Last Friday, the WEEKEND cover story, entitled “Black Hair,” attempted to explain the inner workings of taking care of black women’s hair. I was one of the article’s main sources, and was disappointed with the final product. The article propagated misconceptions while vilifying women who choose to relax their hair. It made black women sound obsessed with hair and mistakenly portrayed them as willing to put themselves through chronic pain in order to feel beautiful. I, like many other black women who have read it, am extremely disappointed by the piece and would like to correct these misperceptions.
Misquotations and statements out of context aside, one major issue with the article was the author’s inaccurate description of the chemical straightening process. The author states that:
“A woman having her hair ‘relaxed’ usually sits with the chemical in her hair until she can’t stand the burn any longer … After the relaxer is washed out, the hair must be conditioned immediately or else it will start to break off just above the root. Soon after, raw spots on the scalp begin to ooze with blood. A couple hours later, scabs form.”
Bleeding? Scabbing? This is not the norm — in fact this is a worst-case scenario, bordering on a horror movie. When the relaxer processes for about 10 minutes, you may feel a tingle, which may be more intense if the scalp has been irritated. Unless your stylist is Satan doubling as a beautician, hairdressers do not torture their clients until they wash out the chemical. I have never bled. I have never met anyone who has bled after a relaxer. Furthermore, the relaxer has evolved into a product that is safer and friendlier to use. When the author retold my first experience of getting a relaxer, she unfortunately got the story wrong. Because my hair was natural, it initially shed because it was not used to chemical processing. I did not bald. However, it did take time for my hair to adapt to the treatment. For the author to throw out such sensational claims, one must question whether she has ever used a relaxer herself.
Another issue was the author’s misrepresentation of the length of the black hair care process. Yes, it can take an average of two-and-a-half to three hours to complete washing, blow-drying and straightening. However, this is once every seven to 10 days. As one interviewee in the article mentions, black women do not wash their hair every day because oil takes time to build up in our hair. Every morning, it only takes three to five minutes for me to comb my hair and walk out the door. The cumulative time saved more than makes up for the periodic treatments. All women have to take care of their hair. It is unfair to characterize one type of beauty regimen as outlandish and sensational when it is simply different.
As for the allegation that black women don’t want their hair to be touched, there is a very simple explanation: it takes a long time to fix! Time is not something easily wasted, especially at Yale. I joked with the WEEKEND author that my boyfriend initially had difficulty gaining access to my hair. However, because the author fails to explain the resistance, I sounded strange. It may seem like black women are protective of hair itself; really, it’s about time management. And, by the way, my boyfriend now understands this and touches my hair (carefully, mind you) all the time.
Finally, the author seemed quite biased towards natural hair in the article. I agree that natural hair is beautiful — but other forms of hair are too. Wavy, weavy, curly, straight — all can be/are bold, black and beautiful. We should not undermine the autonomy or agency of every black woman to choose how to wear their hair. Some women may relax their hair because they feel it is more professional. Some women keep it natural because it takes less work. More importantly, all women struggle with their hair. Everyone has some hair regimen with pros and cons. Needless distinctions only alienate.
Although I respect the author’s intention to present the topic of black hair to the campus, I unfortunately disagree with the way she did it. The author did get one of my quotes right. I do like explaining black hair care because I like clearing up misunderstandings that articles like “Black Hair” propagate. Let the dialogue continue.
The writer is a sophomore in Davenport College.