The Magnolia Literacy Project
“Natural Hair, Evolving Perspectives, and Change”
By Karys Dove
First-year student and Computer Science major at Jackson State University
Honoring Black History Month 2023, Karys Dove participated in a blog writing project about race-based hair discrimination. She and her colleagues in Composition & Literature for Language Arts/Honors English at Jackson State University wrote personal narratives reflecting their experiences and observations. In her post, Karys shares insight gained from her grandmother, mother, and exposure within JSU’s campus community.
"Natural Hair, Evolving Perspectives, and Change"
Being born and raised in the city of Austin, Texas, I was conditioned to have a softer view of certain controversial issues. Before coming to Jackson State University, I believed that I had never experienced or seen any instances of race-based hair discrimination. Personally, I felt as if I was an outsider to this issue because I was born with a softer hair texture than some of my Black peers. As I have gotten older and the more I am exposed to different perspectives, I can think back to certain instances and realize that “small” cases of racism are deeply rooted.
At a very young age, I was always asked, “Are you mixed?”
This never alarmed me. I thought it was a normal question since I heard it often. Although I was not experiencing intense discrimination, the question was a micro-aggression, and it took me a while to realize that it was not “normal” to ask. Because I had looser curls, my White peers believed that I couldn’t be fully Black. Their idea of Black hair was that it couldn’t be beautiful.
My answer was always, “No. Both my parents are Black,” a response that popped their balloon. I was often met with faces of surprise and confusion, and I never understood why until I got older.
My Nana and my Mommy were both raised in the era of perms and hot combs.
I remember asking my Mommy, “Why’d you always have perms?”
She told me she’d been getting them for as long as she could remember and that she had never seen her natural hair until after she gave birth to my youngest brother. Nana raised her daughters to keep their hair “slick and neat” because that’s the only way society would even consider them as having any value.
Mommy’s hairdresser echoed Nana’s sentiments, constantly reminding her and her sisters to, “Never leave home in your house clothes. Always dress to your best. Keep your hair slick and neat.”
This mindset was ingrained into the heads of Black women across the country for generations. This issue dates back to slavery, where Black hair was deemed unattractive. Our natural hair strands shrivel and grow towards the sun, unlike our white counterparts. Disdain for our authentic tresses bled into the workplaces generations later, when Black hair was banned for being unprofessional and unacceptable. So many Black women began to assimilate with the hot comb and the perm. Not only is the perm hazardous physically, but it has also damaged our mentality and taught us to hate our natural hair. Systemic and cultural rejection of the natural Black person causes inner conflict within Black communities. Many of us still hide behind the sleek look because we have been programmed to believe that it looks “nicer.”
Fortunately, progress is on the horizon. This mentality has started to shift in recent years. The current natural hair movement is reinstating the significance of self-identity that existed through hair before Africans were brought to America.
Though I felt sheltered from many issues surrounding discrimination, subtle instances are rooted back many generations. Due to knowledge I have gained through the years, I am able to connect the dots and understand multiple angles. Coming to terms with the larger context of my experience among disconnected peers is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to race-based hair discrimination. And I am blessed to have two beautiful women to educate me on this issue from first-hand experiences. I’m also grateful to grow up in a generation that pushes to accept each other without question. Every day minds are opened and the “norm” is changing, forcing this need to be accepted to become nothing but a distant memory.