Monday, October 22, 2012

HairTroversy: When Do You Speak Up?

By Tenisha Mercer

Natural hair conversations at work -- Source
New job.

As my usual new job policy, I wore my hair curly. (For me, this is just what I usually always do, even though I'm due for flat ironing.)

While at lunch with some new co-workers -- a white woman (let's call her Becki) and a black man (let's call him Byron) -- the topic of a senior executive's natural hair came up. This executive is now relaxed -- and her relaxed hair isn't all that to write home about.

Natural Hair Scenario

Here's how the convo went: 

Becki: I'm so glad that she did something with her hair.
Me: What do you mean?
Byron: It was a mess for a while there.
Becki: It looked crazy; it just didn't look right.
Byron: Everybody can't do natural.

I left the convo alone:

1. Only been working there a week. I really don't know anyone well enough  to make a judgment call on anyone's hair.
2. I was clearly natural, and I wondered if this was "my test" as I was wearing a curly fro.
3. This was my first lunch and at-length convo with Becki and Bryan, and I didn't have all the facts.

But, it still left me thinking. We were in mixed company, but I can't fault Becki's observations. They didn't reek of anything but her personal opinion. Not everyone is going to like natural hair or natural hair styles. But, my main issue was with Byron, who is Black.

What Would You Do?
The, "Not everyone can wear natural hair" could have been a teachable moment. But I just didn't have the energy that day. If it comes up again (and it probably will, considering that Black men can have just as bad an image of natural hair as Black women) then I will tell him that God doesn't make mistakes.

They may have both not agreed about her styling choice, but natural hair isn't like relaxed hair: It takes trial and error with products, regimens and hair styles. Any natural will tell you that there are days when your hair is on point and there are days when it's not so much.

I wanted to tell Bryon that, outside of natural circles, rarely have I heard anyone say, "Not everyone can go relaxed."

Naps Get Back
Because the belief is, especially in our communities, that we can, and should, relax our hair.

At all costs.

So what if that relaxer leaves scalp wounds.

So what if that relaxer leaves no edges.

So what if that relaxer leaves hair napes chewed up and busted.

So what if that relaxer makes our  hair look as if it's chewed up and spit out.

Quite frankly, it was a teachable moment that I didn't feel like having in front of a white woman, who probably had no idea what "natural " hair meant, anyway. This was our ish -- not hers.

Maybe Becki needed to hear the convo; maybe she didn't. Days later, I'm still torn. Part of me wanted to tell him that relaxed hair isn't perfect, that maybe she needed a bit of time to get her hair together, that relaxed hair isn't always the solution. The other part of me says I did the right thing around people I didn't know.

When do you speak up or when do you leave it alone?

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