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Bellas — slow down, take a moment. Drink it in. Our hair is having a moment.

Tyra Banks is about to devote a whole show to her own Natural Hair Day. Chris Rock and Nelson George’s film Good Hair hits select cities October 9 (and opens nationally October 23). And just last week, the New York Times did a whole article and special interactive feature on black hair in its myriad textures and forms. The beautiful photo you see here is of Shayna Y. Rudd, who was featured in the article. Photo by Andrew Councill for The New York Times.

I think I was sent the article — titled Black Hair, Still Tangled in Politics, oh… maybe 20 times. One of my friends even thought I’d written it, which gave me a good belly laugh. I’m going places, but trust me, the WORLD will know if my byline ever appears in the Times.

What did I think of the piece by Catherine Saint Louis? Well, I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know but it was an engaging read nonetheless. The author did her best at being balanced, revealing the perspectives of academics:

In the face of cultural pressure, the thinking goes, conformists relax their hair, and rebels have the courage not to. In some corners, relaxing one’s hair is even seen as wishing to be white.

“For black women, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” said Ingrid Banks, an associate professor of black studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “If you’ve got straight hair, you’re pegged as selling out. If you don’t straighten your hair,” she said, “you’re seen as not practicing appropriate grooming practices.””

Saint Louis reached out to those who embrace the versatility of hairstyling through all means, by featuring Tywana Smith of Treasured Locks:

“... in recent interviews, a number of people of color expressed a weariness with the debate. They asked, essentially: Why can’t hair just be hair? Must an Afro peg a woman as the political heir to Angela Davis? Is a fashionista who replicates the first lady’s clean-cut bob really being untrue to herself?

“I am who I am regardless of how I wear my hair,” said Tywana Smith, an owner of Treasured Locks, a Web site devoted to upkeep for relaxed and natural hair. “I want my kids to be seen for who they are, not for how they wear their hair,” she added. “Whether they walk down the street with twists or braids, they aren’t making any other statement other than ‘Today I felt like twists.’ ””

And big respect to Patricia Gaines of Nappturality, for being quoted in the piece on hair color — a topic recently explored right here on Afrobella:

“Oddly, Patricia Gaines, the founder of Nappturality.com, a pro-natural Web site, points out that dyeing one’s Afro puffs or double-strand twists blond isn’t viewed as conforming to a Euro-centric look. “It’s never been about color with black women,” she said, referring to the tint of one’s hair. “If it’s blond hair and it’s nappy, it’s still nappy.” (A term she uses proudly, though some use it as a slur.)

Saint Louis’ article covered the bases, and as Jezebel pointed out the great hair debate does become tiresome after a while. But I found the comments on the NY Times to be even more insightful as to where we’re really at regarding this issue today.

Whenever these issues are raised in a forum that isn’t necessarily targeted to black readers, one finds an interesting curiosity (often coupled with a lack of understanding) from readers of varied backgrounds. Most often I notice women who express admiration for kinky, coily black hair and wish their hair had the ability to be as multitextured, and then there are my curly haired Caucasian sisters who say their hair issues are similar which… I’m sorry, and I say this with love and affection — in my opinion, they aren’t. Hair texture is a much more complicated, deeply rooted issue in black communities around the world and I sincerely believe that so much of this dates back to the days of slavery. There’s more to be said (there always is), so maybe I’ll write a post on that in the future.

For now I’ll say congratulations to Nappturality and Treasured Locks for being featured in such an esteemed publication, and I encourage you to check out the piece for yourself. I
loved the interactive feature where 9 black women discuss their hairstyles.

That feature really made me want to know more about the women featured. Two of the women in particular — Megan Kennedy declared she was from Trinidad, but I think I know my accents, and Michelle Lewis, who proudly wears a weave, sounded Caribbean as well. Hmmmm.

Did you read the article, bellas? What did you think? What would you have said, or left unsaid?

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