Posted on April 13, 2011

Misrepresenting Black Hair

Dilan Gomihm, Yale Daily News, April 10, 2011

Last Friday, the WEEKEND cover story, entitled “Black Hair,” attempted to explain the inner workings of taking care of black women’s hair. I was one of the article’s main sources, and was disappointed with the final product. The article propagated misconceptions while vilifying women who choose to relax their hair. It made black women sound obsessed with hair and mistakenly portrayed them as willing to put themselves through chronic pain in order to feel beautiful. I, like many other black women who have read it, am extremely disappointed by the piece and would like to correct these misperceptions.

Misquotations and statements out of context aside, one major issue with the article was the author’s inaccurate description of the chemical straightening process. The author states that:

“A woman having her hair ‘relaxed’ usually sits with the chemical in her hair until she can’t stand the burn any longer. . . . 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.”

Bleeding? Scabbing? This is not the norm–in fact this is a worst-case scenario, bordering on a horror movie. When the relaxer processes for about 10 minutes, you may feel a tingle, which may be more intense if the scalp has been irritated. Unless your stylist is Satan doubling as a beautician, hairdressers do not torture their clients until they wash out the chemical. I have never bled. I have never met anyone who has bled after a relaxer. {snip}

Another issue was the author’s misrepresentation of the length of the black hair care process. Yes, it can take an average of two-and-a-half to three hours to complete washing, blow-drying and straightening. However, this is once every seven to 10 days. As one interviewee in the article mentions, black women do not wash their hair every day because oil takes time to build up in our hair. Every morning, it only takes three to five minutes for me to comb my hair and walk out the door. The cumulative time saved more than makes up for the periodic treatments. All women have to take care of their hair. It is unfair to characterize one type of beauty regimen as outlandish and sensational when it is simply different.

As for the allegation that black women don’t want their hair to be touched, there is a very simple explanation: it takes a long time to fix! {snip}

Finally, the author seemed quite biased towards natural hair in the article. I agree that natural hair is beautiful–but other forms of hair are too. {snip}


[Editor’s Note: The article the author is referring to can be read here.]