Dissecting the Black Hair Experience - Part 1: Why we care about Black Hair?
Having really curly hair growing up, and having an Italian mother who didn't have hair like mine, she didn't know how to do anything with my hair other than braid it. It was very difficult for her to comb, especially because I hated it being combed because it hurt, a lot! She didn’t know how to detangle it, she didn’t know what products to use, and we would fight about it often - so then she would just cut it off and I’d have an unruly afro till it grew in! I recall being mistaken for a boy one summer when I was in St Lucia because of my afro, and as a little girl it didn’t feel good.
My mom was not a part of the Black community in Toronto so she didn’t have the resources and she likely felt isolated and uncomfortable with asking my father’s family because they were distant.
Fortunately for me, as I grew up, my best friends were Black girls who would go to salons with their Jamaican and Trini moms on Saturdays and I would tag along. I’d sit under the curler dryer for 2.5 hours because they (Black hairdressers) didn't know how to do my hair either. They tried everything they would do to coarser, tighter Black hair, but my 3B/3C curl pattern was not as common to them. Different texture needed a different approach.
So why do we care so much about this topic?
Because hair is a part of our identity.
From how to do my hair, to who knows how to help me, to who can I ask, is it appropriate to wear it this way, etc etc etc. And that’s from the girl with the “good hair”. Imagine my sisters who had kinkier hair. Luckily they had a plethora of Black hair customs, know-how and history to draw from, but very little acceptance from the wider society and local communities they’re a part of.
We decided it was time to come together for all of you and us included to unpack some of these experiences and share with others what will help us move beyond white European beauty standards and into a modern era of finding beauty in all shades and textures.
Last week I had the pleasure of hosting a roundtable talk with Anita Grant, Simone Wright and Kyera Keene, three ladies with different stories who are all passionate about this topic. We hit on so many gems in our conversation that we’d like to share with you to give you more context and lived experience to better understand why Black hair is such an issue.
We started with an overview of why each of us is so passionate about this topic. And then we got into the real challenges we’ve all faced whether being parents caring for Black hair textures or professionals in the corporate world deciding how authentic to be when wearing our natural Black hair.
Introducing our first guest, Kyera Keene is a musician and creator of Look Don’t Touch hair products.
As a kid my hair wouldn’t grow. I got to college and saw these Black women with gorgeous hair and my hair envy went even deeper.
I took an African American studies class and that is when I had the first realization that I actually think white is right. I knew there were race issues and problems but I never knew that. In that moment, that month I realized this is the way my hair grows out of my head and it's beautiful the way it is. It IS beautiful.
So I thought I can invalidate the heck out of me and all the roots where that comes from or I can be like, man this is who I am, this is what my hair looks like! And that was the end of my hair envy because I saw the length of anxiety and mental anguish.
I started using shea butter on my scalp, and since my dad is aloe vera king, I started using any natural hair product I could get my hands on. Anything that was natural I started experimenting on my hair, and in my mid twenties I started getting some length to my hair. Since my late twenties I’ve been known to have beautiful hair!
You know how in life you have a problem and then you solve the problem and then you’re like 'I can’t believe that was a problem before'. Well that’s kind of how it was with my hair.
I literally communicate with my hair, I talk to my hair, I touch my hair, I acknowledge the heck out of my hair. I believe there are three aspects to hair care. There’s 1. finding the best product for your hair, 2. there's the process and the procedure, and then there’s 3.the validation and love.
Our next guest Anita is the author of Hello Hair.
I’m on a mission to support the next generation to embrace their natural hair. An author of hello hair children’s book, features 100 natural hairstyles inspired by 90s iconic black magazines - essence ebony and hype hair. It's an illustrative guide for the next gen to see how diverse and versatile their natural hair is.it shows all the categories and styles for their natural hair - show representation, a way to express themselves and also see themselves in these books.
Simone Wright joined us as well from Parting the Roots.
I’ve been in the corporate world for 20 years and have been natural the entire time, even though my mother advised against it.
I have experienced hair discrimination and macroaggressions in the workplace which led me to start my own community organization 6 years ago called Parting the Roots.
It's a platform I created to talk about the history, the significance and the politics behind Black hair. I do workshops with the school systems, foster care systems and organizations across canada. I really try to provide a level of education for both Black and non Black individuals to be allies with our hair because a lot of the discrimination comes from our own community. Recently I launched my first volume of Black hair affirmation cards - now I’m in the process of producing the cards. It's a 52 card deck of Black hair affirmations to really provide that sense of self love, upliftment, and empowerment. Parents can use these cards with their kids on wash day, any age can use them to feel better about their hair, and non Black folks its an educational tool to understand some of the things Black people go through with their hair.
Tough Convo's goal was to build a safe environment where we could have really difficult discussions in our community with both Black and white folks, and every other colour in between about issues that matter to us, that will bring us closer as allies, and encourage us to build a bigger ally community. This conversation around Black hair is to better understand what's going on in our community, to give others tools to stand up for themselves when being mistreated, and also to create a space to learn from each other's experiences.
Black is not a monolith so it's very important that we hear the stories from our sisters and we don't assume our reality is their reality.
As a result of the discrimination many Black women and men face in the work world, we decided to focus on three main themes including parent's challenges caring for mixed/Black kids hair, Black professionals experiences wearing natural or Black hair styles in the corporate world, and lastly being authentic, confident and looking professional for your specific role with your natural hair.
Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 where we dig deeper into these topics.