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.”


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.

19 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…

    1. There is a difference between the daily struggles of having curly hair or not likeing your hair, and a systematic destruction of black women and their natural curl patterns. Black women are shunned for being black, that’s whats happening here.

  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.

    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.


  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.

    1. I think you’re right in the sense that many companies are trying to take advantage of black women’s hair. However, I don’t think it’s fair to say that white women just want in on the NHM because of money. I want in on having my hair natural because I’m tired of being told to straighten it or tame it. I like natural. Please don’t see this as me being rude or seeming blind to what you’re saying.

  5. CurlyNikki was a blog that was started for us, by us…but sadly, it has been sold to whites that now include other white women onto the site! They see nothing wrong with interviewing other white women about natural hair, and to my mind, it is quite hilarious. Here we go again! My question, why would whites want to embrace a natural hair site which is exclusively targeted to black women? Because the natural hair movement is a $600 million dollar market! So, they are hiding behind a black face on a previously black owned blog written exclusively for black women. Evil genius once again….Now, I am only hoping that black women see that the jig is up, and the real face of CurlyNikki is revealed….run from this blog.

  6. This is a wonderful article, and I hope white women who feel they have the right to invade black spaces get the chance to read this. I’m curious, though, on how you feel about the presence of
    indegenous or mixed race latina women in cross-racial spaces for curly hair. We also face racial discrimination for our hair and the threat of being fired from our jobs, as well as a lower pay than white women.

  7. While the term, “natural” can be applied to almost anyone, it has come to imply something very specific to Black women. Unfortunately, “kinkier” textured hair (4a, b, c,…) is still nowhere as widely accepted as curly hair on White women. The growing number of forums/blogs dedicated solely to discussing how to make “our” hair more manageable/acceptable is evidence of this . Including White women with looser curl patterns into the Natural hair in my opinion, dilutes the conversation.

    In the corporate American workplace, especially the more conservative ones, Black natural hair is still considered unprofessional or unkept.


    Black women in these companies, think twice about wearing their natural hair for fear of being prejudged.

    So while I understand that White women may have challenges with wearing their hair in its curly state, I do think there is and should be a clear distinction between this and the daily struggle faced by Black women who choose to embrace their hair in its “kinky”, natural glory.

  8. I’ve never heard white women refer to “virgin” curly hair. It’s called naturally curly (which means they are wearing their hair in it’s natural state). Whites don’t generally have textured hair such as the type 4 range, but many do have naturally curly hair.

    1. I am a white, Jewish woman with 4C hair. I was tortured for my hair texture until my early twenties, when I began straightening my hair, and I never hear a negative word about my appearance until two years ago, when I ditched the straightener and let my hair grow out. I don’t claim to know what it is like to be a black woman, but I do know what it is like to have kinky, “nappy” (as a black hairdresser once referred to my hair as) hair. I also know what it is like to be shunned for that natural hair. We may be in a severe minority, but white women with type 4 hair do exist.

  9. While I don’t pretend to know the the struggle of having to deal with the more serious repercussions of an ethnic woman deciding to “go natural”, I do have an idea of how mean children can be to other children for having anything different than that “beautiful wavy or straight” hair. I am white, I have naturally curly hair and very tight curls. My mom had No idea what to do with my hair since she had straight hair, and i spent hours having a brush raked through it, to de-tangle it. I hardly ever had “nice” looking hair in school.. I’ve been told my curly hair is “unprofessional”. I’ve spent hours as a kid trying to recreate the coveted spiral, or loose wave curl I’ve seen on all the models and wondering why I didn’t have “pretty” hair like them. My mom got so upset with how unruly my hair was, that she had it chopped off to above my ears so it was easier for it to do. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of having multiple boyfriends tell me my hair looks so much nicer when its straightened and ask me, “why don’t you just straighten it all the time”
    My hair is always natural because it’s what I was born with and I deal with it every day.
    Btw, A woman did FINALLY bring some sense into my world and encouraged me to love my hair the way it was. My friend Shania’s grandmother…and she regularly put PINK hair products in my hair and gave it oil treatments.

    So that’s my take on my naturally curly hair. It’s true, my medium/olive skin complexion affords me way less scrutiny but the teasing and bullying isn’t spare for any kid, black or white. It’s just ridiculous that most of it, in regards to this issue, is being perpetuated by full grown adults.

  10. I think we should all embrace our curls no matter our skin color or texture. Curly hair websites should welcome everyone, although this is just my opinion. 🙂

  11. I can see where you’re coming from and I agree with you somehow. As far as white women are concerned, I would rather that they support the natural hair movement in a different way i.e. through art just like what this white woman did: http://www.naturalhaircarenews.com/2013/10/24/white-women-with-black-hairstyles-pictorial-raises-the-consciousness-of-black-hairstyles-in-the-workplace/.. I just don’t see how imitating our hair makes them supportive of the NHM (unless that’s their natural hair too, like if they are bi-racial or something)

  12. Interesting article. I stumbled across it in a Google search for a new haircut idea, kind of funny. Being white with curly hair, I would never consider myself to go through the same struggle or have a voice in this issue. I read the book Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recently, aside from being a compelling novel that I did not want to end, it made me more aware of what black women face in the workplace (regarding hair in particular). I would highly recommend it and the lessons will certainly go with me as I try to become aware of my own socially constructed notions and bias.

  13. I fully agree with you.
    Being of German (non-Jewish) and Moroccan Jewish descent, I grew up in Germany among Germans and East Europeans; some of the latter are Ashkenasi (north European) and Sephardi (south European) Jews. I am light-coloured, and my hair is probably a 3b/c. Most of my life, I didn’t know that I am of Moroccan descent, I was raised to believe that I was the biological daughter of a Bulgarian Jew. Only recently did I learn that my mother (who was German and non-Jewish) did a DNA test with my real biological father, and everyone knew about it except me. My mother passed away in 2010. I was 40 then.

    I have heard all about “Jewish hair”, and I saw and believed it. Not noticing any difference between my hair and theirs, I applied what they said to myself, too. Now when you say that you don’t want white women to talk their hair to you in a familiar way, I totally understand, because they only play familiar when they reach out to you. When you reach out to them, they shut down and denounce you as “wanting to be white” and much worse. I am light-coloured – many Ashkenasi Jews are darker than I -, but I got the entire arsenal of anti-Black stereotypes ascribed to me. And, if I may be honest, I know for sure that some white women – and men – wear artificial curls for decades and pass them off as natural. When I was young, I didn’t understand this, the effort was beyond my imagination.

    Since almost all European Jews were killed in the last century, the vast majority of East Europeans, including Germans, know contemporary Jews and what they look like only through American cinema. Israel is a very multiracial society, half its population is from the Middle East and Africa (the Maghreb and Ethiopia), but in Eastern Europe, including all of Germany, no one gets it. I was often asked by non-Jews of all nationalities and colours whether I was of African descent, but remembering my upbringing, I denied it. Although it felt right to me, I thought I had to be “reasonable” and “stick to the facts” as I knew them. Even though it meant that I was always talking to a wall and running into one brick wall after the other without understanding why, because neither the Czechs nor the Jews I grew up among had problems that were comparable with mine. Antisemitism in Germany is still bad, but somehow, even the children of Holocaust survivors wouldn’t relate to me (Holocaust survivors were different, however, they were always very kind to me). Meanwhile, white Jews and white non-Jews alike determined that I had a “personality disorder”, that I was “suffering from internalised racism” and was “desperately wanting to be white”. A psychologist who works with children of Holocaust survivors even suggested to me that I was attracted to white Jews because they are so intelligent. I have a high IQ, therefore it would be natural for me to feel a spiritual connection with European Jews… As I said, this was officially agreed on by white Jews and white non-Jews alike.

    So whenever whites claim to be in the same boat with you on the basis of physical characteristics, don’t buy it. Ever.They will push you out the minute you dare to assert that if they are in the same boat as you, you are also in the same boat with them and deserve their full solidarity.

  14. I agree with everything that the article is saying. I was researching my hair type (3a) and I found so many photos and videos of white women using black beauty products such as Shea moisture deep conditioners and oils. This confused and disgusted me, as I thought that the hair texture chart did not apply to white people. I don’t know if this is wrong or not, I’m wondering what everyone else thinks, but isn’t white hair thinner that black hair? I always thought that white hair didn’t require as much moisture as ours. I assumed that the hair texture chart was only for women of color. I googled it and found no results besides this article. Please let me know if this is wrong.

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