Rochelle Ritchie, an African-American TV reporter in West Palm Beach, Fla., who, out of frustration, decided to let her hair go natural, recently shared her transition story with her local TV audience — explaining how wigs, weaves and perms had severely damaged her hair over the years. In the segment, Ritchie didn’t just tell her own story; she also interviewed a woman who went natural for her 6-year-old daughter, and spoke to a dermatologist about traction alopecia, which is hair loss caused by damaging weaves, wigs and relaxers.
Ritchie’s bold on-air move has inspired admiration among her peers. Television journalist and former network anchor René Syler told Journal-isms that she heard Ritchie’s story and celebrated. “I hope times are changing,” she said. Syler wore her hair permed while anchoring the CBS Early Show but went natural some years after leaving the show. She said she’ll be natural for her next TV job.
I spent years in the TV news industry, and early in my career, veteran black female reporters, anchors and executives would let us know that natural hair was not acceptable if you wanted to be successful. Just think about how many local or national TV reporters or anchors you’ve seen with natural hair. There are a few, such as Atlanta’s Monica Kaufman Pearson, but not many.
It’s unfortunate, but dealing with damaged hair has become a typical part of the black female experience in America. I’ve had a perm since childhood. And I’ve shed my share of tears about my hair being overprocessed or stressed in some other way, forcing me to cut off all of my hair or seek dermatology treatments. But I never actually even thought about going natural until I interviewed Ritchie this week for my “Inside Her Story” radio segment on The Tom Joyner Morning Show.
During the interview, Ritchie mentioned traction alopecia again. It’s seen mostly in black women, with the hair loss occurring around the front hairline and over the ears (think Naomi Campbell). After the Joyner interview, several listeners e-mailed me about this condition. One was Dr. Monte Harris, a hair-restoration expert. He considers traction alopecia an epidemic among women of African descent.