By Guest Contributor Aisha Davis
Last Monday, Simon Doonan pulled the best prank of the year: he pleaded for the return of the afro. This was not a spontaneous call to arms for natural hair; rather, it was inspired by Doonan’s recent marathoning of Pam Grier Blaxploitation films in preparation for an interview with the icon of film and style.
Now, I love Pam Grier, from ‘fro to foot, but Doonan doesn’t have to go back to the 70s to find afros–or any other expression of Black women’s* natural hair. In fact, there has been something of a Natural Hair Revolution™ in the past decade. This movement includes such heavy-hitters as Nikki Walton and Taren Guy, along with the hundreds of tutorials online that discuss styling, hair typing, and homemade products to better nourish natural/curly/kinky/coily hair.
How do I know so much about this Revolution? Because I am part of it. I’m not one of the bloggers, vloggers, or gurus of natural hair but, seven years ago–after transitioning from relaxed to natural for about eight months–I cut off my hair. That decision sparked more conversations than any other decision in my life. I have never regretted my decision, but, unlike Doonan, it’s not a decision that I would try to talk anyone else into making because I know the backlash that can be associated with it.
Doonan suggests that we renounce the relaxer and don the fro, leaving such “alternatives” as thousand-dollar weaves and straightened styles, but I don’t think he understands what he is truly asking of us. In saying this, he is telling us to forget the guidance of our mentors in grad school, who reminded us that certain hairstyles are more professional than others. He wants us to ignore our mothers who ask us what we’re going to do with our natural hair when we have a business dinner coming up. We should also forget the media’s idea that straight and wavy hair is more beautiful than afro-textured hair–a standard he actually recognizes.
And it goes beyond mere conversation and peer pressure. A best friend of mine was forced to comb out her locs when she accepted a job with the federal government. Another close friend’s employer not-so-subtly hinted that her blowout was more aesthetically appealing than her curly hair. I even shy away from certain styles with my hair, opting for acceptable styles to avoid stares and unsolicited hair touching. It’s not surprising to me, then, that even after reading countless Transition Tales, some women refuse to turn away from the hot comb or creamy crack.**
Now, I’m sure that Doonan was merely attempting to encourage Black women with naturally kinky hair to embrace their naps and wear the ‘fro proudly, but he takes no notice of the women (and men!) who have already taken up this battle cry. Although a simple Google search would have quickly revealed the natural hair community, Doonan overlooks the Nikki’s and Taren’s to cite Black Panthers and Pam Grier. He overlooks the women who have already made the serious decision to abscond the status quo, including stars like Esperanza Spalding and Wanda Sykes who sport afros on a regular basis.
He also fails to truly acknowledge his privilege of seeing afros as a novelty, not a reality. His 70s slang-ridden encouragement contains a cute, fanciful description of afros (calling them “dandelion-shaped”), but he also reveals that Ms. Grier informed him of the work that goes into styling an afro. Yet, even after being made aware of Rule Number One of Afros–at which point he should have realized that he doesn’t know enough about Black hair to offer advice–he still falls back into his “afro-ardor.” He ends his piece by saying that the “unpopularity of the afro” has driven down the price of picks and revealing that he purchased 50 of these aforementioned picks for $10.
I wonder if he got those from the same place Michelle Joni bought her wig…
Here’s my response to Simon Doonan: We as Black women, situated at the crossroads of race and gender, stand in a unique place in society. We are hypersexualized, fetishized, and stereotyped. We are scholars, businesswomen, and hippies. We are relaxed, natural, weaved up, and braided out. And whether we choose to rock the fro or not, we’re all still bad-ass mutha…
Well, you know the rest.
*By “Black women” I mean women with African lineage, from the many countries on the continent to the diaspora on all the others.
**The loving term given to relaxers.