Black Ownership of the Words “Natural Hair?”


When I type the words “natural hair” in to the search box on Pinterest, my feed is automatically flooded with pictures of black women confidently wearing their hair au naturel. I find lots of information about natural hair care, afro styling suggestions, braiding techniques and encouragement to stay away from straighteners. Instagram and Google provide more of the same. It seems as though the words natural hair have meandered its way into mainstream Black cultural lingo. My Caucasian friends who aren’t wearing wigs or weaves don’t describe their hair as “natural hair,” and photos of natural caucasian hair never pop up in these searches…can we then classify this as black terms? Obviously, neither the words “natural” or “hair” are inherently or exclusively Black…

To some extent every group participates in code switching in one way or another. The relationships that particular sub groups have to languages happen as a result of different groups living together as a consequence of historical events, human migrations, redlining etc. Although it may seem that attempting to fit in and ascribing to a cliquish mindset will only serve to keep unwanted racial barriers, languages and word associations of various ethnic and cultural groups is critical for uniting communities and preserving our identity.

Many transracial adoptive parents ask me styling questions about caring for their children’s black hair. Whilst being steadfast in my encouragement towards wearing black hair au naturel, I openly acknowledge through words and photos that my journey towards ridding myself of wigs and weaves did not happen overnight. I also know that peer pressures (for both the child adoptee and their parents), finances, weather, access to black hair salons and politics are factors when deciding upon natural hair. After NYC Mayor de Blasio’s son donned his afro I read a tweet by political correspondent Hunter Walker who stated that de Blasio “…should probably encourage Dante to give his hair more than a weekly washing.”  This culturally insensitive comment is not unique – a once per week or once every other week hair wash is easily understood by the black community, but other ethnicities may think this to be unsanitary. Though comments like these may feel to be a jab in our weary armor as we continue to be embrace our natural selves, let’s plod and take a cues from Esperanza Spalding and Lupita N’yongo as they help to redefine the rigid lines other cultures have drawn for us.

I’m curious what minority subgroups may take over next? Perhaps instead of the general public stigmatizing adoptees as adorable, cuddly, black, orphaned babies, we will begin to be seen and heard as articulate and intelligent adults? We, adoptees are making progress via sites such as The Lost Daughters and Land of Gazillion Adoptees, but truthfully we still have a ways to go until we gain as firm the grasp that Black women have on the term “natural hair.” 


***This post is dedicated to 22 year old, Karyn Washington, who took her own life last week. She was the creator of the website For Brown Girls, and worked hard to empower black women everywhere learn to love their complexion and themselves. She seemed to have so many things going for her. It’s important that we check in with each other often – especially to those for whom we think may ‘have it all.’ ***

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