Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I Am/ Am Not My Hair by Donisha Adams

Hair texture and hairstyles have been complex issues in the African American community. Some of us prefer to straighten our hair, while others prefer to “go natural.” No one is right or wrong, but the causes for these modifications may be deeply rooted in American society and socialization theories.

American society is driven by white standards of beauty—that blond hair, blue eyed and model-thin look. Media perpetuates this ideology in movies, television shows and books. They teach us that there is only one way to look, well if you want to be successful anyway.

Braids, cornrows and dreadlocks symbolize our culture—where we have come from and where we have yet to go. They are a link to our ancestors and they pay honor to creativity and originality.

I wear long, flowing braids because they are beautiful and they allow me to pay homage to tradition. I cherish my badge of individuality, knowing that my braids may look odd to some people. However, I know that people judge me by my braids.

Growing up in Washington, DC, most of the girls that I knew had braids of all different shapes, sizes and colors. If I had some nice braids, people in my community would be sure to let me know. On the other hand, if I had too much “new growth” I would be told to get a “touchup” immediately. This is how things are. This was how things were—that is until I decided to go to predominantly white college in Pennsylvania.

“How do you get your hair like that?” “Does it hurt?” I heard all of these comments and more, on the day-to-day basis. While some comments were positive, some of them hurt.

The hair debate is very heated when it comes to the professional world, especially a career in journalism. For instance, I have been told many times that I should not wear braids to an interview, because it is not professional. People tell me: “It is better to straighten your hair and tie it back.” What is really being said is that white employers (and some black employers) will be less likely to hire me if I have braids.

Why is this? Do braids symbolize how smart I am? People might look at my braids and see all of the ethnic stereotypes—loud, uneducated ghetto girl, because that is what they see on television.

However, I am ME-the smart, funny, beautiful and polite young woman who likes to wear her hair in braids. I am just as qualified as the next person so check my resume before you look at my braids.


Diva Lyd said...

Being reared in a rural town in the south during the 80s and 90s, I definitely can sympathize with you. Limited perspectives of hair and culture leads to a limited vision of what is accecptable or unaccecptable or as my grandmother would preach -proper etiquette and improper etiquette. Now that I have moved to a major city in the south and work as an educator with a new generation of students who feel free to wear their hair in multiple styles regardless of what others think of them or their heritage; I have begun to think that maybe the generation of the 20 and 30 somethings just need a little more time to grow within our professions and be in leadership positions so that we can accept different hair styles that challenge the norm as "professional." Waiting for things to change should never be a viable solution; however, it seems to be the only choice we have in this matter as well as many others. ~Lydia

Anonymous said...

How should I feel as a man who likes long hair? Short haired women are just unattractive to me. Does that mean I have to go out on dates with them or that I am a bad person for not wanting to? It's hard for brothers!

Anonymous said...

Obviously you missed the whole point of the article, "I Am Not My Hair" which was taken from the song by Idia.Arie. The whole point, my brother, is to realize that yes long hair may be attractive to you, but black women (or people in general) are so much more than hair. Hair, the non living fibrous strands that emmerse from the cerebrum in your scalp, is one of those physical features that shouldn't be top priority when compatibilty, dating, or rendering a job is concerened. Now, granted physical attraction is the spark that gets us interested in someone, but long hair or any other physcial feature should not prevent you from meeting or dating some one; that would be shallow or inmature. Why are you asking how you should feel about what attracts you individually anyway? If that's what you like, then don't be so flimsy about your stance. So then the question becomes, what cultural experiences (or lack of) have you encountered to elicit such confusion from you about the length of a woman's hair and her date-ability? Yes, it is hard for brothers and sisters who are misinformed about what they really want when dating.~Lydia