Black Hair

Martine Powers, Yale Daily News, April 8, 2011

{snip}

Dilan Gomih ’13 gets a lot of questions about her hair, too. She loves them.

“I love explaining my hair care regiment to people,” she said. “It gives me so much joy to bestow the teachings of black hair onto others.”

Like most black women on campus, Gomih [Dilan Gomih ’13] regularly applies a “relaxer”–an alkaline cream that strips away the proteins in hair and causes the curl to straighten out, or “relax.” For her, like for most black women, it’s a painful process. The white cream is applied to the root of the hair and left to marinate for a few minutes. Then, the itching and burning sensations begin. While the relaxer dissolves parts of the hair shaft, it also starts burning through the skin on the scalp.

The chemical has about the same pH-level as Drano, the stuff you pour down your drain to eat away the gunk in the pipes.

A woman having her hair “relaxed” usually sits with the chemical in her hair until she can’t stand the burn any longer–usually about ten minutes. After the relaxer is washed out, the hair must be conditioned immediately or else it will start to break off just above the root. Soon after, raw spots on the scalp begin to ooze with blood. A couple hours later, scabs form.

Repeat every six to eight weeks.

{snip} She schedules a three-hour chunk of time every week to style her hair, usually after her last class on Thursdays. She keeps a stand-up hair dryer–you know, the ones that look like suspended astronaut helmets–in her room. {snip}

When she first arrived at Yale, none of Gomih’s suitemates knew anything about black people’s hair–how it works, how it’s styled and maintained. They asked a lot of questions. They watched her while she stood in front of the bathroom mirror, applying different oils and serums and keratin infusions, setting her hair in curlers, blow-drying, straight-ironing. When they went on trips to the pharmacy together, she would take them through the black hair care aisle. They wanted to see it wet, because they never see it wet–Gomih, like most black woman who straighten their hair, only washes it about once every 10 days.

{snip}

That kind of instruction came with romantic relationships, too. Gomih’s boyfriend is white. He had never dated a black girl before. The first time he tried to run his hands through her hair while they were kissing, she gently pulled his hand away. The second time he did it, “it became more of a slap,” she said.

“Any guy who dates me knows that you don’t touch the hair,” Gomih said. “There’s no ‘Ooh, lemme see it messed up, lemme see it wet.’ I love you, but you don’t touch my hair.”

{snip}

For Taylor Vaughn-Lasley ’12, it was concerns about hygiene that prompted the hair questions.

“I definitely had to explain to my suitemates that I don’t wash my hair every day,” Vaughn-Lasley said. “Basically, what I will say to them is that the amount of time that it takes for a white person’s hair to get oily, which is like two days, takes a black person’s hair more like two weeks.”

{snip}

“I wrap my hair every night around my head and hold it with bobby pins, and my suitemates have always just thought that it’s really comical to see me walking around with my hair pasted to my head.”

For most of her life, Vaughn-Lasley wore her hair natural, or in little twists. She began straightening her hair at the end of high school, right before prom. She liked it. She could change her hair whenever she wanted, to whatever she wanted–bone-straight, curly, wavy. She could add extensions and make her hair longer, sleek and flowing.

{snip}

For Vaughn-Lasley, maintaining straight hair is time-consuming and painful–her hands cramp up, and she accidentally burns herself with the straight iron. But it’s worth it to have hair that makes her feel beautiful and confident every time she walks out the door. She does not feel like herself with natural hair.

{snip}

Up until her junior year of college, Kayla Vinson ’11 had been relaxing, or “perming,” her hair every couple of months since she was 12 years old. But once she came to Yale, she realized that there had to be another way. She wondered if she could become a part of Yale’s small, but growing, community of women with natural hair.

Vinson feared the long-term effects all that chemical processing on her hair. Relaxers can cause hair-thinning, and sometimes even baldness.

Moreover, she said, she was tired of feeling dependent on straightening treatments in order to feel confident in how she looked.

{snip}

Vinson tried to explain it in simpler terms.

“I think that, like, it’s a contradiction to tell someone they’re beautiful just the way God made them, but every six weeks you need to go to the beauty salon and make sure your hair looks like the white person walking down the street,” Vinson said. “I just think it’s a contradiction.”

Vinson also had examples to follow. She says that she saw more women at Yale with natural hair than she ever saw back home in Atlanta. She believes that this is because black women in academia are more likely to understand the connotations of their hair, and the ways that a relaxed hairstyle can be construed as “trying to be white.”

So, she started to consider “going natural.” She agonized for most of her junior year.

The problem was that “relaxed,” chemically straightened hair never returns to its natural state. New, curly hair just grows in at the root. If Vinson wanted to go natural, she would have to start from scratch–cut off all the old, straightened hair, leaving only the new growth from the last time that she had applied a relaxer.

She avoided making a decision by holding off on relaxing her hair, instead keeping it in twists or braids so no one would see the roots growing in. She wondered: How would it look? Would she regret cutting off all her relaxed hair? What would guys think?

Then, one morning at the end of spring semester, she woke up and knew what she wanted. She made an appointment for a haircut the next day. She didn’t tell anyone except her mother about the impending, life-altering decision. She arrived at the salon.

“I want you to cut my hair off,” she declared to the hairdresser.

{snip}

Vinson says she believes her natural hair is more reflective of who she is inside, of her beliefs in black pride and empowerment. And she feels prettier now, more comfortable in her own skin. She loves her new Afro, likes to touch it and play with it. She likes that she will never have to sit down with a relaxer burning into her scalp again.

{snip}

[Carol Crouch is] worried her Afro might scare guys away. Perhaps it intimidates them. Or maybe the type of black women who are most often considered beautiful–the Beyonces, Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbells of the world–rarely wear their hair natural.

“A lot of people don’t know what to do with it, because they’re more used to black women with relaxed hair or a weave or braids,” Crouch said. “If you’re a woman of color, I don’t think guys are seeking girls with natural hair, whether they’re a black guy or a white guy.”

But Vinson says she has had the opposite experience since going natural. It’s been less than a year since she started rocking an Afro, and she said that in that time period she’s received more attention from guys of all races than in her other three years of college combined. She wonders if the cause of that new attention is her new hair, or if it’s more about her newly acquired self-confidence.

{snip}

Carol Crouch is currently a freshman, so she has a while before she needs to worry about how her hair will affect her employment prospects. Still, she remembers how she felt before her interview for Yale: she made a point to wear her natural hair. She hopes that three years from now, when she’s looking for a job, she will make that same choice.

{snip}

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  • Tim in Indiana

    “I think that, like, it’s a contradiction to tell someone they’re beautiful just the way God made them, but every six weeks you need to go to the beauty salon and make sure your hair looks like the white person walking down the street,” Vinson said.

    Vinson says she believes her natural hair is more reflective of who she is inside, of her beliefs in black pride and empowerment.

    she said that in that time period she’s received more attention from guys of all races than in her other three years of college combined.

    Hmmm. I’m confused. If she’s so proud of her race, then why would she be concerned about attention from guys of other races?

  • Simonetta

    Reminds me of the scene in Spike Lee’s film “Malcolm X” where Malcolm is getting a ‘conk’ without realizing that the city has turned the water off in his apartment. He dunks his head into the toilet just as the cops burst in to arrest them. The officer says “N… get your head out of the toilet!”

  • GenX ANZAC

    90%+ of the world’s population has black hair.

    White people with our red, blonde, black and brunette hair accompanied with our blue, grey, brown or green eyes and then add our changing skin tones depending on the condition can go literally green, blue, red, yellow, orange, purple or bright White etc.

    This makes us a very exotic genetic prize in this world.

    Srange how most Whites consider themselves to be bland and that ‘color’ is somehow associated with the monochromatic majority.

  • olewhitelady

    For black women, properly maintaining straightened hair is an expensive and time-consuming process. Most women and girls who do it end up plastering their hair down with pomade, which makes them look like they’re straight from the ghetto. Many of the black women I’ve worked with wore wigs, and hair weaves are also extremely popular–something this article doesn’t mention. The author was seemingly trying to make it sound as though black women’s only options are hair that’s chemically straightened or naturally kinky. And, of course, many black females have naturally curly or straight hair because of non-African genes.

    To me, afros look fine if they’re evenly cut and not too big. And I can’t imagine blacks suffering job discrimination because of their hairdos, given some of the corn-row and dreadlock jobs I’ve seen on working people.

  • Anonymous

    What ISN’T complicated for blacks. Man or woman!

  • Anonymous

    The more I read about the pecadillos of blacks, the more I become convinced the overwhelming majority of them are psychologically damaged and suffer from an enormous amount of low self esteem. Despite the best efforts to instill a sense of pride in their race, it is apparent that if given the choice, they would rather be reborn white.

  • Tom S.

    WHO CARES!!! I personally have no interest in the “hair care regiment” of blacks and definitely don’t want to touch it, I’m just thankful I was born with “good” White hair.

    Hair and eye color are two of the many things that blacks are EXTREMELY jealous of with Whites. Blacks that have no White blood all have ONE hair color and texture – black and nappy – and ONE eye color – very dark brown to black, whereas Whites have a colorful rainbow of eye color and a wide spectrum of hair textures and colors. With all that going for them, why on earth would any White people be curious about “black hair”?

    Even when I was in elementary school, I thought the little black girls looked ‘odd’ with those stiff ponytails that stuck straight out in all directions like antennas!

  • Anonymous

    First things first: when a woman talks hair, she can say what she likes about ’empowerment’ and ‘black pride’ (or any other) and it doesn’t mean a thing because a head of lush hair is still a mating tool as sure as a peacock’s plumes. i.e. It has no place in any woman’s list of reasons for attending college.

    That said, it -used to be- that when a white woman went to college it was seen as a valid form of pedigree. ‘Here is my proof of intelligence and what your children will benefit from if you pick me.’

    Which is a valid reason to be at college since you want smart people to have kids as often as possible and saturaing the enviroment helps as it allows lots of people to court seriously in college because they are, for the first time, in their majority as sexual partners and handling a similar lifestyle as coursework, job and expanded awareness of educated society.

    i.e. Up until the 1970s it was a dating club but it was also still an institution of higher learning.

    Now, a high ranking Ivy League institution has to justify the de-napping of black hair as a ‘social custom of empowerment or enslavement as a means to immitate or defy whiteness’. And we are back to talking inappropriate social diatribes by a minority not know for their brilliance in deserving to be at a higher institution for learning anyway.

    Which means that the natural mate selection process has been derailed between intelligent whites at the same time the _functional_ purpose of higher education itself is now second ranked to the fantasy social insecurities of black women finding themselves ostracized in a white environment and choosing to blame their hair for it.

    What utter hubris as social agendism.

    Black Women are routinely noted, with or without ‘relaxed’ hair, as among the least attractive of all females to all males of all races. The fact that black males on-campus are all after white women while running their own AA scam only makes it worse because now it’s a about getting the real deal rather than the pretender across both the gender beauty and racial IQ divide.

    The world would be a better place for whites if white colleges did not have to pander to black phobias and make us listen to their secret fear of not being -enough- like us to be worthy of being there.

  • Anonymous

    She could add extensions and make her hair longer, sleek and flowing.

    I would say they make her hair “fake” rather than “longer”, or possibly “Chinese” (if the extensions are real human hair).

  • Arthur

    Didn’t the article mention the fact that one of the Black women has a White boyfriend?

    Sad.

  • Anonymous

    Vinson says she believes her natural hair is more reflective of who she is inside, of her beliefs in black pride and empowerment.

    But she has a WHITE boyfriend!

  • Anonymous

    What fascinates me is the topic of the article in a publication for Yale students: Gomih’s commitment to straight hair. How different the Yale of 2011 is from Yale of 1911! The students and faculty in 1911 could not even comprehend today’s Yale, with its Diversity and African hair straightening.

    What will the Yale of 2111 be like? What will be taught? And in what language? And will Yale even exist?

  • Seneca the Younger

    “Vinson says she believes her natural hair is more reflective of who she is inside”

    It is. And outside, too. It always makes me laugh when I see blacks or other dark people with blue contact lenses or blonde hair, it looks so weird. And the only person they are fooling are themselves.

  • Anonymous

    The relaxer seems like agony, no wonder black women choose to wear wigs…

  • generalquagmyer

    “Gomih, like most black woman who straighten their hair, only washes it about once every 10 days.”

    Hmmm, yet another reason to not want anything to do with them. And all that time wasted trying to look like the people they hate!

    As I’ve said before here, I’m attracted to black women. No one finds the obese, melon-headed loudmouths attractive, but many of the angular, tall ones are pretty. I think they look just fine with natural hair. During my experimental days of dating them, I had a very pretty black girlfriend with extremely short hair and would often comment that she didn’t need anything covering her head and face to look pretty.

    Come to think of it, the only ones I ever really found attractive had natural hair. I suppose it’s whitey’s fault that they keep trying to look like a poor imitation or parody of our women, rather than appreciating their own very different kind of beauty. And I suppose there must be some sort of racist connotation to my being attracted to them in their natural state.

  • Anonymous

    “Soon after, raw spots on the scalp begin to ooze with blood. A couple hours later, scabs form.”

    EEwwwwwww!

  • Schadenfreude

    Like most black women…causes the curl to straighten out, or “relax.”… it’s a painful process… the itching and burning sensations….burning through the skin on the scalp… raw spots on the scalp …ooze with blood. A couple hours later, scabs form…

    HaHaHA…. the price blacks pay to look white!

  • Detroiter

    These two guys killed a store owner for hair weaves.

    http://www.clickondetroit.com/news/27262865/detail.html

    This is a weekly event here in Detroit. Store owners killed for little of nothing.

    Yes, hair is a touchy issue for blacks.

  • We Be Hairy, Yo

    “hair care regiment”

    Sounds like the hirsute have a few brigades of dedicated pelt care troops.

    I find it disparaging that the article devoted no space to the maintenance of hair on forearms and backs of hands. Mutual grooming and group mating are the cornerstones of the primate tribal cohesion. Ook-Oook!

  • Anonymous

    >>”When she first arrived at Yale, none of Gomih’s suitemates knew anything about black people’s hair—how it works, how it’s styled and maintained. They asked a lot of questions.”

    This reads like parody. I wish it was.

    I wonder, by the way, whether the Yale Daily News has ever published even one article of equal detail and length touting the accomplishments of the white race in the Western world. Or does that topic lack the intellectual weight of this paean to black silliness?

  • Anonymous

    This is a standard template fill in the blanks article for liberal writers.

    I’m so smart!!!!!! I am so liberal and open minded!!!!!!! I’m the only White person in the world who ever noticed that blacks have hair different from Whites and asians.

    Hoorah for me, horrah for me!!!!!!!!!

    Most periodicals and columnists keep this kind of article on file for slow days as a filler when nothing else is going on.

    Next up, black women’s makeup. Paprika red nail polish looks better than pale pink with dark brown skin!!!!!!!! Who knew?????

  • Anonymous

    While reading this article a question came to mind. Did a White guy invent “relaxer”? If that is the case, it won’t be long until one of them starts belllowing about racist Whitey making that relaxer to burn da wimmins.

  • Anonymous

    “hair care regiment”

    “It gives me so much joy to bestow the teachings of black hair onto others.”

    ______________________

    Fussing about her hair-care “regiment” might not be noteworthy coming from the average black waitress. But this is from the intellectual bastion of Yale?

    What is she learning at Yale, anyway? Hair straightening? Apparently not much more.

    Is this what all that scholarship money is being wasted on?

  • Robert Marchenoir

    Never mind the hair. Look at this :

    “When we were, like, all over the news and stuff, etc”

    Is that the way Yale students speak English nowadays ?

  • Mike H.

    It’s well known that their irrational hatred for whites is based on a deep seated envy.

    They want to be us and they try their hardest to be like us, but they will never be us. They know this deep down, and it drives them insane.

    That’s my take on it anyways.

  • Kulaks Need Not Apply

    Anon #25:

    What is she learning at Yale, anyway? Hair straightening? Apparently not much more.

    Well, you can be sure she’s not learning chemistry, physics or mechanical engineering.

    Is this what all that scholarship money is being wasted on?

    Scholarships (and admissions) that should go to those who ARE capable of learning chemistry, physics or mechanical engineering (and you can be sure they aren’t black or brown).

    #24 Robert Marchenoir writes

    When we were, like, all over the news and stuff, etc

    Is that the way Yale students speak English nowadays?

    Yes, see above. Add English Literature to the list of what “hair envy” and others of her ilk not capable of learning.

    Hair straightening as a major?

    Who says the Ivies are overrated?

  • voter

    How different the Yale of 2011 is from Yale of 1911! The students and faculty in 1911 could not even comprehend today’s Yale, with its Diversity and African hair straightening.

    What will the Yale of 2111 be like? What will be taught? And in what language? And will Yale even exist?

    ———————-

    Fascinating thought. Whatever it will be, if continuing the trends of today, we can be sure that it will be something utterly different from anything we can imagine. It certainly won’t be anything that we (or its founders) would define as an intellectual institution.

    All that “old white male” nonsense will be just as passe as dinosaurs.

  • voter

    “It’s well known that their irrational hatred for whites is based on a deep seated envy.

    They want to be us and they try their hardest to be like us, but they will never be us. They know this deep down, and it drives them insane.”

    Mike H.

    —————–

    Envy and hatred are closely related emotions. It is a very small jump from one to the other.

    When I envy (or admire) you, but start to realize that I can never be you, that’s when I start to hate you for being what I can’t be.

  • Bernie

    “I think that, like, it’s a contradiction to tell someone they’re beautiful just the way God made them, but every six weeks you need to go to the beauty salon and make sure your hair looks like the white person walking down the street,”

    Wouldn’t it be more correct to say the “non-black person” walking down the street? These people keep saying “women of color.” But they mean black women. Asians, Mexicans, Indians…etc are “women of color.” But they have straight hair like white people.

  • Anonymous

    Along with the long, smooth hair, ever notice that as soon as a black woman becomes a celeb, her skin’s suddenly light tan, but nobody says anything about it? I used to try to tell people about Michael Jackson, but they’d also say “He’s got a skin condition!” Yeah, and those little boys slept in separate beds, too.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve never understood the term “women/men of colour”…can someone explain to me who coined the term? Was it another sly phrase designed to create/maintain hostility. Don’t ALL ppl possess some sort of colour, & since Aryan races have different colours of hair & eyes, wouldn’t they technically be the most “coloured”?

    Anyway, on the topic of hair… Yes, it is a more tedious process for African females than for females of other races. I do know many who wear theirs natural & have no problems or complexes. Others relax theirs & don’t complain about the time b/c it is a choice, & they recognize the consequences.

    Though I don’t reside in the States, I feel that African American females tend to complain for the smallest things, & cannot see how many opportunities they have.

    When in high school, I noticed that some of my African female friends were tapping their heads occasionally. Upon inquiry, I was told that a few days before they relaxed their hair, it was a precaution, to reduce the discomfort of the relaxing process. It was necessary to ‘prep’ the hair & scalp. One little scratch of a nail could cause tons of pain when the chemicals were applied, so tapping was an accepted alternative to relieving itches. They also told me that it was better if the scalp was dirty…the dirtier the better, as the dirt buildup would buffer against the burns.

    Personally, I find weaves/synthetic hair to be repulsive (for anyone), unless worn for medical reasons. I’m glad I don’t have curly hair as it is so difficult to take care of. And straightening is a process that WILL damage hair over time. That goes for other races who have frizzy, finger-curl hair, as well.