In the weeks since we debuted “Black Hair Defined,” hundreds of readers have responded through email and social media, sharing their own stories of hair triumph, experimentation or discrimination. The flood of responses has affirmed the belief that catalyzed this project from the start: the idea that Black hair needn’t be viewed through a white lens and defined by its fiercest critics when there are scores of Black people who know better.
Black Hair Defined is about amplifying those voices — those true authorities on Black hair who know it because they have actually felt it and cared for it themselves. These are just a few of the more than 150 responses readers and viewers sent via email.
We are grateful to each and everyone who has taken the time to share their stories with us.
We received many messages from readers looking back at Black hair over the decades.
“We are in such a validating time in history in regard to Black hair. I wondered as a 5-year-old why I wasn’t beautiful like the other black-, brown-, and blond- haired girls. This feeling was validated by my kindergarten teacher, who patted me on the head the first day of school and told me, ‘Your hair is hard.’ That statement has stayed me with over 50 years, and I had to fight against oppressive narratives in school, at work, and in life. Declaring myself beautifully made, worthy and capable has been a lifelong journey not for the faint of heart. I am now a delightfully elegant dreadlocked woman of age, who creates and takes up her own space. Wow, the journey has been hard, but the 5-year-old’s angst no longer permeates my being!” — Darlene Sampson
“When my friend Carolyn and I cut our permed hair down to its natural roots during Thanksgiving break because we had no way to maintain the perms in the middle of the cornfields of Ohio where we had come as freshmen, we had no idea the impact it would have when we stepped back on campus after the break. Forty-five years later, the president of the Black student group wrote about how it totally shook things up, upped the ante, and made us one of the most active Black Power campuses for small Ohio colleges. Who knew? We just needed to deal with our hair.” — Dawn D. Bennett-Alexander
Bennett-Alexander is a law professor and has written and spoken extensively about Black hair discrimination and employment law. We’ve included a TEDx talk she delivered on discrimination and inclusion in the workplace.
“I began my professional career acting in commercials. With my short, neatly styled ‘Afro,’ I PIONEERED the ‘natural look,’ shattering barriers as the FIRST African-American featured in National TV Commercials with that image…. I proudly appeared in dozens of national commercial spots and was affectionately dubbed, ‘The Black Queen of TV commercials!’” — Dwan Smith
“I began wearing my first Afro as it was how much I loved Angela Davis. I wore my ’fro to work one night and it was the night of my evaluation. My supervisor actually wrote that he thought I was there to overthrow banking. I quit immediately.” — Jan Price
For The Next Generation
We were moved by the many stories we received from parents about representation and instilling pride and confidence in their children about their Black hair. Here are some of our favorites.
“As a 32-year-old woman raising two daughters, representation of their hair matters to me in media. I recently wrote and self-published a children’s book titled ‘Homecoming’, a story about siblings attending an HBCU homecoming with their parents for the first time.” — La-Donia Jefferies
“My sisters and I, along with so many other children of color in the [foster] system, struggled with everything from hair breakage, bad styles and just overall unhealthy crowns. This adversely impacted our self-esteem, image, the health of our hair and our overall identity. It took years to heal not only my hair, but my self-esteem. These stories and my own lived experiences inspired me to change how current foster children are supported with their culturally specific hair and skin care needs. After researching the need further, along with others I created a solution and launched a nonprofit called Cut It Forward. Our mission is to provide culturally specific, holistic ethnic hair and skin care resources for foster and adopted youth of color, and their caregivers.” — Vanessa Morrison
Proud Of My Black Hair
“I was crowned by DNA. Born wearing what to others is worthless. To me … it’s as important as my name. I am a queen, a lioness. Each equally pleasing by my eyes. It’s hard to see the beauty in things misunderstood. To some, my hair is unkempt, unruly and unprofessional. Truly my hair is greater than. My hair is courage, it’s my love, it’s every part of me.” — Choya Woods
“I am first generation Togolese American. My mother’s thick, deep accent, decor, and rich stews and soups are small pieces of a culture that is very important to me, and shapes much of my identity. Growing up, my sister and I were always aware of how lucky we were to have such a strong tie to our African heritage and history … Now as an adult, and as a mother, my hair is always cut low. It could be in a relaxed pixie cut, a barber fade, or short curls. Short hair requires the same amount of maintenance if not more, but it also reminds me of the freedom and ease I felt in Africa. My short cut is a part of my culture, and a part of my identity that is important to me. I’m happy to find beauty in my most true and natural form, and I’m proud to show it off.” — Jade O’Neil
“Black hair also means that I can walk down the street and instantly connect with another sista simply through our hair and that, too, is freeing. I decided to document my hair journey online (through YouTube videos) to not only show my appreciation for my hair, but also to learn more about it. So far I’ve learned each strand of hair on my head entails a beautiful, delicate story filled with meaning.” — Kristini Buchanan
“My hair is the crown that I cannot remove, and if it defies gravity then so be it. I love the stares that I receive because I am no longer ashamed of my genetics.” — Lyncee Stroman
“My hair is tighter than the homie, thirstier than a bird, and tricker than
Run DMC, and it means the world to me because I found a safe space among people that look like me. I would trade that information for anything.” — Brandon Rashad Butts
“I wore my hair relaxed (like my Mami Martha, her mother, Argentina, and all of my mother’s sisters). It’s a way of life in The Dominican Republic. Derizado and a roller set! I loved my straight hair! Then when I was to turn 30 I decided I wanted to see my real hair! I grew my hair out for about 8 months and ‘big chopped’ the day before turning 30 and then went to Italy on vacation. I felt so liberated and light! Light in my soul and in my heart. This ‘pelo malo’ was me and it wasn’t bad hair, it was amazing AF! It did things I never imagined! I kept my Afro for about four years then relaxed it again. In 2011 after an illness broke off a ton of my hair I big chopped again and never looked back. I am #teamafro!” — Evelyn R. Beato
“I unapologetically come to work wearing my afro. My hair signifies that I am Black and I’m proud. No matter how much we are overlooked, underpaid, judged, mistreated or stereotyped as a race, I remind myself that my Black hair is a unique feature that God graced me with. It symbolizes the strength we possess while enduring the daily the struggle. Pictured is my other half, and together we rock our Black hair with pride. We are Black, strong, resilient and powerful, and our hair will always represent that.” — Amanda Palma
Black Hair As Inspiration
For many, their hair is an inspiration: to write poetry, create art, and fight injustice.
“My name is Is’Abella Miller and I attend Byng High School in Oklahoma. For the past three years, a couple of students and I have been challenging Byng’s culturally insensitive headwear policy. We were recently featured on the news discussing our situation. We had spoken with the administration on multiple occasions, but they had refused to listen. We had been put in ISD (in school detention) because we wore our African headwraps. The dress code is old and frankly, historically racist. It’s an excuse for modern assimilation of our culture and numerous others masked as ‘dress code.’ Our battle with the school is amazingly almost over. Our school has, after numerous years, finally recognized the need to change the policy.” —Is’Abella Miller
“Do you know the history of black hair?
Kept under scarves and caps because the white man didn’t want to see it
putting rice in the braids to make sure there wasn’t a chance at starvation
inventing creamy crack so I can get a professional job that still makes me break my back five times over for five times less than Becky
I know you know that pain
the pain of wanting to fit in with Becky
and sadly, for a moment wish not to be black
but I would hate to not be black
and most importantly I would never do that creamy crack.”
— From “To Have My Black Hair” by Korri Palmer
We received dozens more stories, poems, photos and videos. Thank you for sharing them with us.
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