black salon problems

 

*Names and locations have been changed to protect identities. And because I don’t want to get shanked because I’m too young to die even though life gets hard sometimes.

It’s Sunday morning. You’ve woken up late because the post-church youth group hang out/ turn up was particularly lit and you drank too much Mighty Malt and Appletiser. Drowsy and blurry eyed from your non-alcoholic hangover, you reach for your glasses. The world slowly comes into focus. Your room is a mess. It’s because you’ve worked too many late shifts, because really you’re a tidy person and you like things to be in order, you tell yourself. You look at the time on your phone. It’s 0930 hours. You have an appointment to get your hair braided in exactly 20 minutes. The stereotype is that black hairdressers are always running late, but this hairdresser is gentrified and has a strict appointment policy. (More evidence that gentrification is traumatic and inconvenient for everyone involved except the gentrifier – which in your case has a Jamaican accent and is called Simone).

You tumble out of bed and manage to shower, lotion, brush your teeth, get dressed, talk to Jesus, salute your parents, say your daily affirmations and argue with your younger brother in exactly 8 minutes and 53 seconds.

You arrive at “Motivationz” at 1007, 3 minutes shy of the 10 minute cancellation policy window. As far as you’re concerned, you’ve arrived early and you’re breaking stereotypes.

The receptionist lady smiles concernedly when you tell her your appointment time and asks you to take a seat and wait, in order to make you nervous that your late arrival might result in you entering the working week with 2 large canerows and a headwrap as your only companions. This is all fake news. You are Simone’s first and only customer till 1230.

You are brought a cup of lemongrass tea and you browse your Pinterest ‘DOPE HAIRSTYLES’ folder to finalise the style you want.

Simone walks over to the chair. You exchange the usual pleasantries. She starts to run her fingers through your hair. “Do you know what style you want?”. You nod excitedly and show her the picture you’ve saved on Pinterest.

teyonahparisbraids.jpg View Post

I didn’t grow up being the ‘pretty girl’. My awkward phase lasted quite well into my late/teens early 20’s, and when I did finally throw off the shackles of thick rimmed glasses and badly done natural hair, and stepped into the glorious freedom of decent skin, contacts and natural hair youtube, it took me a while to get used to the compliments. I still don’t think of ‘pretty’ as one of my primary identifiers, even when I get random people approaching me at to compliment me. I’m actually quite thankful that I didn’t think of myself as attractive as a teenager –  it meant that I always relied on my wit, smarts and generally trying to be a good person as my main selling point.

In fact, as I’ve grown into my looks, I’ve actually developed a weirder complex – I’m scared that being pretty and well dressed will mean that people will assume I’m not as intelligent. At work, I get uncomfortable when  my consultant calls me the ‘pretty junior doctor’ – not because I don’t want to be seen as pretty, but because I’m worried that if I don’t work hard enough it will translate as ‘ditzy and superficial’. View Post

asian prejudice

On Saturday evening, I stretched my legs out after a long day (it was communion at church – beautiful, essential, but well over 2 hours), and decided that I was going to braid my hair. So I threw on the new Zara coat that I’d fought off the animals at Westfield for (Boxing Day sales – don’t do it, save yourself), and ambled down the road to my local hair shop.

I browsed through the different varieties of afro-kinky hair, and settled on one that for some reason was called ‘Cuban Twist’. I snorted at the hair companies that are suddenly touting five different curl creams for natural hair, when a year ago they only sold relaxers, paid for my hair, and left.

On the way home, I started thinking about a conversation I’d had with an Asian friend of mine where we’d briefly spoken about anti-blackness in the Asian community. I thought about my trip to Nepal and the overt prejudice I’d encountered there. And I thought about solidarity.

The relationship between the black and Asian community in the UK has always been somewhat complicated. On the one hand, when my grandparents first came to this country, every brown person, regardless of whether they came from the East or the West Indies, or the African continent was termed ‘black’. Black became a political identity, a supposedly unifying term in the face of rather overt and clearly institutionalized racism. Over time, Asians no longer ‘needed’ black people in order to progress. They developed more economic power than the black community as a whole, and the term black became reserved more or less for those with African descent. As racism became less overt, the need for solidarity diminished.

I remember a few years ago, the tensions between the Black and Asian communities in Birmingham erupted. Some Asian owned shops were damaged, people shouted at each other in the street, there was a public spotlight on something that had been festering for some time. Around that time, a documentary came out, part of which used secret camera to film conversations in the Asian community where they discussed black people. Some people were shocked at the level of prejudice within the Asian community.

Really, there should be no surprise. There are probably a number of reasons as to why there is such a high level of anti-blackness in the Asian community.

Historically, many countries in Asia operate on a caste system, in which skin tone plays a partial role. I was shocked by the level of skin bleaching when I was in Nepal – major brands like L’oreal, Garnier and Vaseline plastered slogans like ‘fair and white’ ‘intense whitening cream’ ‘white beauty’ all over their products. Watch most Bollywood movies and you would swear that Indians exist in one shade of extremely light brown, although any visit to India would tell you the complete opposite. Although there are many black people who are light skinned, and lighter than some Asians – there are more black people who are darker skinned. It’s not surprising then, that the self hatred in terms of skin tone that plagues the Asian community expresses itself in anti-blackness.

Additionally, the images of black people exported to many Asian countries are dominated by white mainstream images. There are of course exceptions, but hip hop culture, ‘oppression’ films (slavery, poor people, black kids being ‘saved’ by the middle class white teacher/person), and skewed depictions of black sexuality probably aren’t helpful in fostering any kind of positivity towards black people.

Not to mention the fact that White supremacy, by nature, is hierarchical.  South Asians have become in the UK, and in America (along with other Asian communities), a ‘model minority’. Ignoring the completely different history of how Europeans operated in Asia in comparison to Africa and the Caribbean, and the overwhelming effort to dehumanise Africans, the Asian community is subtly compared to the black community. The underlying tone is that if the Asian community manages a certain level of economic success, why can’t the Black community do the same? (A form of racism which also ignores the varied communities within the black community. Black Africans and Black Caribbeans have different educational outcomes and social outcomes, which in itself proves the enduring effects of slavery on Caribbean communities).

It is only natural that Asian people will seek to find a way to separate themselves from Black people in a system that rewards anti-blackness. To be Black is to be at the bottom of the pile. And who wants to be at the bottom?

It’s up to the younger generation to challenge the legacy that has been handed down to them, instead of mildly accepting the prejudice of their elders…

Thought? What are your experiences?

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Pic copyright: www.nymag.com

Sidenote: For my less melanin affiliated friends reading this who might not be au fait with black hair, this link gives a good 3 minute synopsis. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTP96_61sGc

There are a few hair moments that stand out to me over the 24 years I’ve had this coily, curly, kinky sponge on my head. I have great memories of sitting in between my mum’s legs on a Sunday evening watching Mr Bean, a pot of Dax hair oil balanced precariously on the arm of the sofa, and a comb stuck in one side as she braided my hair.  I remember wash days where my Mum would use the shampoo to shape my hair into crazy cones or Mohawks or quiffs in front of the mirror, and I would perch on the landing as she blow dried into an even bigger ball of cotton like fluff. I remember year 5 when some of the girls who bullied me at school took my hair out the band, let my coils spring in all directions and  pinned my arms behind my back, pushing me across the playground for my schoolmates to laugh at me. I remember my hair being braided by a friend’s Mum, and being secretly pleased at her asking me who in my family had Indian in them, because the back of my hair was ‘soft’. I remember being aged 11 and begging for a relaxer.  Age 14 I wore my afro on the bus on the way home from school and mocking schoolboys would throw up black panther esque fists at me. Over time, I realised that the conversations that surrounded my hair weren’t the same, or even as frequent as my white friends. My hair was political.

It’s apparent that hair is important to all women, regardless of race or ethnic background. Sit down with any group of women and mention hair – and there will be some sort of conversation. We’re all invested in keeping the hair on our head looking good, and getting rid of the hair anywhere else. Having said that, I think it would be fair to say that the black community (and I use that term to broadly encompass people across the diaspora, of African descent, including those who choose to identify themselves as mixed race) especially value hair. Within that broad community there are different textures, different standards of beauty and different narratives about the way our hair is worn, but one thing is certain – black hair is political. Regardless of whether we want it to be, it is.

The past few years have been interesting because of the ‘natural hair movement’ that seems to have swept across – well, pretty much anywhere where black women live. Type ‘natural hair’ into Youtube  and there will be women from the Caribbean,  South Africa, the UK, and of course the U.S offering tips  Along the way, there are ongoing conversations, lines drawn in the sand, and questions raised about how we wear our hair, why we wear our hair the way we do, and the implications of those choices.  In fact, the natural phenomenon has been big enough to garner attention from so called ‘mainstream’ media, including  CNN and the BBC.

CNN aren’t doing exposes on the fact the ombre is the latest (or was) hair fad. The ebb and flow of non-outrageous hair fashions aren’t significant enough to catch the eye of most mainstream news outlets outside of their fashion section.

Black women’s hair, however, isn’t ‘just’ hair. We might want it to be. And for some of us, the decision to go from weave to natural to relaxer and then back again is based on nothing more than flight of fancy or the particular ‘look’ we’re going for that year. As a group though, the decision for as to whether our hair is political or not has already been made for us.  Our hair carries the weight of slavery, colonialism, civil rights movements and questions about whether we are ‘mixed’ or not. Hair could could be used to spot a  runaway slave who was light enough to try and ‘pass’ for white. Hair told some high class blacks at the turn of the century whether you were right type of black to be admitted into their esteemed company. Hair is used by some to determine whether we’re the type of black girl who listens to Erykah Badu and drinks vegan water, or the type who watches Real Housewives of Atlanta. Our hair can be the type that we can wear to work, or the type that we feel we have to straighten to fit into a corporate environment. Our hair can be the baby-mama type hair, or the type that makes men question whether their babies will have ‘good hair’. Our hair tells others whether we are down for the cause, or on course to be a video model.

We cannot ignore the pathology in our community that meant that until recently, 80% of black women used sodium hydroxide, at the expense of possible chemical burns, alopecia, and hundreds of pounds, in order for their hair to be straight. We cannot ignore the fact that unlike white women, the vast majority of black celebrities refuse to wear afro textured hair – whether their own or a replica. We cannot pretend that our hair choices exist in a vacuum, devoid of any form of social pressure or historical suggestion.

It’s true – not every woman wearing a relaxer or donning a head of synthetic weave desires to look white. In fact, many black hair styles that are ‘straight’ are a world away from the hairstyles of their white counterparts. They are straight, but they are uniquely ‘black’.  So it’s not primarily about wanting to look like a white woman – that would be an oversimplification.

Despite this though, there is still a beauty hierarchy that has at its root the notion that kinky, West African (I note that not all black Africans have this hair), won’t –allow- a- comb- to- pass- through -it hair, is something to be fixed, tolerated, or hidden. I’m not saying that everyone has to wear an afro. I’m not saying that weaves are from Beelzebub, or that perms are the mark of the beast. I am saying that when we make choices about our hair, we should be cognizant of the possible reasons as to why we make those choices. It’s not just hair.

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I’m currently residing in a country where the majority of the population is Hindu. Last week, on my sojourns around the hospital wards, I saw a lady who had her hair shaven, possibly due to the Hindu tradition of shaving your head as a way to honour the gods. Forgive me for my sacrilege, but all I could think of was the strong likelihood that that hair would end up on the head of a fashonable Nigerian lady somewhere in Peckham. I began to ponder weave – good weave, bad weave, blue weave, yardie weave, white girl weave… why weave?

I dislike the idea that a large number of black women wear European textured hair on their head. There’s a pathology in that and we know it. Nevertheless, weave is here to stay (for the time being at least), but some of us have become reckless and disorderly with our weave wearing…we need some weave commandments.

1) Thou shalt not believe that blondes have more fun.

I know Beyonce has done it. I know Mary J Blige has done it. But you see, these are multimillionaires with expert weaveologists at their beck and call. I know the nice lass at the hairdressers told you blonde was your colour, but she’s a hairdresser. They’re practically paid liars. 

2)Thou shalt match your edges with your weave.

Imagine Kunta Kinte, with a straight ponytail hanging from one strand. Awkward isn’t it? I empathise with that twoweeksbeforetheweavesisdueout struggle, but whatever happened to a nice headscarf?. Your edges and your ends should not be unequally yoked.

 3) Thou shalt feed your belly before you obtain Remy.

I wanted it to rhyme for emphasis. Where are you going with your £500 weave yet you are hiding in corners to evade council tax? My friend, you cannot be serious.

4) Tracks are for trains.

The exception to this is when you are running for the last train at London Bridge and nothing in life even matters anymore apart  from the Hayes train and your wig is lopsided and you’ve developed new onset asthma and you acidentally on purpose barged the tourist in front of you who thought 2mph was an appropriate speed at which to traverse through life with. Otherwise.. hide them tracks!

5)Thou shalt pat discreetly.

I am offcially embarassed to have melanin when in a professional environment one of my fellow comrades decides to slap their head like they are remixing the migraine skank. Oh. My. Life. Pat with decorum.

6) It’s time to let go.

We’re officially coming out of the recession, so the price of weave should have dropped by say….3 pence a strand? There’s no reason to cling on to that Yaki for dear life. I understand, sometimes in life, it’s hard to let go, especially when you’ve invested so much. But if you love something and you let it go, if it was really yours it will come back to you. Or something like that…. 

7) Thou shalt love your natural hair texture.

On a serious note, if you’re wearing weave all day every day, then maybe, possibly, there’s a problem. Espcially if you ONLY wear staright weave – it might be that you actually have an aversion to your own hair. That’s not cool. Take a break, have a kit kat, rock a fro!

8)Thou shalt not expose your other weave wearering compatriots in public without express prior permission..

I feel like part of women code is not exposing someone’s weave in public unless you know they’re cool with it. Asking someone loudly “IS THAT YOOUURSS???”,is actually quite rude. I mean, would you look at someone’s chest and ask that? For some women, asking them about their Remy is the same as asking them about their double D’s.

9) Thou shalt not go bald for the sake of weave.

There’s only one Austin Powers, and he’s not you. I’ve seen some poor souls with completely theoretical hairlines that have practically disappeared in a puff of weave smoke. Mate, it’s just not worth it.

10) Thou shalt not take this too seriously.

I know y’all be sensitive about your weaves. I’m not trying to rain on your weavealicious parade, I’m just having giggle 🙂

What would you add to the list?

Peace x