A Braidy Business.

Young black girls have been wearing braids since the dawn of time. I never thought that such a simple hairstyle would be seen as problematic until I saw this tweet on Twitter last week:

I was so shocked by this because I had no idea that it was an issue. Why should it be? When I was a teenager, I wore braids at secondary school and not one teacher told me that my hair was ‘unsuitable’ or ‘unnatural’. That was in the early to mid-1990s, so how is it a problem now? If anything, schools should be more knowledgeable about this instead of wanting all children to conform to one generic look. Many of them cannot do that because: genetics.

According to this school’s uniform policy (which encourages pupils to adopt a ‘corporate identity’ – I’m guessing this extends to how they look as well), braids fall under the category of an ‘extreme hairstyle’. This is nonsense. Braids are not an extreme hairstyle, they are a protective hairstyle – two very different things. They protect our fragile follicles and strands. Not every black child wants to relax their hair and braids are a convenient and stylish way to maintain their Afro locks. If this teacher did some research, he would have known that.

This situation is scandalous and yet again adds to the policing and demonisation of black hair and the myopic viewpoint that our hair is perceived as ‘unprofessional’, no matter how we style it.

If the girl’s braids were down to her knees, it could be deemed a health and safety issue but this is not the case – it is a cultural issue and that’s not all. First, the head of year said her braids were ‘unnatural’; then he declared that the colour of the braids contravened the uniform policy, so she must remove the blonde bits. Like she can just pull them out quickly as if the hairdresser didn’t spend hours painstakingly braiding her hair. She cannot remove the blonde bits because that would mean SHE WOULD HAVE TO REMOVE ALL HER BRAIDS.

Knowing how much it costs to braid hair – both in price and in time – would mean that the whole process was a waste of time for the poor girl, merely because her teacher viewed her hair negatively and in an ignorant manner.

All this happened on her first day of secondary school. Imagine! The poor girl must have been excited and nervous starting at a new school. Then, she walked in and her new head of year criticised her hair, implying that she did not fit in because of this one aspect. That staff member likely gave that young girl a poor start to her experience at her new school because he’s now provided her with a complex, thanks to his dismissal of her perfectly fine hairstyle.

Also, how can you such a style is unnatural and yet have a young black girl on your homepage wearing – yes, you’ve guessed it – braids? Oh, the irony. But then again, what do you expect from a school that doesn’t even allow their pupils to wear earrings? I understand if they restricted pupils to wearing studs, but no earrings at all? Really?

Their policy states that ‘unnatural hair extensions or dyes are not permitted’. Fair enough, but what if there is a pupil at the school who has, say, a serious illness or alopecia and want to cover up by wearing a wig? Would that be allowed? Or would they make up another excuse on the spot and humiliate the child on their first day?

Fortunately, the school in question saw sense and softened their stance on this, so the young girl did not have to remove her braids. Thank goodness they did. Negatively affecting this young girl’s progress before she’s even begun because she sported braids is ridiculous. Wearing them will not impact her education or how she learns in any way and maybe they will realise that this hairstyle can be a part of her corporate and cultural identities. The two should not be mutually exclusive.

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Unwanted Frizz.

Rochelle Humes has been announced as the new Curl Ambassador for Frizz Ease, John Frieda’s longtime serum. Good for her – girl, get your coins. But this has not gone down well with some folk who are annoyed that she has been chosen to represent this brand.

You see, Rochelle is mixed-race and has loose curly hair. But many black women are not happy about her new role as they feel she does not represent them or their hair, and that Frizz Ease been on the market long enough to start doing so. At first, I was a little swept up by the row and could see their point. There is a feeling that Rochelle was picked as an ambassador because she is the more ‘acceptable’ face (or hair) of black hair: curly and malleable, but not too Nubian, kinky and ‘unmanageable’, which is what my hair type (4c/4d) is perceived as. It is the in-between level, straddling both spheres and seen as desirable and palatable. As I said, I understood why people are wound up by this, but then I thought the rage about this needs to calm down – and let me tell you why.

I bought Frizz Ease curl serum for the first (and last) time several years ago. I wanted something to help tame my curls as I was growing my hair out. At the time, there was not as much choice on the high street for women with natural hair like mine (thick, kinky and coily) as there is now, so I was in trial and error mode most of the time. I quickly realised that the serum was not right for me and found it to be a waste of money.

Since then, – judging by his appointment of Rochelle as ambassador – Frieda must have updated the product to be suitable for mixed-race hair, but I knew years ago that Frizz Ease was not the one and I still do. It is mainly for Caucasian hair and is now suitable for mixed-race follicles, but not for women like me with kinky Afro hair – and that’s OK.

This trifling serum was never meant for me or for us. Rochelle’s hair is very different to mine, in terms of curl type and texture. What I need for my hair differs to what a Caucasian or mixed-race woman would require. I would rather use something that is specifically suited for my hair type than a generic ‘for all hair types’ product that works on everyone’s hair but mine. Not everything in the mainstream will work on my hair – that’s just the way it is.

Thanks to social media, things have changed and black women (and girls) are more knowledgeable regarding the best products for our hair. There are more ranges than ever on the high street which cater for Afro hair and it’s late, but great. We can protest by not putting our hands in our pockets for the products that do not cater to us. Also we don’t always have to rely on the mainstream, as we can make or own products (though buying hair food in Boots is less problematic than whipping something up at home).

Now before anyone says this situation is similar to that of, say, make-up – no, it is not. Skin is skin – the only difference is in our skin tones, therefore all make-up brands should be catering to people of all colours as far as I am concerned. With hair, there are different factors to take into account: the texture, how curly or straight it is and the porosity levels of your barnet. What works on Caucasian hair will most likely not work on my Blackity-Black hair because we are at different ends of the spectrum.

Some of the women berating Rochelle for taking the ambassador role are the same ones who claim that her hair type excludes her from the natural hair movement, because they see her as ‘not black enough’. Make up your minds! One minute it’s, ‘you’ve got mixed-race hair, you can’t sit with us’ – the next, you say she should be representing all of us. It does not make sense. To my fellow black women: this product is not worth ranting about. You are getting upset over a product that was never meant for us in the first place. Save your breath and spend your money on what is meant for you.

Get Out of Hair, Man.

Black women are never given the credit we deserve and it’s getting on my last nerve.
Today I listened to a report on Radio 4 on the ‘no poo’ movement. Now before your face screws up like this…

…let me explain.

‘No poo’ is short for ‘no shampoo’. It is also known as co-washing and many black women (especially those sporting natural, non-relaxed hair) follow this method when washing their hair and find it highly beneficial. They see it as a way to stop using sulfate-heavy shampoos and incorporate natural products to help their hair flourish (although sulfate-free shampoos are on the rise nowadays).

This is something that has been a part of black culture for years so imagine my surprise when I saw a radio report entitled ‘Why We’re Dropping Hair Products For the ‘No Poo’ Movement’ on Radio 4. Now imagine my surprise when I heard how incredibly whitewashed it was.

Considering black women started this whole movement years ago, why were none interviewed? Where were the natural-haired women talking about their hair routine? Why was no credit attributed to them for starting this method? Where were the black women??
Instead of hearing their knowledge, I listened to plummy-voiced toffs talking about it like it was their invention. ‘There’s loads about it online,’ the synopsis read. Yes, and most of it is regarding women with Afro hair, but carry on ignoring us.

According to the Radio 4 report, one of the leading ‘no poo’ bloggers is a woman called Lucy Aitkenread.

Seriously, who is she? I have watched countless videos on this method but never seen her name pop up anywhere. Mind you, YouTube aren’t helping because the first batch of videos that come up when you type in ‘no poo method’ are from white women. The way it is framed, you wouldn’t think that it is a staple in the hair routines of black women.

So what’s the deal, Radio 4?

How can you have a report on this trend that was created by black people and completely and blatantly omit us from it? Not one mention, not a hint of recognition, you just ignore us. You mean to tell me that you looked through various social media sites such as YouTube and Twitter and somehow managed to ignore the daily stream of videos from black women both in Britain and beyond discussing and demonstrating their co-washing routines? If that was the case then your research methods were very… lightweight. It’s ridiculous that black women were airbrushed out of this, but then I should not be surprised. Cornrows (or canerows) were re-branded for the mainstream as ‘boxer braids’, jewellery such as bamboo earrings which were once dismissed as ‘ghetto’, are now deemed ‘edgy’ and ‘trendy’ because white women are wearing them.

I’m tired of us not being involved in conversations or reports where we should be first in line. Give us the credit when it is (long) overdue instead of keeping our contribution quiet. It’s not that difficult.

© 3rd August 2017

Pear Sh(e)aped.

Shea Moisture. You bunch of doughnuts.

Your brand catered for black people’s hair, mainly natural hair. Black women with thick, coarse, natural non-relaxed hair buy 99.9% of your products. So why did you bring out a new advert (now deleted but I’m sure it can be found floating in the internet ether) with absolutely no representation of this group of people?

I saw Shea Moisture trending on social media last night so I checked it out and this advert popped up. By the end of the 60 second promo I was surprised by how unrepresentative it was.

As usual, with products out there that initially catered to black women (Sleek Makeup, anyone?) the brand owners decided that the Black Pound is not enough and are now targeting white women for their custom. Then your ad comes out and you have not one, but two white women in your advert (along with a light skinned, possibly mixed race woman), all talking about ‘hair hate’. Talking about how they have so many issues with their hair. What the hell?

The hair issues of women like the ones in your advert (which usually consists of ‘Shall I wear my hair back or loose today?’ or ‘Which shampoo shall I buy from the supermarket out of the hundreds I can use?’) are considerably different to those of black women with thick natural hair, for whom just deciding what to do with their hair is often a struggle. Where were the women with 4a/4b/4c hair? You know- the ones that actually use your products? Most times, they can’t just put it all back in a ponytail. Most times they need a shitload of products to ensure their hair doesn’t dry out an hour after they moisturised it. Most times they do not have the breadth of choice that women with Caucasian hair have when it comes to choosing products because a lot of the mainstream stores do not stock many products for our type of hair. 
Also, when they go to the nearest Boots, Superdrug or supermarket, white women have 1,001 products to choose from because most of the hair products sold are for Caucasian hair. They don’t have to worry and search high and low for a product that works with their hair. They don’t have to go to specific hair stores to buy their items. They don’t have to spend ages everyday sorting or ‘taming’ their hair for fear of their hair (and hair texture) being called ‘unprofessional’ or ‘unsuitable for the workplace’. Even something as simple as hair gel is a problem for women with natural (and relaxed) hair because everyday gels don’t do much. 

As for those who think it’s great that Shea Moisure are being more inclusive and that black women are whining over nothing because apparently that’s what we’re good at… 

You know what happens when a product that was specifically made for black women becomes a product for everybody? Do you know who gets left out? That’s right: black women. The very people who parted with hard-earned cash and through word of mouth made the brand what it is today. But clearly our money and our opinion and our needs don’t mean shit. 

The majority of white women (or those with Caucasian hair) cannot handle Shea butter and certain thick oils in their hair follicles as it’s too heavy. So the product formulas that worked well for the naturalistas will no longer be as effective as they will be diluted (and you can count on that). Because, fuck effectiveness for those that supported you from the start if you can cater for everyone, right?


As you can tell by my writing, I think this entire situation is pure fuckery. The worst thing is that the owners of Shea Moisture were lacking in self-awareness as they didn’t realise there was a problem until they saw the big backlash on social media. They even started their Facebook post with ‘Wow. Okay…’ What were they expecting? Black women to give them a standing ovation? Yet again, we’ve seen black-owned products catering for black-ass people (but not promoting this aspect, funnily enough), but as soon as they get a whiff of mainstream attention or a shout-out in Cosmopolitan or Grazia, they shout from the rooftops that they cater for ‘EVERYONE’. 

Shea Moisture deserve every bit of negative publicity that they get from this. Here’s hoping they learn from this, but I doubt it.

itooamoxford.tumblr.com

I stumbled across this brilliant site today. It’s the British alternative to ‘I Too Am Harvard’ and unfortunately I could relate to many of the ignorant comments which were aimed at these students. It staggers me that certain people still go round- IN 2014!!! -and say ‘Oh, I was pleasantly surprised, you speak really well’ to those who are not of the same hue as them. I mean, what the actual f***? Just…why would anybody say such a thing to another person? Woe betide the dipstick who says that to me one day. As for the hair issue- why do some people think it’s OK for them to touch your hair without asking? Like you are owned by the public and they think, ‘Well, you shouldn’t mind- you should be happy’ because people want to stare goggle-eyed while they stroke your hair like you’re a goat or something.

This happened to me a couple of times when I had natural hair. I’d be having a conversation with someone and suddenly their hands would move towards your head, forcing me to dodge out of their way before asking what they think they’re doing. I find it baffling, for if a white woman who usually sports straight hair turned up one day with curls, most people would tell her that her hair looks lovely/awful and carry on. They wouldn’t paw at her hair like she’s an animal. But even though more black women are now wearing their hair in unrelaxed form, some people still think there’s nothing wrong in behaving this way. 

That said, ignorance runs both ways. Years ago, an ex-colleague (who was black) once said to me that I sounded ‘Caucasian’ because of the way I spoke. Not quite sure how she expected me to sound considering I was born and raised in London my whole life. Maybe she thought I should have a transatlantic twang to my accent or that I should sound ‘more black’, a phrase that I despise. 

Anyway, ranting over- have a look at this site and you’ll also laugh and shake your head in equal measure.