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December 2012

White Women In Black Natural Hair Spaces

White women entering, crowding or controlling natural hair web spaces for Black women is unacceptable to me. I know that White women will do this for any space specifically designated (even if not rigidly designated) for Black women, as many follow my blog Gradient Lair despite my blog’s header, google description, biography and read before following statement mentioning Black women. This, however, doesn’t bother me, as long as the White women who come here are not racist (I’ve had to BLOCK some), are not expecting me to cater to their desires (I’ve had to inform some that uh, no, this is neither The New York Times [I owe NOTHING as far as “equal” representation goes since it does NOT exist for Black women in the mainstream media in the first place] nor Burger King; you won’t be having it your way), or do not plagiarize (I’ve had to BLOCK some who refuse to reblog [which is fine] but rather steal my essays and paste them into a new window [which is not fine]; very common, whether it’s essays or even tweets). Ultimately, anyone can come here, as long as they know what’s the deal. My blog has a natural hair tag, but is not specifically a natural hair blog or forum.

However, entering natural hair spaces where White women are controlling the conversations, where Black women are altering what and how they talk about certain topics so that White women feel included and/or where Black women are sharing specific experiences unique to us, and then White women are responding with insensitive or inapplicable comments irritates me.

I turn on my television and I cannot watch a show without 8-10 commercial breaks slathered with White women’s hair products or as the sole faces of “beauty” 99% of the time. I go to stores and while some companies are repackaging their Black perm products as natural hair products (after these companies saw a 17% decline in sales of perm products in 2010 due to the recession and the new natural hair movement, simultaneously) to give the illusion that there are bountiful products available for Black natural hair, the reality is that the majority of products for hair and beauty in these stores are created for White women or with them in mind as the prime and target customer, even if others do happen to purchase anything. Magazine ads. Billboards. Print ads. Mail circulars. Most fashion websites. The sheer number of salons for them. Google the word “beauty” and see what happens. I could go on and on. (Even in Peggy McIntosh’s seminal essay on White privilege she mentioned White privilege and hair.)

My point is, after all of what I listed above, I can’t go to a simple website and talk about my hair, (the least beloved even among the natural hair world; called 4c in texture; ah…the texture chart which on the surface is a way to sort which products to use by what texture, but beneath the surface is either an inadvertent or purposeful [depending on who is discussing it] elaborate brown paper bag test) without censoring my own words or navigating around White women? Does everything have to be about “curls,” not Black women with natural hair (which is not just curls) so that White women can feel included? It’s unreasonable for me to want to visit a web space in the hugeness that is the Internet and it be solely for Black women?

I am perplexed by their need to feel included in natural hair spaces because this type of need is usually based on being excluded elsewhere. And, where exactly are White women excluded in the realm of hair and beauty when the entire thing is created and maintained by upholding Eurocentric beauty myths in general? Sure, some will say “I am not thin, with blonde hair or blue eyes” which may be true, but it does NOT mean their experiences with beauty or hair then becomes similar to Black womens’ (just examine the history for this to be revealed), especially ones like me who do not have one of the preferred natural hair types and who can’t make my entire hair experience about curls or length. (Eurocentric beauty norms are not as rigid as blonde hair and blue eyes, though that is hoisted as ideal. It creates a hierarchy where everyone and anyone places above Black women with dark skin or coarse hair, even other “women of colour.”)

Now, there are some Black women who want White women in these natural hair spaces. That’s fine. I do not. Thus, I avoid those spaces that seek to cater to them. I don’t view White entry, acceptance or approval of anything that I do as proof of the value of what I have done. Further, some Black women want natural hair to be as apolitical as possible. This is also fine, but very challenging to do in a society where our entire existence is politicized as women, as Black people, as Black women and then based on our sexuality, class, educational level, complexion, hair type, hair length and weight. Whether a Black woman goes natural for the most superficial reason (it looks cool, it’s popular now) for a middle reason (avoiding chemicals, a new experience, approaching a healthier life) or traditionally political reasons (rejecting Eurocentric ideals of hair and beauty, reclaiming dominion over one’s body and how beauty is approached), there is an inherent politicization in this change and ignoring that so that Whites will feel comfortable is not something Black women should even have to do. We’ve spent centuries trying to make these people comfortable, primarily because our lives depended on it. But in a natural hair and beauty chat space/forum/blog in 2012? No. Our lives do not depend on it.

Ultimately, it’s the web and people can do whatever they choose. The White gaze will always be hoisted on Black women. I see that with my blog here, and anything I do in virtual or actual space. I get that. Still, I simply am not interested in that gaze becoming conversation or debate about my hair with White women in spaces unlike my blog, and specifically about natural hair. I am not interested in having phony cumbaya moments about about beauty with White women who are still hoisted as the standard of beauty.

My connection to the natural hair community has always been at a slight distance because of both interracial and intraracial factors. I do, however, admire the courage, the hair style versatility, the information being added to the body of knowledge on natural hair and as a photographer myself, I love love love the photographs of natural hair styles, some of which I blog/reblog here. I love seeing Black women happy about the change and utilizing knowledge of everything from HD dSLR filmmaking and photography to biology, chemistry, nutrition and more within this community.

Otherwise, until it’s acceptable to have real sociopolitical conversations on this topic (as well as colourism, hair hierarchies etc.), I guess looking at/reblogging hairdos and doing my own hair is about it for me. As for any part of my experience with natural hair being presented in a way that pleases White women or makes them comfortable, I just remind them, as usual, it’s really not about you right now boo. Kthanxbai.

(Yes, I am fully aware of White women with biracial children [who identify as Black] who are hunting hair tips and White women who only adopt Black and other similar situations; I am not discussing these women at the moment. However, after having an insensitive, annoying White woman recently say to me "well I’ve ALWAYS been natural," I knew I had to discuss this topic.)

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