Why Are Black Women So Touchy About Their Hair?

Black hairWell this is a loaded subject; but I will attempt to tackle it anyway…particularly from a professional perspective.

The picture of me featured on this site is me and my real (relaxed) hair. However for the past 6 months, I’ve been wearing a weave (sorry…no pics of this!). My sisters do my weaves for free, so I’m sort of at their mercy when it comes to their availability to do my hair. So for a few weeks in December, I “wore” (doesn’t that word sound silly? But I don’t know how else to put it!) my own hair — which is a mix of about 2.5 inches of kinky new growth and 3 inches of relaxed ends. Even though I pull my hair back into a bun, you can still tell that my roots are natural since they are so thick and have random curly tendrils floating out from my hairline (I’m not into gel so much…too much buildup).

No one in the office said much once I lost the weave. But after New Year’s a new weave went in and here came the comments. “Oooohhh your hair looks so nice now!”. “Oh wow, I like your hair straight!”. “Oooohhh you got your hair done.” And so on. Yes, I know that the first day back at work, I will invariably have to deal with these annoying comments. But why are they annoying? Isn’t just a harmless comment…and a compliment at that? Why can’t people make a comment on a Black woman’s hair, without them being so ‘touchy’ about it?

Well the answer lies in the fundamental difference between the relationship that Black women have with their hair, and the relationship that non-Black women have with their hair. Since the time we are old enough to have enough hair to go into a barrette, Black women are ingrained with the idea that our hair is something to “be fixed” and controlled. Yes, we all have varying types and textures of hair. But for the majority of us, our hair is not quite ‘wash-n-go’. Rather it must be washed, conditioned, moisturized, straightened/smoothed, and then styled. All of this work — just to approximate the look and behavior of non-African hair. Many of us end up damaging our hair severely while doing this. Going through cycles of having hair, losing or cutting off our hair, and then struggling to grow it again.

And it is a struggle. Just like it is a struggle for a non-English speaker to learn English, much less speak it without an accent. I’m a native English speaker, so I haven’t had to deal with this first-hand. But I can imagine at how touchy it must be for a native-English speaker to ‘compliment’ a non-native English speaker on their English speaking abilities. Yes, there is a way you can do it tactfully…but it is not easy. So why even bother? Just let your impression about their accent go unsaid. That is exactly how I feel about the transformations my hair goes through!

Non-Black women do a lot of things to their hair as well (cutting, dying, etc.), but the transition from one state to another (blonde to red, straight to curly perm) is not as ‘miraculous’…or I would say ‘extreme’ as it is with Black women. I distinctly remember when I was in my early 20s (& growing out my hair for dreadlocks) when me and the guy that I was dating at the time were watching  the movie Rockers. The main female character in the movie wore cornrows throughout the entire film except for one scene near the end where she wore her hair out in a short afro. Well my White boyfriend actually said out loud – “Wow, why is her hair so short now? I thought with all those braids, it would have been longer.” {Sigh} Was this offensive? No not really. But I also didn’t feel like explaining that Black hair is like cotton…when you braid or weave it…it stretches the hair out closer to its actual length. But when left alone and free, it coils up with the length being consumed into tufts of hair. So when non-Black people act so surprised over the ‘drastic transformations’ of our hair — what they are really doing is proclaiming their ignorance of our African-type hair.

But I do not expect non-Black people to be experts in my hair. Quite contrary. Just like I have no desire for my boyfriend to become an expert in tampons and maxi pads. Just recognize that my hair is different from yours…and give me my space.

So feel free to compliment me on my clothes, my make-up and even my accessories. But when it comes to my hair, you can say your compliments, but they are unlikely to be received by me as such.