White Women Don’t Belong in Natural Hair Spaces

The title of this post sums up what I’m going to write about here. Twitter is abuzz about a post on Curly Nikki, featuring a Q&A with a white woman named Sarah talking about how she has learned to embrace her curls. This seemingly innocuous post features this woman musing about how she’s learned to accept her texture, and doing everything from co-washing, hoarding products to sleeping in a satin bonnet to protect her texture.

Sounds familiar?

So a site that was started by a black woman as a guide to help other black women with natural hair or those who were transitioning to natural hair decided to once again (I’m told it’s not the first time a white woman was interviewed) feature a white woman discussing her curly hair. What’s more offensive is they didn’t even alter the questions to account for the fact that Sarah never transitioned or “went natural.” However, Curly Nikki is a lot different than what it used to be. It’s now a brand owned by TextureMedia, a company that offers “dynamic social platform that empowers & engages a multicultural community of female influencers – the largest in the world of haircare.”

Oh…

Anyway, I am beyond exhausted of seeing white women propped up in spaces traditionally reserved for black women as a way to add credibility to our issues. I’m tired of seeing the use of white women employed to appeal to the masses, as this does nothing but silence and eliminate the experiences and voices of black women. I’m sick of white women coming into black women’s spaces, with what they call an attempt to learn and create solidarity, only to use their privilege to take over and ignore our plight as they work to bolster their own brand.

White women and their hair stories do not belong in spaces that cater to black women with natural hair. The term ‘natural hair’ has always been connected to black women and our hair stories, not that of white women. White women, while they can have curly hair, can not refer to their hair as natural without engaging in some form of cultural appropriation. This white woman did not start wearing her hair natural nor did she transition. She simply wore one hairstyle while growing up, and later decided she would wear her hair down. That decision by this woman featured in this blog post can NEVER compare to what black women face when we decide to transition from chemically relaxed to natural hairstyles.

The faux struggles curly-haired white women face when they “embrace their texture” is nothing like the social, political, personal and economic fallout inflicted upon black women when we shun the relaxer. Curly-haired white women don’t know what it’s like to have your boyfriend (or girlfriend) flat out say he (or she) prefers your hair to be straight (because of that whole white Eurocentric beauty brainwashing thing); when you family asks you, “You going to keep your hair like that?” Or “What do you plan to do with it?”; when white women ask you all kinds of ridiculous questions about your hair routine (because we can’t possibly use the same shampoo and conditioner as them, right?); when people are so brazen and arrogant to believe they have the right to ignore your humanity and run their grimy fingers through your coils; when your boss comes up to you and tells you how unprofessional your Afro is and that it does not belong in the workplace; when fellow black women talk about how brave you are to go natural, to embrace your kinks and wish they can do the same; when you spend hours upon hours on YouTube watching self-appointed natural hair stars demonstrate their tips on how to get the perfect twist out (because having a frizzy twist-out is not cute, apparently).

I’m sure there are some who couldn’t care less about Curly Nikki featuring this white woman in her Q&A. I know there are some of y’all who believe appropriation by white folks is flattery; that this is a nonissue and black women will find anything to be upset about. This white woman’s appropriation of the natural hair community’s terminology and framing those experiences as comparable to what she went through in her “journey” is indicative of her and Curly Nikki’s disregard for black women and our humanity. It ignores the gritty and sobering issues black women who wear natural hair face — those issues white women can bypass and brush off because they are, well, white.

Furthermore, the use of this white woman and her hair story further perpetuates the trend in natural hair circles to center experiences around women who have a looser curl pattern or, for those who are obsessed with hair typing, the 3a, 3b, 3c, etc. Black women who have tighter coils, kinks and naps — 4a, 4b, 4c, etc. for those keeping score — are constantly told through marketing campaigns that our texture is not the kind of natural hair we should embrace. It’s not a coincidence that we see an abundance of curl enhancers/definers being peddled towards black women who aren’t yet comfortable with rocking their frizzy undefined afros. Obsessed with chasing the ever-elusive curl, black women spend countless hours on YouTube and blogs such as Curly Nikki looking for ways they can make their 4z texture appear more like a woman rocking 3c curls. Some of us spend hundreds of dollars each year on hair products that promise to give us curly, defined styles. We spend hours each week twisting and stretching our hair to make sure we don’t wake up the next day looking like Don King’s shrunken down Afro. But we are supposed to look at this Q&A featuring this white woman and feel inspired to embrace our naps because her curly hair experience is just like ours!

We should not want or need white woman and their loose curl patterns in natural hair circles for black women. We should not promote white women picking and choosing which parts of blackness they can mold into their life experiences while simultaneously erasing and invalidating the lived experiences of black women who can’t leverage white privilege to make our journeys easier to navigate.

4 comments on “White Women Don’t Belong in Natural Hair Spaces

  1. While I understand where you’re coming from, I just can’t get on board with statements like this: “Curly-haired white women don’t know what it’s like to have your
    boyfriend (or girlfriend) flat out say he (or she) prefers your hair to
    be straight (because of that whole white Eurocentric beauty brainwashing
    thing)” Black women aren’t the only ones who feel pressured to wear their hair straight. And yes, there in fact are curly haired white women who hear that from their significant others and family members. However, I do think it’s important for Black women to have a space where they can share their stories and learn how to care for their hair in its natural state. I feel strongly about that because for years there was no such space. And yes, historically, Black women have been brainwashed to think their hair is ugly and unacceptable. And no, her journey isn’t the same, not at all, but I’m just looking at it from both sides. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised to see her feature on there the other day, because I was, and I just knew there would be backlash for it. This is one of the reasons I have an issue with the term “natural hair.” Because its true definition can apply to anyone really. Now if we’re talking about unprocessed, afro-textured hair, then that’s getting a little more specific, but I think it’s a little silly to say that Black women have sole ownership of the term “natural hair.” I’m torn really, because I understand where the backlash is coming from, but at the same time, I feel like its doing more harm than good. I personally don’t need to read a story about a White woman to “add credibility to our issues.” I agree with you there. But I don’t need to read a story about a Black woman to add credibility to my issues either. I don’t feel comfortable giving anyone that type of power to be honest. But that’s just me…

  2. Hi Dana,

    I am responding to your post directly, but not you as a person. I want to offer a critique of some of your assumptions. I think many people hold those assumptions that are damaging. I say this with tough love–but all love.

    Your response seems to pretend that this blog post lacks fairness towards white women with curly hair. I am thinking of you saying that you’re “looking at both sides.” I want to follow your logic with some evidence of about the material consequences for Black woman with non-chemically processed hair. If your “both sides” argument can withstand some pressure, then take me up on my challenge to find white women faces these SAME economic and emotional traumas because their hair is curly. Have white women with curly hair suffered from being fired from job, physically assaulted, publicly ridiculed and humiliation on international radio waves, face discrimination zoning and regulations? Below are just a quick Google search of headlines about Black women facing humiliating treatment because of their natural Kinky hair. My examples show not only individual discrimination against Black women with natural hair, but also systematic and legalized regulations against Black women.

    1. Black women are fired from their jobs because of their hair.
    A. Rhonda Lee http://newsone.com/2867261/rhonda-lee-weather-woman-fired-natural-hair/

    B. Farryn Johnson http://articles.latimes.com/2013/oct/24/local/la-me-ln-african-american-hooters-blond-hair-20131024

    2. Black girl’s hair are cut OFF in front of their class.
    A. Lamya Cannon http://www.wisn.com/Teacher-Cuts-Off-Girl-s-Braid-In-Front-Of-Class/8066492#!9ziDm

    3. Basketball Players attacked on international air waves
    B. Rutger’s Basketball Team attacked my Don Imus http://www.katu.com/entertainment/6911147.html

    4. Black Women serving in the Military must follow strict rules about how they wear their hair. http://www.katu.com/entertainment/6911147.html

    5. Black Natural Hair stylist face discriminatory laws in several states.
    http://politic365.com/2013/06/03/natural-hair-baggage-anti-braiding-laws-policies-limit-options/

    Considering the wage gap sets white women making about %78 percent of a white man’s wage whereas Black women make only %60 percent of a white man wage. Therefore white women STILL making close to 17% percent MORE than Black women. (Source: American Association of University Women’s “How Does Race Affect the Gender Wage Gap?” http://www.aauw.org/2014/04/03/race-and-the-gender-wage-gap/) The material effects of a Black women being fired from her job, privately owned hair shop being closed down or a Black girl being kicked out of school deals a serious blow to US. Sure anyone can think the Earth is flat. Due to the scientific evidence to the contrary, those claim are quite anti-intellectual and detached from reality. Female whiteness (a ideology also detached from reality) prefers to claim ownership to the universal experience of all women. In this case, white women claim their universal appeal as also having natural hair “just like” Black women. The Earth is not flat and White women’s curly hair is not Black women’s natural hair. White women don’t face the same material, emotional, and economic traumas as Black women. Someone making that claim lacks the evidence to make that claim. Your and other’s attempt at conflating a white woman’s hair experience ours (I’m a natural 4C) is devoid of logic and fact, and lacks emotional sophistication of the nuance of Black natural hair. If I am wrong, I am willing to learn about these phantom white women and their phantom tears.

    Cheers,
    AN

  3. Black women, to a certain degree, do have ownership on the term “natural”. We coined that term to mean afro textured (or type) hair that is free from chemical processes. Now does that mean that other races can’t refer to their hair as natural? No, any race can be “natural” but other races of women usually refer to that type of hair as “virgin”. This movement was created for us, by us. Now people are trying to tell us we don’t have “ownership” of it. We put in the work, developed the natural hair blogs, spent hours filming the Youtube videos,the hair care forums, created the product lines, the hashtags, the T-shirts and whatever else was necessary to get the word out that our hair is BEAUTIFUL and now all of a sudden we don’t have “ownership” over it? Some of the comments I read on the Curly Nikki website literally made me shake my head. Some women were saying that by featuring and including white women in the movement, it will cause whites to begin to “accept” our hair. Another commenter said that hopefully this will cause whites to see our hair as “normal” as theirs is. Excuse me?! Hearing the words “acceptance” or “normal” as it pertains to whites and our hair makes me cringe a tad. I don’t CARE if whites think my hair is “normal” or “acceptable”. I thought that was the point of the natural hair movement. To give a big screw you to conventional beauty standards. I like that my hair isn’t viewed as “normal”. I don’t mind that some can’t “accept” my hair. I welcome the looks of intrigue and amazement that rocking my kinky hair garners. I don’t need to be accepted, simply respected for the uniqueness of who I am. I don’t need people to see my hair as “normal” so long as they don’t ostracize me for it.

  4. The black woman’s definition of “Natural hair” is a Connotation, and there is nothing wrong with black people having sole claim to it. It’s called taking power, and we shouldn’t have to apologize for it. Nobody had a problem with us calling it that before. Now that this business is worth over $600 million dollars, people want to start putting stipulations and rules on it! Why do white women want a piece of the NHM now any? Money, plain and simple. Relaxer sales are only down 30%, but Natural hair products bring in more money than relaxers do. People have always capitalized off of things the black community coined, and this is no different. I see the integration of white women in the NHM as the precursor to non-black companies becoming the #1 retailers of Natural hair products.

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