When hair breaks the rules––and why those rules shouldn’t exist in the first place

I use curling cream in my hair every single day.  I scrunch a clump of it into my hair right after I wash it in the shower, and then I’ll use it on the ends when they’re dry the next day to touch them up.  I’ve been repeating this process for some time now, mainly because it’s the only routine that helps me to look somewhat presentable.

It’s my go-to routine for when I’m getting ready for class, work, or even a formal event, and I get compliments on how nice and full my hair looks afterward all the time.  I even watched another white woman on the evening news just the other night who had hair like mine (it looked like she had the same routine as me) and listened to those around me as they commented on how attractive, yet appropriate, she looked with her hair done in such casual curls.

For the most part, all the comments I receive about my “curls” are positive.  I think the worst was last week, when my roommate told me I looked like a lion after I crawled out of bed in the morning.  My point is, I’m glad the product works, because it makes me feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and at the end of the day, when it all comes together it does look pretty natural.

But I don’t have natural hair––not whatsoever.  I’m a white woman, and my hair reacts in a completely different way to Shea Moisture’s coconut hair cream than a black woman’s will.  

All over the country––and the world––black women use the same product and others just like it in their hair.  Only it’s not necessarily because it’ll make them smell like coconut or that they’ll get compliments, it’s because they kind of have to.  These products were made for them to use.  

Shea Moisture actually originated in Bonthe, Sierra Leone in 1912, when a woman named Sofi Tucker began selling her homemade African Black Soap and shea butter.  Since then, the company has evolved, and it now produces all kinds of sweet-smelling goods that are designed for naturally coily and curly hair––AKA, products that will suit the needs of women of color.  Shea Moisture and other companies like it exist because there are not many others that solely cater to black women in the first place. I’ve never had to struggle with backlash for putting that stuff in my hair (besides the fact that I’m a white woman and there are plenty of other products aimed at me that I could be using instead), but for other women, leaving the house with natural hair can be a constant struggle.  

Black women often times use protective styles like wigs and twists to maintain their natural hair textures, yet this can unfortunately lead to some completely immoral and unwarranted discrimination once they step outside their front doors.

Whether it’s in the workplace or even at school, black women and young girls with natural hair are constantly ridiculed and discriminated against simply for wearing their curls.  In many states, it’s perfectly legal to fire a black woman simply because you don’t find her natural hair appealing or “professional”. You may recall the case of Brittany Noble, an anchor at a Mississippi news station who was fired after filing formal complaints about discrimination at work related to her natural hair.   

And when they aren’t being fired from the workplace, they’re being singled out within it.  Black women are constantly subject to the ignorance and insensitivity of others when it comes to their hair.  It’s never been OK to reach out and touch a black woman’s hair when she switches up her style, let alone to make an inconsiderate comment or crack a thoughtless joke about it.  

In 2016, the “Good Hair” study done by the Perception Institute even found that “On average, white women show explicit bias toward black women’s textured hair. They rate it as less beautiful, less sexy/attractive, and less professional than smooth hair.”  

How can this be?  On what grounds are we justifiably destroying their confidence and credibility?  And altogether, what logical sense does it make to victimize someone, or even fire them from a job, just because they style their hair differently than us? These are the questions we need to be asking ourselves and our legislators, because it is this dialogue that will ultimately be the most impactful.  

 What black women deserve is a worldwide level of understanding.  The world of Bantu knots and cornrows is a region that I may never cross into, but I can still be willing to understand the trials and tribulations women with natural curls are forced to endure day in and day out.  If the military made a point to understand how a black woman’s hair grows (up and out, not down... making it harder to pull into a “lower bun” without twisting or braiding), maybe their regulations wouldn’t be as strict… or maybe there wouldn’t be regulations for black hair at all.

Ignorance is certainly not bliss.  No matter our race (or hair texture), we all share the responsibility to acknowledge and appreciate our differences, and most importantly, to think twice about how we may be subconsciously treating our friends and colleagues with natural hair.