Snip, snip h*e
Not only do Black Lives Matter, but Black hair matters too. At a time when representation has become a national conversation, especially following incidents like the KTVU coverage of Nia Wilson's murder, this statement becomes necessary.
Today, Netflix is shining light on this narrative in their film "Nappily Ever After" starring Sanaa Lathan and directed by Haifaa al-Mansour. Really, there’s a market for this kind of narrative because it is a prevalent issue in the Black women’s community.
This conversation about Black hair can be investigated from a more focused lens: a Black woman's haircut. The first time I officially cut my hair (I say “officially” because I had *unsuccessfully* clipped my ends a few times before) was around the beginning of last year. As I sat in that barber's chair, I heard one thing in my head: "Snip, snip, h*e.”
After cutting my hair, my initial thought was: I’m free. For a long time, my hair was something that I struggled with accepting. This insecurity is something that many Black women experience and I felt it was so important to talk about that I made it a theme in my first two novels. To reiterate, this series is about a Black woman who had hair insecurities, so she started “Mo’s Mix,” a haircare business to not only help herself but other Black women in our journey toward self-acceptance.
As I formulated my thoughts on feminism, womanhood, and autonomy, I realized that there is a need for Black feminism and womanism. For a while, I struggled with calling myself a feminist because it is stigmatized for many reasons. Now, I don’t have so much trouble with it.
I think that feminism is meaningful and necessary, but we also need Black feminism and womanism. The reason Black women need an “autonomous feminist movement,” in the words of Black feminist critic Barbara Smith, is because we have realities that are unique to us, such as our hair.
I remember being in Home Depot last year thinking about this. Other women do not have to struggle to wear their natural hair like we do as Black women. Then, some will weaponize the fact that non-Black hair is often fetishized while Black hair is demonized, unless it is on a non-Black body. In the U.S., Black hair has been demonized, politicized, ostracized, and even criminalized. In Buzzfeed’s long form piece about Black hair through the ages, they discussed “tignon laws,” which required Black women to cover up their hair.
These laws were an example of the systemic racism and misogynoir that fed into stigmas about Black hair. So, when a non-Black person (or even a Black person) says we’re “overreacting” or it relates to “personal experiences,” remind them of the institutionalized racism and sexism that has led to stigmas on Black hair. Some might say “that’s in the past” or “that was so long ago.”
However, my mom and aunt, who attended a Catholic school, were not allowed to wear braids to grade school. They would have been in school in the 70s and 80s, so it was not a long time ago. As another example, let me draw your attention to an even more recent incident in Louisiana.
Last month, as in a few weeks ago, rapper Tokyo Vanity posted a video of her niece who was crying because she was sent home from Christ The King School in Gretna, Louisiana for violating the school's "natural hair policy," whatever that means. Vanity's niece was suspended for wearing hair extensions, which is a protective style for Black hair.
This goes to show that our natural styles and our natural Black hair is considered unkempt, or messy, or unprofessional, and I, for one, am tired of that narrative. People (ignorantly) think Black hair is less worthy of appreciation because it belongs to us and it can be imitated but never replicated. Sadly, though, it does not end with just stigmatizing hair texture; hair length is also a factor in denigration.
Snip, Snip, H*e.
Last week, I reported a tweet from a Hispanic woman who called Black women “bald” and said she was going to take our men. Her ignorant comment relates to my earlier point about non-Black women weaponizing harmful, gross stereotypes. This is why some Black women have trouble allying with other “women of color,” and I don’t blame them. The prevalence of anti-Blackness is not limited to white individuals.
However, I do not want to dwell on that point. I want to talk about the implications of her words. Firstly, Black women are not all bald. Secondly, being bald is not a bad thing. Thirdly, the fact that she thinks her hair makes her more beautiful is the problem I am trying to address.
Although I’ve reported her, I know from personal experiences that she is not the only one who feels this way, and this bullying is harmful because it feeds into a culture of anti-Blackness and misogynoir. These personal experiences move me to write - not only this blog but also my books. In the opening pages of the book, there is a little girl who says her friends love her because of how long her hair is, and Monique (the protagonist) reminds this young girl that it is not her hair that should define her; rather, it should be the content of her character, as Dr. King would put it.
I made this point because, far too often, society pressures women to look a certain way, which includes having our hair a certain length, and these pressures trickle down to our youth so that our next generation of women carries that insecurity in their hearts. For Black women, who are perceived as “bald,” this insecurity can be increased three-fold. So, cutting your hair as a Black woman thus becomes a revolutionary act.
I was speaking to a classmate about this in August. The question on the table was something to the tune of: why do women cut our hair? My classmate, who isn’t Black, spoke generally about women wanting to feel liberated, but this essay is about Black women. What can cutting our hair symbolize for us?
For me, it signaled a desire for peace. Last April, I cut my hair for the second time because I was in a bad place mentally and I desperately needed a change. Also, I had grown up thinking I was not good enough because my hair was not as long as the white girls, the Hispanic girls, or even fellow Black girls.
After a while, I grew tired of society deciding how long my hair should be or what hairstyles I should wear. To grant myself some form of agency, I cut my hair. When I first cut it, I was nervous, so I only shaved the sides. Most people did not notice until after a while. One peer said she thought I just had my hair pinned up, since it was already short before I cut it.
Yet, when the sides grew back and when I went through that troubling experience, I found myself back in that barber’s chair. Again, I was looking for peace. However, I wanted a drastic change. In addition to shaving my hair to near baldness, I also dyed it pink.
After that situation, I needed a fresh start, and I got it. Then, society got to me again, and I wanted my hair to be longer. So, I stopped cutting it for a while. Instead, I bleached it several times (which probably didn’t help my goal to have length). At a certain point, I realized that cutting my hair could only grant the peace of mind I was already working toward myself.
The third time I cut it, it was not really about finding peace. It was just about having something different. I was bored, and I wanted a new look. I saw a really cute cut on Instagram, so I got that cut, thus becoming the sunflower.
"Sunflower" is a nickname an old friend gave as the blonde started returning to brown. I liked it, so I kept it. Plus, since only the tips of my hair are still blonde, my cut really resembles a sunflower.
Black women’s haircuts can signal some sort of change in our lives. That can be peace, freedom, fun, or any number of things. This is where you come in, dear reader. Rebellious Black woman, how have you created your own nappily ever after? Comment below!
The "Rebellious Woman" blog is a periodic scoop on hair, love, race, politics, and everything in between. Stay tuned for reflections the life of a rebel with a cause!