Hair Issues

What it Means to “Go Natural”

By: Breanna Y.

When I first went natural in late 2009, I had no idea the importance that it would have on my life, thoughts, and culture. I made the decision to “go natural” without knowing what it was, and without the input of the internet. All I knew was that I was tired of the relaxer game. When I finally did decide to look on the internet to see if there was anyone else crazy enough to stop putting a relaxer in their head, I found many black women had the same idea as well.

I remember seeing few, meaning literally less than 10, black women in my area with natural hair. As a result, when we spotted one another randomly in town, we exchanged a little smile, or nod, knowing what each other was going through. When I eventually looked online, and saw black youtubers go natural, I was able to see how black women’s hair could grow in its natural state.

Seeing black women “go natural”, also allowed me to dig up what history class hadn’t taught me. I never stopped and questioned why I wore a relaxer in the first place, how we as a people, all over the world, weren’t really taught how to do our hair, besides: grease, hot comb, braids, plaits, relaxer, texturizer, jheri curl, flat iron, tracks, or weave. I did my research and found out how we were literally made to forget a part of our culture: our hair. I didn’t realize that our curly hair hairstyle was part of our culture, like our language, heritage, etc.

I cringe at black women, both natural, and relaxed, who say things like, “It’s just hair. It doesn’t affect me.” For me, personally, I want so bad to see it as “just hair”, but I know it’s not. Because of this movement, I have stopped subconsciously looking at black women with long hair, and automatically assuming it’s fake. So, even if you are relaxed, this movement affects you as a BLACK WOMAN, because pretty soon, more and more people of all races, will stop questioning whether our hair is real or not

My main point of this article is: what does it mean to “go natural”, and who does it affect more: black, biracial, or nonblack people? This question came into mind, when a popular natural hair forum featured a white woman as “going natural”. Many natural women (black women) were appalled, and I could understand why.

Though everyone of every race is technically “natural”, the term has taken on new meaning in the black community. Think about it, how many of your nonblack friends have ever constantly referred to their hair as “natural”, or felt the need to? Now, I have heard nonblack people say this is my natural HAIR COLOR, when it comes to dyeing, but for the most part, most nonblack people just refer to their hair as “my hair”, because they don’t need to differentiate themselves, or prove that the hair they have on their head is theirs.

The term “natural” in the black community, in regards to hair, is used to differentiate one BLACK woman from another BLACK woman who chemically relaxes their hair. SIDENOTE: So, all these daytime television shows need to stop with the “Natural vs Weave” debate, because there is none, nor was weave every the reason that the natural hair movement started. One can be natural under a weave.

I’ve also heard, and seen, many biracial people, meaning those who have two parents of different races, and Latina (not black, or Afro, Latinas) say they are “going natural” which makes me do a double-take as well. Now, before any biracial women come at me with “What? Are we not “black enough” to be natural?” It has nothing to do with you being “black enough”, it does however have everything to do

with black people learning to love themselves, without getting someone else to represent them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen black women say how they “can’t go natural” for whatever reason, or have difficulty deciding to go natural, but in the same breath encourage a biracial girl to do it, or a Puerto Rican girl to do it.

Umm….it’s like HELLO BLACK WOMAN, THIS MOVEMENT IS FOR YOU! Don’t get me wrong, I love that other races, and biracial people, are learning to embrace their hair, but I would refer to it as “embracing your hair”, because “going natural” has much more meaning than: I stopped getting a relaxer, or I stopped straightening my hair. Being biracial, and having kinky, Afro-textured hair doesn’t mean you are “natural”, especially when black women’s hair, no matter their hair texture, is still seen at the bottom. I’m talking wavy, curly, coily, kinky, etc. I’ve seen biracial women with kinky hair get treated better than a black woman with loose curls, and this is even after they “accused” the black woman of being biracial because of her hair.

I have 4 nieces. Two are black, and two are biracial. I tell all four of them that their hair is beautiful, and we really don’t even focus on hair when I think about it. We refer to hair as hair, and that’s the end of it. No “good” or “bad” hair. However, I do know that without this movement, my two black nieces would’ve went through the same thing I went through growing up: thinking their hair is nappy and unmanageable.

Heck, my older niece, who is black, is already saying that she wishes her hair was straight, but lucky she also has that influence of seeing other naturals, including me, to know her hair is beautiful. So, why would I tell my biracial nieces that they are “natural” knowing they could’ve done just fine without this movement? They’ve been told they have “good hair”, and don’t really struggle when it comes to how they perceive their hair.

I see many biracial girls’ stories about how they got relaxers, or how they’ve had trouble learning about their hair. Let me clear something else up as well: I’m glad that this movement has allowed EVERYONE, regardless of race, to learn about their hair. However, I can’t help but think that biracial girls, even if you were picked on for your hair, didn’t “NEED” a relaxer, because even if you were picked on at that time in your life, by society’s standards you still have a silver-lining. Meaning, your hair will be seen as beautiful because you are biracial.

You know the stories, either white kids picked on you because your hair was “weird”, and you were the only “black kid”, or the black kids picked on you because of your “long hair”, which is usually due to jealousy. I would like to focus on the black kids who picked on you. I’m going to generalize, and go off on a whim when I say, more than likely many of the black kids who picked on biracial children for their hair, were subconsciously jealous that their hair did not look like yours

I feel that up until now, many black women didn’t have that silver lining. Some black women got a glimpse of that “lining” if they had “good” hair, but even they couldn’t never fully engulf it. When we turn on the tv the only “black” person with “beautiful” hair, was usually a biracial women with a number of hair textures, or a black woman so light in skin tone, she could be mistaken as biracial. Even in health magazine, you always see a biracial woman, with kinky to coily hair, doing yoga and getting fit.

To all the biracial women who are part black, please don’t ever feel like you are “not black enough”, when it comes to things like this. Please understand that black people need to see that they are beautiful as well, and can represent their beauty. One can support, without feeling the need to be included. I want black women/people to have their time to shine for something that’s truly empowering, and isn’t showing us in a negative light.

It’s fine if you take the terms “natural”, and “going natural”, and give it a new meaning for what it means to you. However, to me, going natural will always be associated with black women, though it’s out of my control, and there is a growing number of opinions of what it means to be “natural”, and who is and who isn’t. However, I’m just looking at who this movement has touched, and educated more.

Again, I’m glad everyone is learning about their hair, but I’m especially proud of the black women, who took the time to create a movement, to educate the men, children, and elders in our community, and let them know that it’s not “just hair”, but a deeply rooted seed of hate and anger. I’m thankful to the black women who took the time to let black people know that their hair is beautiful, no matter the texture, and isn’t the worst hair to have on a person who looks like we do.

What does “going natural” mean to you?

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