s so wild.’ My hair is not an animal and does not need to be tamed.
– When you have to explain why your hair is the texture it is. A question that is never satisfied with a simple “that’s just the way it grows out of my head.”
You’re probably offending us, suggesting that we’d be much better if maybe we didn’t have a natural mane, and feeding into the idea that black hair is only acceptable when buried underneath 26 inches of Brazilian Wavy or straightened.
But most aggressive of all is to be asked to cut your hair (straightened or curly) off of your head. And maybe I’m reaching, maybe this isn’t as biblical as Goliath’s power-inducing locks, but doesn’t it seem that chopping off what makes one unique and grounded to their ancestry is an isolation tactic used to derail us from anything that might be empowering for our own culture?
Tame hair, tame…well, you should get the picture by now.
And if for some reason you can’t wrap your head around how Vanessa’s school request is far-reaching and destructive, please take at least one thing from this lesson on micro-aggressions.
Stop touching my damn hair.
Christina Coleman is the News and Politics Editor at GlobalGrind and a Howard University Alumna. Prior to this she was a science writer. That explains her NASA obsession. She crushes on Anthony Bourdain. Nothing explains that. Follow her on Twitter @ChrissyCole for all things news & politics. Oh. And afros.