“Hair Story” Authors Talk Our Obsession With Black Hair, Respectability & Natural Hair Nazis
MN: What do you all make of the Natural Hair Movement?
Ayana: Lori and I have both been natural for a really long time. Since I was 18, so that was 22 years ago. I was in New York and I was in college and the only other person I saw with natural hair was my roommate. She was actually a big motivator for why I decided to go natural. I looked at her every single day and I thought she looked great and I liked her hair and I saw that it took her way less time to get out of the dorm than it took for me. So I thought ok I’m going to do this. And that was it. I have a very different texture than her so the products that she used didn’t necessarily work for my hair. And then if I decided to grow it a little longer, I had absolutely no idea what to do with it. There was no information and I spent a lot of money at the drug store buying things hoping it worked and I also did not see any visual representation of what I looked like unless I was looking at my roommate or Roshumba when she was a model and had natural hair. It’s crazy that I can remember the two places where I saw someone who looked like me. And I think what’s amazing about the natural hair movement is that it really wipes out the two things that I struggled with, which is where to find information about what to do with your hair and at the same time where to see what you look like reflected back at you on someone else. Just to say ‘oh that’s great, oh that’s beautiful, ‘oh I’m not alone.’
MN: What do you think about the term “Natural Hair Nazis”?
Ayana: First of all that’s an ignorant phrase. People have been going around talking crazily about natural hair for so many years and now that there’s actually this really unified, popular, well populated grouping of people who are online who can respond to some of those attacks and show that they’re not just one cranky person but they are actually a lot of people who hold that opinion. I think that’s just making the people who’ve gotten away with talking about natural hair with no pushback sort of angry. And you know people like alliteration so “natural nazi” sounds cute and it sounds mean and it sounds like the person at fault is the one standing up for themselves or natural hair textures. I just think it’s mean spirited.
Lori: It seems completely paradoxical that a movement…If we’re calling it a movement, it’s because there’s actually a community around it. It’s not just about people trying out new hairstyles. It’s about claiming our beauty as God created us. We’re saying that we’re going to embrace our beauty and not going to conform what was previously declared as the only way to be a black girl and be pretty. That being said, for a lot of women, it is just a style trend. And that’s when it gets confusing. This policing of can you be part of the group if you are natural but you wear a weave or if you are natural but you wear a press and curl. How do we even define natural?
Ayana and I wrote this book so that people could make this book so people could make style choices devoid of self confidence issues and historical precedence. So that people could say, I want to wear my hair like this because I want to, not because white people won’t find me attractive or acceptable or that black men won’t find me attractive or acceptable. The idea of people within the movement policing, saying ‘well that’s acceptable and that’s not.’ It just goes against this idea of we are trying to work towards freedom of wearing our hair however we want to. I am free from expectations of what’s acceptable and I’m wearing my hair this way because I choose to.
I think anybody who uses the word nazi is just wrong. I think they should be called missionaries because they have the zeal of a missionary and they want to spread the gospel truth and if you’re a heretic because you’ve permed your hair they’re going to come down on you with the holy fever. And I understand it because I know when you feel like you know the truth– and the truth is an afro or natural hair–you feel like that’s the only way to go. And I think like every movement in a few years people will relax, no pun intended, their requirements of what it means to be part of this movement. Because who holds the true definition of natural? When you can be natural and wear a weave, you can be natural and color your hair which is chemicals. You can be natural and have your hair straightened with a flat iron. And you don’t look natural, but you are. And that’s the problem, natural black hair is hard to define in the first place. Which is why I think this policing by these natural hair zealots is misguided.
MN: Any last thoughts you’d like to share?
Ayana: Lori and I are excited about a lot of things with the book coming back out. But I think one of the things we’re most excited about is Melissa Harris Perry’s contribution to it. The fact that someone who’s seen on national television and has got the platform that she has would have taken the time to do the foreword for our book and to really encapsulate so many of the personal and larger political issues in the pages… It was so exciting for us to see what she produced for the foreword. I just love what she’s saying and that it’s the first thing that you read.