Lifestyle: Hair texture discrimination, is it really a thing? – By Akola Thompson

Akola Thompson – November 1, 2021 – Caribbean Loop News

It’s just hair – this is a common admonition that Black women have become accustomed to over the years whenever they have brought up the issue of afro-textured hair discrimination.

This belief that hair is inconsequential to life experiences persists despite it being directly related to a history centred on systemic racism. To challenge this narrative and promote equity, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Legal Defense and Educational Fund has worked to end race-based hair discrimination. This work is aimed at combatting the harmful impacts it has on Black youths and adults in educational, professional and other social spaces.         

While racism within Western countries might seem very black and white when compared to Caribbean states, many often make the mistake of believing that similar issues do not plague the Caribbean. In countries such as Guyana, ethnicity and class are connected with social status and within this dynamic also lays considerations such as colourism and ‘hair texturism.’ Margo Cheddie, Owner of Au Naturale, a natural hair salon, stated that textured hair is often labelled as being dirty, nappy and unkempt, which stigmatizes persons with these hair textures and contributes towards a cycle of them disliking and not knowing how to care for their hair.

“Policies that prohibit natural hairstyles, like Afros, braids, Bantu knots, and locs, have been used to justify the removal of Black children from classrooms and Black adults from their employment. With no nationwide legal protections against hair discrimination, Black people are often left to risk facing consequences at school or work for their natural hair or invest time and money to conform to Eurocentric professionalism and beauty standards,” said Margo.

While the natural hair movement is often touted, as being inclusive, there still remains a lot of stigma against 4C hair that tends to be very closely coiled than others. This has resulted in many women with 4C hair feeling excluded from the movement despite the fact that it was initiated specifically for them. This shift from 4C hair towards looser curls said designer Godlyn Lyte is not surprising as looser curls have always been more culturally acceptable than 4C hair.

“Up until 2013-2016 whenever you saw a Black girl’s picture in media, the hair texture was almost always a loose curl. Whenever 4C texture is pictured, there is still a curl aspect to it and the edges are laid. It is rarely depicted as it really is, as the public see’s it as having “black pepper” hair, which isn’t acceptable” said Godlyn. This negative perception of 4C hair can impact Black women in all areas of their lives from education to dating and their self-esteem.

“Even though the media talks about 4C upliftment, in day to day life you still get mocked for having unambiguous Black hair,” said Godlyn. “Right now my head is bald and I’m growing my hair out but I still don’t feel comfortable because I always get comments such as, I thought you was dougla, I thought you had softer hair than this, and it’s exhausting. Natural hair is not as easy as people parade it to be and it has a major role to play on self-confidence and how you view yourself because of the narratives it can create about you.” This was echoed by poet, Renata Burnette who stated that there is a lot of discrimination against 4C hair despite people not wanting to acknowledge it. This she believes partly has to do with the lack of representation of women with 4C hair. “Majority of natural hair products you will see big hair, but its big curly hair as the association with 4C hair is that it looks unkempt. As a result, many women think their hair is “too hard” to wear out and so cover it up and constantly wear protective styles as they are not comfortable with their hair. Of course, what is ingrained as nice hair usually comes with a light complexion. We can’t address hair texture discrimination without also addressing colourism, featurism and fetishization of Black children,” said Renata.

The way one chooses to wear their hair can also have a dramatic impact on their professional life. Recent studies done by Michigan State University and Duke University found that African American women face the highest instances of hair discrimination and are more likely to be sent home for their hair. Hairstyles such as afros, twists or braids were also found to be seen as less professional and Black women with natural hairstyles are less likely to land job interviews than white women or Black women with straightened hair.

The latter is an experience that Angelina Mootoo had. Being a “Dougla” in Guyana, Angelina’s hair had a loose curl pattern that is often considered praiseworthy in the Black community. When she moved to the US, however, her hair became much “kinkier” and she found herself being told at jobs that she needed to keep her hair properly when she only had a puff or a messy bun.

“I remember interviewing for a job with braids and getting turned down, with no reason as to why when I was truly the perfect candidate. A few months later when I had a wavy wig I applied again as I saw the position was still open and lo and behold same recruiter, same process, and I got the job. The recruiter didn’t remember me but commented on me being the perfect candidate. She was actually a Black woman, which made me even more upset. I declined the position,” said Angelina.

While the natural hair movement has come quite a far way, it is clear that it still has a long way to go in combatting the social and systemic discrimination that affects those who wear their hair naturally. YouTuber, Grace Hutson believes that there needs to be more focus on challenging systemic hair discrimination with a focus on schools and workplaces. She also believes that while there is a cultural element to the natural hair movement, it was largely shaped by capitalism and consumerism.

“I used to watch many YouTube videos when I first made the decision to ditch the creamy crack and I was gullible enough to spend thousands of dollars on products yet never learned how to actually do my hair,” said Grace. “This is something a lot of women experience and has contributed to them returning to relaxers as they were not prepared for the challenges, time and costs that are associated with natural hair.”

If it is one thing that is clear, it is that Black hair carries deep cultural significance, history and identity within it. With systems still steeped in colonialism and white supremacy, however, as much as one might want it to be, hair will never be just hair.

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