I’m going to just jump right in on this one.

There is one aspect of stereotyping and assumption-making that is particularly irritating. The assumption that wearing my natural hair and curl pattern is any indication of my political views, my character, or anything other aspect of my personality, really grinds my gears. The idea that my choosing the way God made me, over straightened hair, is assumed to be a statement of rebellion, or disapproval of the status quo, is an antiquated idea based in fear. On the contrary, my hair choices are sometimes related to fashion, and other times related to convenience, but never has it been about proving a point to any person in society. My hair, is just that, MINE!

To illustrate this point more clearly, let’s contrast this with the mainstream norms. When a white woman wears her hair straight, or curly or however it comes out of her head, it is never viewed as a statement. Why isn’t it the same for black women?

Something I’ve noticed over the period of becoming “one of those naturals”, is that people make an assumption about black people when they make a decision to break away from what is “normal” or accepted. Somehow, it is translated from different to strange to scary. There always seems to be some sort of fear, question or unsolicited opinion wrapped up in my coils. For hair to be something that is so non-definitive about someone’s personality, how has it somehow become a method of categorizing and stereotyping people? Imagine if we began making assumptions about people who had gaps in their teeth, or people who had small ears, or any other random feature on the human body.

But there is history here and this kind of prejudice goes back to the 1970’s, when the revolution began. That is, the Black Revolution and the birth of the Black Panther Party.

The Black Panther Party was born out of a desire to take back the power that had been stripped from black people. During the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1950’s and 1960’s, MLK Jr. emphasized the importance of non-violence and chose instead to expose the brutality of the treatment of black people in the South.

There were many black people during this time that felt powerless and felt that a non-violent tactic made them look weak. Part of the reason, was because they were being targeted and physically harmed by those in positions of power. Instead, they aimed to organize and claim their own power through their self-directed organizations and efforts to advance the “negro” race.

The efforts of the Black Panther Party were shrouded with an image of violence due to their “NO BS” mentality.  Truthfully, they weren’t focused on harming white people, that simply became a by-product of defending themselves against a system built against them. There wouldn’t have been a need for violent force, had there not been violent force from the opposing party.

In so many obvious ways, and some not so obvious ways, the white majority were hell-bent on maintaining the status quo of the oppression of black people. It was an “at whatever cost” time for both parties. Though the Black Panther Party’s efforts were purely for good, and establishing a balance of power, they were depicted as violent “militants”.

Sometimes it is important to take a trip down memory lane, especially since we are in the midst of a resurgence of the black pride era and a resurgence of the popularity of wearing naturally textured hair. It is necessary to review where we have been to see how we got to where we are today.

Back in the day, Afros were a popular style for black people trying to find their voice and make a name for those who looked like them. It became a statement because, during that time, no one was wearing their hair that way. For so long, black people were just trying to get by, trying to get ahead if possible and trying not to offend. The cost was assimilating into the white mainstream culture. I suppose that as a result of black people hiding and assimilating into the white mainstream, America was sheltered from what blackness means and what it looks like.

As we stomped into the 1970’s, and the stylish big poofy Afro made its debut, black people were tired of being told how to be and what they could and couldn’t do. As a consequence, a choice like how they wore their hair, became an accurate representation of what that person thought about society as a whole.

Though the history speaks about the origins of wearing proud poofy Afros, it is not an accurate statement about the motivations of women with natural tresses today. I happen to be one of those individuals who have chosen, without much thought, to let my hair do its own thing.

I have spent too many of my childhood, adolescent, teenage and young adult years adjusting my behavior and altering my hair to fit the “appropriate” aesthetic of straightened hair. My hair constantly rebelled and it became extremely frustrating. I wanted to know how my hair would look, feel and how it could be managed if I let it breathe. Since God decided my hair was meant to be curly, I decided to let go and let God. I am much happier without constantly fighting what might happen to my long-fussed-over hair, when and if it rained.

My hair, nor your hair, or anyone else’s hair for that matter, communicates any type of speech about personal beliefs, or agendas in life. If anything at all, hair is self-expression, but at a base level it is no different than any other unique feature on the human body. It is the way God created us, NOT a political statement.

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Yours Truthfully,

Ryan Elliston