Hairism: The Discussion of Black Hair

P-Pam Oliver

I became saved when I was eighteen years old. Not by the blood of Christ per se, as I did when I was a young nine year old, but by the blood of my ancestors whose stories had been silenced by a white supremacist system who didn’t want the history of how they were treated as animals throughout our nation’s history.

Reborn I became aware of the mistreatment of all black bodies, but especially the female black body. For years African-American women have been used as not only slave laborers but sexual slaves for their masters. Soon after they became the slave to the woes of African-American men who suffered emasculation at the hands of the same masters who were raping the women he both vented to and abused because of his disenfranchisement.

The top issue for black women at the turn of the century was the discussion of hair. Often referred to as “pickaninny” or “peezy heads” African-American women have been berated because of the natural state of their hair. As a result many black women resulted to relaxing their hair or using weave to be more accepted in both the professional and social societies. With a 120 pound, blonde haired, blue eyed 21 year old as the model of beauty in this country black women entered a marathon against all nationalities to be accepted under this standard of beauty and it always seemed they came in last.

And, with commentators such as Don Imus who referred to black women on a basketball team as “nappy headed hoes” black women felt more of an urge to compete with the beauty standards established for them and their other female counterparts. I remember when my best friend began her transition from relaxed to natural and our black female vice principal vehemently protested against her wearing head wraps throughout her transition, despite the fact we attended a historically black high school where the population was 99.5 percent black.

And, I read the article concerning Pam Oliver, a prominent name in sports reporting. Pam has over 19 years experience as a reporter and her knowledge of the game was overlooked because of her hair during a recent report during a NFC game. Many badgered her about her hair asking if she had been “electrocuted”or if she chose to “wear a mop” on her head. It is noted that many of these comments were other black women who obviously do not understand the hatred they have toward themselves and their hair.

I began to reflect. I am the guy in the grocery store who will see a black woman with natural hair and tell her she is beautiful. I am the guy who is always encouraging his female students who have chosen to go natural to continue along their journey of self identification. But, I am not the guy to berate black women if they are not natural. But, I began to reflect because I used to be. And, it was a black woman, a female mentor who is like an older sister to me who made me realize that criticizing black women who have relaxed hair or who wear weave is not healthy, either. Women choose to wear their hair the way they do because they want to feel beautiful, accepted, wanted and for many of them it is their hair that allows them personal expression.

I may not always agree with the way black women choose to wear their hair, but as a man, a black man, I have to support them and if they choose to go natural for whatever reason, great! If they do not make such a choice I cannot be an added force to the oppressive powers that be that tell them that they are ugly even with relaxed hair. It is a personal choice women make based off their experiences. It is not my responsibility to provide another negative experience.

India Arie said it quite well, “I am not my hair.” I know many women with relaxed hair who know more about the history of African-Americans in this country and the Diaspora than many women who are natural. And, I only stress that to say it is important to allow our women to come into their own in their own time.

And, for other black women to berate another black woman because her hair is not as neat or as straight as they would like it to be is not fair and it is not healthy psychologically for the women who are berated. Self-love is a learned behavior and it doesn’t come easy for any black person in this country. And, we will only further self-hate in other blacks if we continue to publicly pick on them. Hairism, as coined here, is only a strand of the general term of racism and we shouldn’t be racist against our own selves. Let’s be more supportive. Let’s be more accepting and remember “each one, teach one.” If you have a suggestion for a black female in regard to her hair please remember, it is not what you say, it is how you say it!

See the article here:

J. Prince, Princepality 87


One thought on “Hairism: The Discussion of Black Hair

  1. LM says:

    Awesome read Jay Prince. Hair is such a personal issue, especially for black woman. I know how much time and energy can be spent and wasted as a Sistah tries to get her “Wig Tight.” I have definitely had my own struggles, with the worse days being when I was a little girl who had to get her hair straightened. All it took was me running outside for 5 minutes to undo all Bessie’s hard work. LOL As I got older I suffered with burning perm after burning perm. A few years ago a hypoactive thyroid took its toll causing lots of thinning and a ridiculous change in texture so I decided to go natural. Since I made the decision to “Go Natural” I have still struggled. There are days when my hair is moist and curly and days when ZORA, that’s what I call my fro, is dry and so tightly wound I can barely part it. As with most other women some days I feel a lot better about my hair than other days. I will say that since I went natural I don’t have to fear “sweating out my hair.” I also don’t have to worry about my husband “messing up my do” when he affectionately massages my scalp like he did tonight as we laid across the bed just spending time talking (I purred like a kitten). I wish I had been taught to embrace ZORA for what she is as a young girl but I grew up in a time where your hair wasn’t done unless it was straight. I personally wish I could get back all the time I spent in the beauty parlor with a perm frying my scalp (I have sensitive scalp so it was not a good feeling). Again, hair is such a personal issue and I feel sorry for any women who is having a bad hair day because I have been there and done that. With all the changes that have taken place with my hair since the thyroid issues, any day I still have hair on my head is a good hair day for me. When I saw Pam Oliver the other night I felt bad for her because she was having a bad hair day on a giant stage. I knew she would catch hell for it. I wished she could have just felt comfortable with pulling her hair back in a ponytail and rollin’ on. Then I thought about how much crap Gabby Douglas got when she did just that in the Olympics. BTW, my husband used to love when I would just wear my hair in a simple, basic ponytail (it doesn’t smooth down enough for a ponytail anymore unfortunately). I hope Pam Oliver finds a style that works for her because it is sad that her sideline reporting gets overshadowed by her hair. As I sat here tonight putting some “old school water and grease” on my hair I hoped that tomorrow is a “better hair day” for me but if ZORA is as dry and tight tomorrow as she was today I’m just gonna roll on. LOVE YA!!!!!

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