Black hair is magical. It defies gravity, dances against the wind and grows high above our heads towards the sun. Its texture takes on multiple life forms. Its tenacity resembles electricity, its strength is akin to tornadoes and its spiral reminds us of whirlwinds. Our hair is so versatile that it’s liable to change weekly for some, and daily for others. Because styling black hair can sometimes prove to be a difficult task, we often have to decide whether or not we’re willing to devote multiple hours to complete a desired style. We have stayed up for many long nights detangling, deep conditioning, twisting and braiding our hair. As you can see, we have an abundance of pride in our curly and unpredictable locks.
While the way our hair looks and feels is normal to us, it is not normal to others, which can be extremely frustrating. Oftentimes people who are of different ethnicities get the urge to touch our hair—we are here to tell you to stop doing that. Our crowns are not a petting zoo. We consider our hair to be extensions of our inner selves, so inherently, we value them significantly. You can look, but don’t stare. You can even ask, but don’t be ignorant, and please understand that we have a multitude of other things to do than explain the mechanics of our hair.
West Chester University is a predominantly white university. The black population only makes up about 10 percent of the student body. Both of the authors of this article are young black women with two vastly different hair textures, but we have had similar experiences revolving around our hair on this campus. As you can imagine, both of us have a plethora of stories to tell. In this article, we both talk about choosing our struggles on West Chester’s campus—whether it be a hairstyle or conversation regarding black hair.
Milan: My hair has changed so much since I’ve been a student here. I came as a freshmen sporting box braids; sophomore year, Marley Twists; junior year, my natural hair. I was practically bald for a year–partly by choice, partly due to necessity. My hair grew back bigger, curlier and longer about a year and a half later and I’m so grateful for that. I proudly wear my hair in all its forms. However, attending this predominantly white institution has made me consider a few things before choosing a style—and no, it was not a matter of, “Is this the best fit for me?”
I have to take many things into consideration before I can be treated at the Health Center, because I will be subjected to a few ignorant “screening” questions regarding my back-length box braids. For example, “How are those attached to your head? Because they can’t possibly be all yours!,” the nurse asked as she reached out for a braid to examine. I had strep throat but I guess my diagnosis wasn’t as important as the authenticity of my hair.
It doesn’t end there. I have to contemplate whether or not my afro is professional enough for this presentation I have to give in a group of all white students that are part of an overwhelmingly white class. I don’t want to risk looking undone, sloppy or unprofessional in the eyes of those with sleek, tangle-free locks and fair skin. I’m already a grain of pepper in a sea of salt—I stand out immediately.
My hair gives off messages to those who see it. Some believe my hair is communicating a need for the touch of a stranger. Some see my hair as a wall that is blocking avenues of communication. My black hair is an extension of me, growing in all directions. My hard work and commitment is in it. My self-love is in it. My culture is in it. My hair has no room for trivial questions and strangers’ hands. As a public service announcement, if you’re thinking about touching my hair or asking a dumb, most likely rude, question about my hair… don’t.
Danaé: The stigma associated with black hair is not one that is favorable and the discrimination against and fascination with black hair is at an all-time high. Black hair is not considered professional in most establishments, which creates a struggle for people like myself, who prefer to wear natural styles in order to prevent heat damage and over-processed hair.
The issue of hair discrimination is not unique to mainstream society. In fact, in the black community, the idea of “good hair versus bad hair” was very prevalent up until very recently. To provide further context, good hair is hair that’s typically loose, wavy, silky and has very defined curls. On the contrary, bad hair is thick, has very tight curls and can be hard to manage. My hair is the latter. Because the concept of good hair versus bad hair is something that I’ve heard throughout my entire life, it took me quite some time to be able to accept and appreciate my hair for what it was. I hated when people brought up how much hair I had, and hated it even more when they told me how thick it was.
Growing up in a predominantly white area, I was often surrounded by white girls whose hair I’d thought I wanted. Because of this, my struggle with self-acceptance was prolonged and exceedingly difficult. Like most black girls who grow up in the suburbs, I turned to over-straightening and perming my hair to the point where it was dry, dead and dull. It wasn’t until about 2013 when I learned to love my hair. 2013 is when black women really started to wear natural styles and embrace their curls, which I did too. However, I was still unsatisfied with my hair curly and eventually decided to perm/dye it. Both of these products together contributed to the over-processing of my hair, thus making it fall out. I was devastated.
The process of growing my hair back and making sure it was healthy was trying, but definitely worth it.
During that time, I learned so much about my hair, and fell in love with it. My hair is an extension of myself and it shows. I like educating others, so while I personally do not mind questions about my hair from people whose hair is not like mine, please don’t be purposely ignorant. Working in white establishments has been very interesting, and I’m almost amused by the looks of confusion on their faces as they tell me they “like” what I’ve done with my hair. That being said, please don’t comment or stare any time I have a new hairstyle. And lastly, please don’t touch my hair.
Danaé Reid is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in African American studies. ✉ DR822867@wcupa.edu.
Milan White is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies. ✉ MW851258@wcupa.edu.