Serious Question: Can White Women Be #TeamNatural?

July 2, 2014  |  

As if there isn’t enough debate when it comes to Black hair — particularly natural versus permed hair — a new element has been added to the discussion: white women being heralded as #TeamNatural.

The issue arose late last week when a White hair and beauty blogger, Waterlily716, was featured on CurlyKikki last week proclaiming, “There’s something very freeing about accepting your natural hair.” Waterlily, real name Sarah, has apparently been “natural” all her life but only recently started wearing her hair out (as opposed to in buns and ponytails), which is why she started her vlog to teach other women like her how to manage their curls.

The key phrase there might be “like her,” as Sarah and her 3a and 3b curls which she prefers to style via a wash n’ go don’t exactly represent the ideal behind the natural hair movement that has been growing in numbers in recent years, which is to celebrate kinky, koily hair that is so often labeled as needing to be tamed and encourage healthy, chemical-free hair. Sarah may know a little something about the latter, but it’d be hard to believe she’s ever been directly or indirectly oppressed for her hair texture — a tale far too many Black women can tell — hence the uproar over here feature.

Six hundred comments and running are currently debating the necessity of a white woman being highlighted for her curls, which, for some, reignites the pink elephant in the natural hair room, which is the preferential bias toward even natural-haired women with longer hair and looser curls. As Ebony Senior Editor Jamilah Lemieux wrote:

I’ve been surprised and disappointed to see how much of the natural hair movement has centered on “curly” hair, when that isn’t hardly the most common hair type among our people. Until recently, due largely to the efforts of bloggers/vloggers like Jouelzy and the team at 4C Hair Chick, who have taken up the charge of highlighting kinkier hair textures, there has been too much visual representation of sisters who have what has been described as “multicultural hair.” No shade to biracial women or those of us who get asked “What are you mixed with?” because of their hair texture, but the natural hair movement is at its most powerful when it encourages sisters to celebrate all our biologically-determined hair textures, not just the ones seen in rap videos.

To be fair to Walton, her site is not about Black hair or Black power. The “About” page states “CurlyNikki.com was created to serve as an online ‘hair therapy session’ for those struggling to embrace their naturally curly hair.” Her mission is clear: affirming those who wish to embrace a certain hair texture. But I think it’s worth considering what sort of precedent could be set here if more bloggers embrace an inclusive approach to natural hair.

In other words, there are plenty of places for White women to be uplifted and validated so is it really necessary we push diversity and inclusiveness as if we’ve forgotten the natural hair movement and such platforms that celebrate it were created for Black women to have a safe space to discuss and triumph over deeply-rooted hair issues White women could possibly never understand?

Seeing the backlash, Sarah wrote a rather lengthy response addressing the criticisms of her post, noting:

I’m not denying my privilege. And I’m not trying to upstage other women’s struggles, or erase the connotations of the natural hair movement with African American women.It ‘s horrible that little girls are suspended from school because of their hairstyle; it’s awful to think that women are told their natural hair is not professional. The military shouldn’t have a place in telling women that styles like braids and locs are not permitted. These things all happened, but it doesn’t mean other women of other races don’t struggle because of their hair as well.

But I’ve been calling my hair natural for years. Lots of girls of different races who have looser textures struggle with accepting their natural hair as well. My story is not a story of a large struggle, and I tried not to paint it that way, but I have subscribers who come to me after they’ve relaxed or straightened their hair for years! It’s just as life-changing and uplifting when those girls learn to embrace their natural hair… To me natural hair is about hair, not race or texture. I understand that natural hair is often associated with black women, but other women have a claim to the term as well. The term is not specific to any race.

While Sarah is right about the term and there are no doubt plenty of women who benefit from her advice, the fact that her story is not a story of a larger struggle implies her story isn’t our story. In the same way Black feminists had to break off from the larger feminist movement because their struggles weren’t quite like ours, the term natural hair may belong to everyone, but there’s a bigger cause behind #TeamNatural and the Black women who rep it.

What do you say? Can White women be #TeamNatural?

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