Thursday, December 12, 2013

Natural Hair Braiding A Crime: Say It Isn't So!

When I was a young woman, I was trying to figure out how to wear my hair naturally.  I had made a firm decision that I would never put a perm in my hair again, as my mother required out of concern that not to do so would be a hindrance to me, professionally.  I was sick of the burning and the chemicals and the entire notion of looking at myself in the mirror, knowing that I had altered my hair, with products made by individuals who were profiting from telling me through advertisements and the images on their product packaging that my hair wasn't beautiful the way it grew out of my scalp.  I was not accepting of the fact that as I was becoming more educated, I was being told that if I didn't relax my hair, I wouldn't get a job.  It always seemed odd to me because I don't like being told to relax or calm down because it is a sign that the person saying it to me is believing that I am agitated and riled up.  If I am agitated and riled up, it is because I need to be and therefore, your telling me to relax most likely is not welcomed.  So telling me to relax my hair is also a problem, when it is beautifully calm and natural in a wonderful state of curliness or rightfully agitated standing out relentlessly fierce, as it grows out of my scalp.  Therefore, calling these products relaxers is a definite concern.  So the definition of relax is: to make or become less tense or anxious.   Natural hair is definitely not tense or anxious so it does not need a relaxer.  Who came up with that name anyway for hair product?  The other term is a perm, which is short for permanent and is a term used to describe breaking and reforming the bonds of the hair through the use of chemicals.  So without further ado, there is nothing, I mean absolutely nothing, that is natural or permanent about the so-called perm.  If it is permanent, then why does one have to go and pay someone money for a touch up or a new perm, very often?

So, that brings me to the notion of trying to take what is natural and demeaning it and also criminalizing it.  To go down this road,  let's get to braiding and my initial story started above.  I wanted to learn how to take care of my hair naturally so I traveled from Queens to Harlem to a braiding shop.  In this shop were women from the continent of Africa, namely Senegal, but also other countries in West Africa, braiding hair.  It was fascinating!  When they braided my hair, there were two women on my head.  I immediately recognized that I was looking at a skill that was not unfamiliar to me.  My mother used to braid my hair when I was very little and before I was old enough for a perm (there were no Kiddie perms then).  She also used to cornrow it, which was braids very close to the scalp, in rows.  I used to love those braids so much.  So here I was seeing it again but they were adding hair to my existing hair.  Some argue that this is not natural enough because you are adding hair. But unlike straight weave, the skill of braiding is an African technique that goes back historically to the continent with validity as a natural style because of its  intricacy, relevance and meaning.  Check out links one and two below to understand the African history of cornrows and braids in general. Of course these are just glimpses but a little time researching will lead you to the same conclusions.

1. http://csdt.rpi.edu/african/cornrow_curves/culture/african.origins.htm

The  history of African braiding dates back to the continent of Africa, before colonization and before the enslavement of Black people in the U.S. at which time Black people were taught to hate their hair and it was referred to in derogatory terms and deemed unprofessional by the mainstream.  So N.I.C.E. embraces African styled braids based on a historic precedence of African history, culture and beauty.   Now again, back to my story.  I came home and told my mother that I wanted to braid hair.  She told me to go and get one of my dolls that she had in storage and try it. She got packaged hair for me and I tried braiding my dolls hair.  It came to me pretty easily. I then asked her how come I was able to do  this so easily and she said to me, "it's in your hands baby."  I knew then, that this woman of few words in explaining things, was telling me that it was part of my lineage, my history and that it came naturally to me.  I picked up braiding for awhile and did my own hair and that of others before and during my pursuit of higher education all the way to my doctorate. I have been wearing my hair natural for a substantial part of my adult life, ultimately deciding on locks having had them now for 22 years and counting. I have worn  braids or locks in entry level positions,  as a President and CEO, Vice President, Consultant and Professor...in short, my natural hair has never been a problem for me professionally. 

Now, there is a Black women in Texas whose name is Isis Brantley, who was arrested for braiding hair.  The story is here:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/isis-brantley/hairbraiding-license_b_4086368.html and also here on NPR: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=243476281.  As shocking as this may seem, she was arrested for Braiding hair and teaching others to do so and will now file a federal lawsuit to fight this situation. Her school is entitled the Institute of Ancestral Braiding. Isis, fight hard for your right to braid and to freely teach others to do so.  You represent an understanding of a great African tradition and that you have a skill that represents a possibility for entrepreneur based income for Black women. For many Black women, this skill comes naturally with the need for very little or perhaps no training at all at or maybe mere guidance. It is wonderful that you are there to assist Black women who want to pursue this.   I now say to you Isis, what my mother once said to me "It's In your hands, baby!" and to me that was her way of knowing, deep within and my way of knowing that if she were alive today she would understand that Natural Is Cool Enough and that of course, is N.I.C.E.!

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