White Women Entitled to 'Natural Hair' Claim

There's no real reason for black women to hoard the self-acceptance, techniques and good products.

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"I have no problem at all with a white woman claiming Team Natural," Walton told me, explaining that this would neither surprise nor offend her because "there is a very large presence of white women with curly hair who have embraced their curls. Sixty percent of the world is curly -- although you wouldn't know it. So there are a lot of white women who used treatments, who used to flatiron their hair every single day."

While she fully admitted that for black women, "hair involves a lot more history and negative stereotypes, which are less so for looser curls, whether biracial hair or white hair," and that there's "a whole lot more social stigma wrapped up in us going natural," she also said that the natural-hair community has nonetheless become a very inclusive and sought-after space for women of all colors who are trying to find versatility.

"For white women, on an individual level, [wearing their hair in its natural state] is still a hurdle. If their hair is curly and they've been straightening for two decades, that takes some transitioning," Walton said.

And you know what? If a white woman is learning to deal with a hair texture that society says is unkempt, uncute or otherwise less than ideal, I'd frankly much rather stumble upon "I just did a twist-out! #TeamNatural" on Facebook than "OMG my hair is a total ‘fro! It's sooo nappy! I have black girl's hair" (Yes, these are things I've heard), as if that were the worst-possible thing that could happen to someone.

Walton argues that black and white women can actually have a lot in common here. "Socially, politically, there's a big difference," she said, "but when you get down to aesthetics and care, there's a lot of overlap."

As a result, there's probably overlap emotionally, too.

Anyone who has struggled to accept hair that much of our culture says is less than ideal knows how hard it is. Is there a spectrum of difficulty? Sure. But does it make sense to keep information, techniques, inspiring images and membership in a supportive community away from people from different places on that spectrum who might crave those things just as urgently? I'm starting to think not.

Plus, when you start trying to make rules (Do you have to have two black parents to say you're "natural"? Do you have to have once had a perm? Are we going to cut things off at hair type 3a? 3b?), the analysis gets headache-inducing.

It's worth considering that white women who are getting used to their heat- or chemical-free hair might be even hungrier for support and advice because they don't generally grow up in a culture in which hair care, styling and maintenance are things on which everyone's spending a lot of time and energy.

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM