Melissa Harris-Perry, Curly Nikki, and Nicole Ari Parker Get Down To The Big Business of Natural Hair

June 11, 2012  |  

If you haven’t had a chance to check out Melissa Harris Perry’s weekend show on MSNBC you really should because she’s putting the issues of the black community, and black women in particular, on the map in a major way.

This Sunday, the Princeton professor invited actress Nicole Ari Parker, Curly Nikki blogger Nikki Walton, University of Pennsylvania professor Anthea Butler, and cultural critic Joan Morgan to have a candid discussion about the natural hair boom, which has sent relaxer sales on the decline since 2007. The women also talked about why black hair in general is a $185 billion business and I love that Nicole Ari Parker laid the truth behind that figure right out on the line.

“What’s so interesting about that,” she said, is “with all of the politics and all the emotional health issues, and us loving ourselves, we’re vain. We want to look good.

“Nobody is talking about that. We even judge each other. We were just talking about Solange being upset on twitter because there is still this thing about getting your hair done—whether it’s an afro, twists, braids, relaxers—everyone wants their hair done, so she embraces just get up and go, and she’s beautiful.”

Beyond that understandable economic growth, the women also delve into the other economic side of black hair and the radical idea of people robbing hair stores to steal hair that actually came from someone else’s head to put on another person’s and what kind of mentality and, frankly, addiction and issues of acceptance spark that sort of behavior.

It was a really interesting two-part discussion that you can see unfold in the clips below. Check out the dialogue and Nicole Ari Parker’s comments on the reactions she received from men once she went natural and how she actually got more attention when she let the perms go (not that she’s not already happily taken).

What do you think about the segment> Have any of you had a similar experience?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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  • Cyndee

    If you are fortunate enough to have hair enjoy it and take care of it however you choose to wear it.

  • Cyndee

    If you are fortunate enough to have hair enjoy it and take care of it however you choose to wear it.

  • Cyndee

    If you are fortunate enough to have hair enjoy it and take care of it however you choose to wear it.

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  • Love it Straight and Relaxed

    I love my people, but damn if we don’t make a big deal out of nothing. First, the natural hair care industry isn’t a “conspiracy” to snatch dollars out of our hands, it’s a legitimate, viable NEEDED industry, and talented people can make good money. As more sistas transition from relaxers to natural hair, they will need professionals to style and maintain their hair. As a woman who has transitioned four times in her lifetime, I know that caring for and styling relaxed hair is vastly different from caring for and styling natural hair. There is nothing wrong with African Americans making money in the black hair care industry. Again, it’s a legitimate, needed industry. The way people are posting here, you’d think we were talking about crack. Lighten up and let sistas and brothas do their thing and prosper.

  • mhpmhp66

    I’ve seen so many beautiful women who have chosen to wear their hair naturally – long or short. The results are not only feminine and appealing, but they also give the appearance of freedom! As much as I love your look, I wondered, have you thought of going “natural”? We’d have an all new Melissa, and Melissa’d have an stunning new look. Are you thinking about it???

  • simitimi

    Yawn. This discussion is as old as Methuselah and is BORING as all hell. There are bigger and better things to focus on besides HAIR. We need to PROGRESS.

  • dance

    everyone’s experience with wearing their hair natural is different….i spent most of my life being unaccepted by black people when i had my hair natural

  • Ha! Now thats post racial America…white daddy doing black baby’s hair…

  • Sister Locked since 2004 ~ I am more amazed at the commentary than the article. One in particular that says that this topic “divides our community into #Teams” and others that wonder if this is all we are? Hair, black hair in particular is a multi billion dollar industry. Cosmetics, health & beauty, and Fashion rule almost every aspect of the world as we know it. What would you have us speak on? Revlon, Isoplus, Johnson & Johnson, Dark & Lovely sponsor colleges, charities, and foundations. And somewhere there is a little black girl swinging a towel on her head trying to pretend that she is white because she does not like her hair. Or a high school student who wants to know if she can wear her natural hair to a college interview. Or a college student who wants to know if she can wear her dreads to her first job interview. Or that brother who is looking for that extra bit of confidence in the corporate arena and needs to know that he is not alone in wearing his lockes. So yes, we do need to talk, and talk, and talk, and keep talking about this because, no, we have not moved on just yet. But it’s OK that you have. You blaze that trail for the rest of us and we will look to you. We need more trailblazers. You go girls!

  • sammi_lu

    Do with your hair what makes you feel most confident and and beautiful..I joked with my friend the other day about her head detective position in the NHPD (Natural Hair Police Department) when she wouldn’t get off my case after busting me for creamy crack possession. It’s a constant topic that feels force fed, I get it she’s happy to be nappy and.. that her hair aint stressed it don’t need to be relaxed-but please respect my right and don’t knock my hair game.

  • awet

    Refreshing! I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of watching women who look like me have an educated discussion on t.v.

  • Lovingmyhair

    Although I never chemically straightened my hair, I do have what may be called “relaxed” hair. I was always confused as to what I would be categorized since I don’t do weaves, chemicals, or curly. Although I am not team natural, I take very good care of my hair and so does my stylist. I believe if a person, whether natural or relaxed, has a good stylist that focuses on the health of your hair, the hair would not become such a problem. Knowing what is best for your hair and what works for it is what is going to keep your hair healthy. I believe that natural hair is beautiful, I just hate maintaining mines. Which is the opposite for my mother who loves her natural, short do and wishes I would go the same route.

    • Anon

      but you kind of are “team natural” if your hair is not chemically treated to be straight…. lol There’s plenty of naturals that keep their hair pressed…. that doesn’t make them any less natural but it doesn’t mean they’re shouting from the mountain tops about the wonders of natural hair either…. natural just means not chemically treated to be straight.


    Although I am natural, I have been for the 7 months now and I love it! I have never been into weaves, because for me, it was always so expensive. You gotta buy the hair, then pay someone to put it in….(years ago, not many women were doing their own weaves). I also think weaves are addictive in a sense. Once some women get used to the thickness, lenth, colors, textures of weaves, most continue to wear them, which is okay, but just not for me.

  • Anonns

    Let’s focus on the beauty of our hair, we can do so many styles with it. It’s so much deeper than natural vs relaxed vs weave vs straight, the question is what is the most healthy way to keep my hair. I’ve always been natural, and my sister relaxes/wears weaves all the time. She complains about how unhealthy her hair is, and I believe if she stops all the things she’s doing with it, let it breathe, maybe it will start being normal again. Nothing wrong with changing your hairstyle once in a while, throw in some weave or wig. But, don’t be enslave to it. You can’t exercise, you can’t go running, you can’t do several things because you are too concerned about your weave, let it go. It makes sense that the most healthy way to keep your hair is leaving it in its natural state without messing with it.

  • freebee33

    This topic is getting old, and I feel like it’s just another way of dividing our community, with people touting #Team Natural or #Team Relaxed. No wonder Solo is tired of answering questions about her hair. Is that all we are? I will continue to do with my hair what I please, while respecting the decision for others to do with their hair what they please, it is all beautiful. Natural, relaxed, weaved, wigged, pressed, fried, dyed & laid to the side, whatever! Can we please move on from this topic already?

    • fitnessforlife

      It’s another way to manipulate, put up a facade (an image) and profit from the community.

    • fitnessforlife

      The natural hair interest is another way to way to bank off the the black community.

      • I hope you are still following this thread because I would truly like to know more about what you meant by your comment. Maybe I’m not very imaginative but I can’t imagine how anyone could “bank” off my natural hair. I do my hair myself and use natural food grade products that are already in my kitchen like aloe, lemon juice, honey, and olive oil.

    • tam

      What’s the matter? have a bad weave.


    • Isis sun

      I so agree with you.

  • fitnessforlife

    They’re right this industry is big business, particularly for the 3 women speaking.

  • fitnessforlife

    We’re vain? We’re just as vain, or not, as any other race – absurd.

  • One word Beautiful. The natural hair boom has become bigger than what most people expected. We as naturals need to give special thanx to the online social media( Blogs YOUTUBE, and social networking sites) For putting a lot of people on to natural hair because the mainstream media is just starting to show the silent switch amongst black women from relax to natural hair. I also notice that without all those online social sites natural hair wouldnt have a lot of younger naturals. Now I think its time for more black hair salons to know how to do natural hair.

  • SSmith

    If relaxers were just now, today, being evaluated by the FDA it would not be approved for use on humans. Sad but true.

  • NoMatter

    Love this! More importantly, I love that we have the option to go from completely curly to completely straight if we choose. It’s about what YOU feel comfortable and confident in. SN: Nicole is right though, we have to get our behinds out there and walk, run or bikeride no matter how we choose to wear our hair. Fresh air is good for the mind and body.

  • NNNNOOO!!! now im contiplating on if i should keep my hair unrelaxed or go back to the liquid crack…. i mean i was JUST thinking this morning on what to do with my mane…

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  • CA Pullen

    Nicole Ari Parker had a relaxer in her hair? Wow.

    • lol i was shocked that she made the big chop with hers…

      • Rayven

        She looks great with her natural curls popping every where love it!

  • Thisis me

    here we go again…. every hairstyle isn’t for everyone just like people talk down about relaxers people talk down about natural,curly,wavy,poofy,etc. everyone has to be mature enough to accept that not everyone is going to like the way their hair is especially if it’s big and all over. if you don’t want people talking down about the way you wear you hair then why are you doing it to others? or trying to stigmatize them as trying fit in or being lazy because of how they wear their hair? this natural vs relaxed stuff has got to stop

    • Annie

      You know its funy but I have never heard anyone natural put down anyone for relaxing their hair. I just seems that relaxed and weaved heads love to get defensive about hair…..interesting.

      • Thisis me

        not to be rude but did you read your comment before you submitted? why would relaxed and “weave heads” get defensive if they weren’t being put down?

        • angel

          Annies comment made perfect sense. Ive visited articles where naturals are simply talking abt what they like to do with their hair and someone (who wears weave/or relaxes) will come out of nowhere and go on and on abt how thier hair choices dont make them any less black when nobody implied that. Ive even seen “relaxed women” go on natural hair sites and defend thier cause. Like wft?The point is that some ppl will become defensive even when nobody is saying anything negative abt them or even thinking abt them.

          • Thisis me

            and there naturals that do the exact same thing to others saying they’re trying to be european and fit in just because they aren’t natural that’s the whole point of my first comment. the “debating” needs to stop.

            • angel

              Yea…i think its because of all of the good hair/bad hair talk that has been going on for sooo many years.While i personally dont care if someone perms their hair (i recently colored mine) i AM sick of hearing abt “good hair” talk from black women/men

          • Kelly

            Please. The few articles on this site that discuss how to maintain healthy relax hair always has a few natural hair nazis show up to talk up some ish. I never understand the reason why a natural hair girl feels the need to click on an article on how to maintain relaxed hair when she isn’t rocking it.

            Who cares why someone decides to go natural or how great it makes them feel? I feel great when I just have to put coconut oil on my relaxed hair before I work out. Or that I don’t have to run inside at the sight of rain or as my natural hair friend claims the smell of rain—my relaxed hair takes care of all that for me. I could care less about how natural women wear their hair because it’s not my routine but many of them need to learn to respect people who don’t chose to wear their hair natural.

    • SMHgurl24

      IMO there is no relaxed vs natural debate.. Ppl just want to create pointless drama so this is wut we see when it comes to black hair. Bottom line is ppl are always gonna rep. what they do. Ive seen very healthy relaxed hair so saying one thing is better then another is stupid. Yes there is a lack of education on how to take care of natural hair bt thats quickly changing thanks to the internet

      • I disagree. Obviously I rep what I do as you said because I am a natural hair girl but I feel that I have a qualitative standpoint to say it is better. It is better fiscally because I don’t have to pay money to change the natural texture of my hair and I am now free from the bondage of spending money I didn’t have to portray an image. It is better in the bedroom because I don’t have to say “wait, honey, don’t mess up my hair”. It is better because I can actually work out in the gym instead of fearing messing up my do and looking unprofessional. It is better because since I have gone natural I have learned how to swim; a bona fide black woman “don’t”. It is better because I can actually sleep at night instead of posing on my back of my hands afraid to move at night so I don’t mess up my flawless pixie cut I was paying a stylist twice a week to do. Sure there are some women with very healthy relaxed hair but I’m sure there are some crack heads who defy the laws of nature who amaze doctors with their clean bill of health despite their lifestyle choice. Those “healthy” haired relaxed girls are clearly the exception to the rule and not the rule. No one would willing put such a dangerous collection of chemicals anywhere else on their bodies; why do we willingly put it on our heads so close to our brains? Besides, i reject the pyschological inferiority complex that we inflict on ourselves that we aren’t beautiful unless we conform to a standard of beauty that belongs to the dominant culture. I believe the way The creator made my hair to be hands down better than anything in a box science could offer me.

    • Anon

      I don’t think there is a natural v. relaxed thing going on. But to deny that there are women that have foregone swimming or other activities that would exert enough energy to mess up that $65-$200 weave, or sweat out their freshly done edges, would be a matter of denial. That doesn’t mean the person is lazy but it does show that their concern with vanity has outweighted their concern for health. This also means denying the fact that making your hair look like something it naturally isn’t, takes more effort. Thats just the truth. I’m not saying that those truths makes one type of hair or hairstyle better than the other. What was said and what you heard are two different things. No one said anything negative about women with relaxers or weaves in fact several times they said it was a matter of choice but the women on the show said that natural hair had personally given them more freedom. It seems you were taking their personal statements and assuming they were applying them to everyone.