I’m black and my hair is natural. Get over it.

I’m black and my hair is natural. Get over it.

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Thousands of people have signed a petition calling for Beyoncé to change her child's hairstyle.

Thousands of people signed a petition calling for Beyoncé to change her child’s hairstyle. Photograph: Rob Hoffman

Via Melody David of The Guardian.com

As a black woman with natural hair, I’ve come to expect fascination, ignorance and sometimes insensitivity about my appearance from people outside the black community. Comments such as “your hair is messy/crazy/wild today”, “you look like a sheep/brillo pad” and “your hair gets in the way” are frequently part of natural life. What I’m less ready to tolerate is criticism of natural hair from other black people.

Sometimes the criticism is subtle, such as dirty looks in the street from other black girls wearing their hair in weaves. Other times it’s from those closer to home. I have friends whose family members have repeatedly asked: “what are you doing with your hair?”

A few weeks ago, while preparing for an important interview, a well-meaning black friend, advised me to straighten my hair, and another acquaintance recommended I “put it in a bun”. I was appalled. They failed to address any of my real concerns yet felt entitled to burden me with this “advice”. I went for the interview, feeling as if my hair was yet another thing counting against me.

In another example of the microaggression towards the natural look, last month a petition was launched on change.org, entitled “Comb her Hair”. The petition which sparked outrage, accused Jay-Z and Beyoncé of failing to take proper care of their child Blue Ivy’s hair. “This matter has escalated to the child developing matted dreads and lint balls,” says petition author Jasmine Toliver. Five thousand people signed up to support it.

But it’s not just from those in the community who choose not to wear their hair naturally. You can now hear criticism from those who claim to support #teamnatural – because there are now, you know, specific ways you should be natural. Perhaps Blue Ivy’s hair would have received less criticism if her mother had done a perfect twist-out.

Since moving to Paris last autumn, though, I’ve noticed a stark difference in the attitude towards my hair. Nobody seems to care. And it’s relieving. No one pets my hair on the Metro, which has happened on the tube more times than I care to remember. More surprisingly, there is a distinct lack of hostility and commentary from other black people, whatever their hairstyle choice.

When I ask various black French people why other black people don’t critique my hair in Paris, the resounding reply is: “You’re black and your hair looks like what a black person’s hair should look like. What is there to say?” For them the in-fighting surrounding natural hair is pointless.

Having said that, the reasons may not always be positive. “Black people in Paris have bigger problems, such as their constantly questioned identity and racism,” says Alex, a 34-year-old artist. He’s right. The recent spike in support for fascist parties in France such as the Front National is much more of a concern, as is the high rate of unemployment which still disproportionately affects black people.

Fatou N’Diaye, naturalista and author of BlackBeautyBag.com, also adds that in general: “French people are more discreet than Americans or British. In Paris I rarely get comments about my hair or people touching me.” She notes that on trips to New York and London, people were far more likely to make comments or try to touch her hair.

Needless to say, Paris is not a pro-natural paradise. For a lot of black people, going natural still signifies “unkempt hair”. When I go to the city’s bustling African quarter in the 18th arrondissement, I frequently decline offers from salesmen trying to herd me into a salon for a defrissage (relaxer) or a weave. But there is no criticism about my choice. Do your hair. Don’t do it. It’s your business. And things are improving further: more and more adverts for black haircare on public transport depict black women with afros; there are increasing numbers of natural hair products for sale; and there are events too, such as the Natural Hair Academy, Paris, which is now into its third year.

Perhaps people like Toliver can learn a little discretion from their French counterparts. Don’t add fuel to the already toxic fire of discrimination and self-hate. But, more importantly, devote less time to worrying about what’s on each other’s heads; there are far more pressing issues to think about that affect us all.

What do you think?

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