White Women Entitled to ‘Natural Hair’ Claim

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

Generic image (Thinkstock)
Generic image (Thinkstock)

(The Root) —

“I am a young white woman, though one who regularly reads The Root and associates quite often with young black women. Because I am almost always the ‘girliest’ friend, I inevitably get onto the topic of beauty and, on a related note, hair. After all this time, I have learned quite a lot about the many differences between my hair and my friends’ hair.

“One friend in particular often posts things from a natural-hair Facebook page. After I saw one of said posts, it occurred to me, do white people claim ‘Team Natural’? My first thought was that it would be totally ridiculous and racist, even if it could be ‘technically’ true in that most white people don’t regularly perm their hair. My question is, what would your reaction be if some random white person were to start posting things about ‘loving my natural’ and such? To prevent any misinterpretation of my query, I myself do not and would not ever dream of doing this.” Curl-curious 

I can tell by your “I do not and would not ever dream of doing this” disclaimer that you’re pretty certain that a white woman (But not you. OK. If you say so, we’ll go with that!) publicly proclaiming herself a member of “Team Natural” would fall in loosely with stories like actress Julianne Hough’s Orange Is the New Black blackface getup or Miley Cyrus’ twerking-with-black-women-as-props train wreck.

It does seem as though there’s a new quarterly, if not weekly, addition to this list of incidents in which perpetrators disregard sensitivity, cultural context and/or critical thought while passionately defending their right to have some fun. (No one ever said they didn’t have the right, just that they should have to deal with the backlash. But that’s another article altogether.)

I was actually with you at first. Your question brought to mind the sentiments underlying the work of Endia Beal, who’s behind the controversial “You Can Touch My Hair” public art exhibition and these photos of white women with flat twists and finger waves. Whether you love or hate such projects, they make one thing clear: Black hair is a black thing, and it’s somewhere between unusual, uncomfortable and absurd when people who don’t have it want to put their hands in it, let alone claim its techniques for themselves.

So when I contacted Better Than Good Hair author Nikki Walton (aka “Curly Nikki”), I was really just looking for a quote on what’s behind the whole Team Natural thing — not just the hashtag, the Facebook page or the thousands of Instagram photos, but the books, the bloggers, the debates, the conventions that make up what was dubbed several years ago the “natural-hair movement.”

I thought Walton would deliver a quick briefing on the heavy history behind the large numbers of black women and girls straightening and chemically altering their hair, not always just for variety or personal expression but often because of a racism-fueled belief that it’s wholly unacceptable in its unaltered state. I thought she’d talk about how, for many, shaking off that expectation requires not just new techniques but also a giant leap of faith, a reprogramming of the beauty ideal and a concerted effort to maintain self-esteem in a world that hasn’t quite caught on to thinking any of that is a great idea.

My assumption was that we’d all agree that “Team Natural” couldn’t — and shouldn’t — translate to the heads of white women, no matter how chemical- or color-free, because there’s simply very little of the same stuff at stake.

But that’s not what she said, and after speaking to her, I began to look at this a little differently. And assuming that the reference in your question to “some random white person” means a white person who uses traditionally black products and techniques and is excited about it — versus someone who’s doing a “How adorably ironic that I’m claiming a black thing” routine — I might change yours, too.