Thursday, October 29, 2009

Great thing about living in Rome? I don't have to deal with African- American jacked up hair issues.

Good morning bloggisti, I'm warning you now, this is a rant.

My good friend sent me the following link from

I can't believe Ms. Samuels wrote a rebuttal. Her first article created a firestorm. To this day, I'm not sure why Newsweek published it.

I commented on Jezebel the first time Ms. Samuels decided to put a 4 year-old on blast and call a little girl's hair a "hot mess". Never mind that her hair is actually healthy and combed. Who the fuck is this woman? Zahara is not her child, or even her friend's child.

Anyway I know the Jolie-Pitts do take care of little Z's hair, as I worked with someone who is friends with them. LaToya at Jezebel really breaks down this article well. The fact is Z. is NOT African-American but African. Why is Samuels putting all our baggage on this child? Aren't there more important things to write about with a platform like Newsweek?

You have to read the articles Ms. Samuels wrote. They're insane. Reading them made me so happy I don't have to deal with ignorant people like her anymore. Clearly Ms. Samuels has some self esteem/self hatred issues. Cool she can hate the hair that grows out of her head but body snarking on a 4 year-old in the name of "cultural awareness" is not cool.

In the first piece Samuels said something about how, yes Zahara has famous parents but at the end of the day she will be judged as JUST an African-American girl. There's so much wrong with that sentence. Samuels is projecting.

She also talks about how Zahara, who travels all over the world, is missing out on that special "doing hair with mommy" bonding experience. Oh really, like dreading getting your hair washed because you know your mom has to put a hot comb through it and the smell of burning hair is not pleasant?

Of course there are hair issues in the Caribbean and Africa but in the States it's on a whole other level. And now thanks to our omnipresent media, black women in other countries are trying to emulate Western stars like Beyonce, even if they look nothing like her. Skin bleaching creams sales are skyrocketing.

When I went natural I didn't get flack from white people, it was from other black people. Many (not all) African-American women would say things like, "You're so brave." Uhmm for what? Wearing my hair the way it grows?

Then I moved to L.A. Black men compeltely ignrored me and/or felt comfortable telling me "You have nice features, why don't you straighten you hair or get a weave?"

My white female friends find the whole thing bizarre. Relaxing is not the same as coloring, so while they can empathize, they don't truly understand what a loaded issue hair texture is in the African-American community.

The issue, like most jacked things in the community, stems from slavery. The lighter your skin, the straighter your hair, the better you were treated. You probably got to be in house and not out in the fields. Minus a 10 year "black is beautiful" movement in the 60/70s when 'fros were in, the vast majority of African-American women (over 75%) are spending serious money on taking out or hiding the kinks in their hair.

I'm not sure if how one wears their hair is political but I do know that the billions we pump into this industry do not enrich the pockets of black people. The impoverished Indian women who give their hair so we can pay $1000 for a weave don't benefit. The majority of Korean markets in black neighborhoods who sell the hair and products don't participate in those communities. The biggest names in black hair care are own by companies like Revlon and Unilever. The same companies who sell skin lightening creams in Asian and African countries.

Almost every single black actress/celebrity has a weave. When you read black hair magazines and they do that one feature on natural hair, 9 times out of 10 the model is biracial. So even in the "natural world" there's a scale. Loose curls, so cute! Tight kinks, no. High fashion, which has never been known for being PC is why ahead of Hollywood. That alone says something.

Black women's hair has been in the news a lot lately because we have a African-American First Lady and all the press about Chris Rock's documentary.

Discussion is great but I'm sad it's 2009 and we are still talking about "good hair".

Being in Rome, there aren't many black Americans here. There are more black Americans in Florence. All my black women female friends here are from the Caribbean, England or Africa. They wear their hair in a variety of style. Two friends relax, the others wearing their hair naturally.

I mentioned to an Italian friend how I used to have the Halle Berry pixie cut and while the style was slamming it was a pain to upkeep. Every 5 weeks I paid $125 (mind you this was over 10 years ago, so I'm sure it would be more expensive now) to have my hair trimmed and relaxed. She couldn't understand the whole relaxing thing. She asked why would you want to look like everyone else?

Because in America assimilation is the name of the game. It seems like we are going backwards. Gladys Knight and Aretha would never have careers now. Beyonce's sister Solange, who just did "the big chop" to much ridicule, used to spend 50k a year on her weaves and had her first relaxer at 4.

And this is what Samuels wants for Zahara. To feel her natural hair is ugly?

Are there days when I get a bored with my hair? Yes. But I'm relieved to no longer live in a culture that looks at my hair and thinks either I'm a hard core militant, it's unkept or I cry in my pillow every night because I don't have "good hair."

My hair is what it is. I find it beyond ironic that in America the closer you are to an "European esthetic" the better. My very brown, natural self lives in Europe and I'm treated completely different here. I noticed it when I was in London as well. Before the summer I cut my hair really short, all the Italians in the salon were "bellissima, you can really see your smile, etc. etc." When I went that short in L.A.? Disapproval.

Good hair is healthy hair. Like Marcus Garvey said, "Get rid of the kinks in your mind, not on your head."


Team Zahara


michelle | bleeding espresso said...

AWESOME. Must share.

Annika said...

Oh. My. Word.
Those articles are insane. Zahara looks absolutely adorable, and her hair is just the way it should be.

This is an issue even among white women with curly hair, but even more so among black women. If they only knew how much better you feel about yourself, the wonders it make for your self esteem when you learn how to take care of and appreciate your natural hair!

Seriously. It was not until I finally became friends with my hair and stopped fighting it that I finally became friends with myself. Hair is so important. I am lucky because I don't have to deal with any race issues, but my loose curls still made me feel less worth, and that I was only attractive when I had straightened them into oblivion. I felt beautiful with newly straightened hair, but my natural hair made me want to hide.

I cannot emphasize enough how it sends a message to our subconscious that we are not only 'not good enough' as ourselves but seriously revolting, something that has to be hidden and manipulated at all costs. When we accept and embrace our curls (waves, kinks..) we accept and embrace ourselves. When we love our curls, we love ourselves.

Simone said...

I grew up surrounded by hair issues all based on comparison and judgement to Euro "ideals", whether they contradicted it or mimiced it depended upon those doing the judging and comparison but in all instances it was the caucasian concept of beauty that were the foundation of that comparison. That ideal also included stereotypes placed on ethnic and cultural groups outside of the White Euro stereotype. Let's be honest most Brown, Red, Yellow, Green, Non-Christian cultures have these issues which extend beyond just hair and can include the color of skin, the shape of the eyes, nose and cheekbones and body. Most of us, in search of identity, attempt to fulfill some of the stereo types that exist based on who we believe what we are to be because we are programed to believe that "(fill in the blank) look, dress and behave like this". In the end finding peace with the gifts god and our ancestors gave us comes from looking at our reflection and making decisions based on what it best for the life we are living. The real gift is letting people make their own choices and not judging them because of our expections of what people who are (fill in the blank) should be.

gibber said...

A - fucking - men!

Ciao Chow Linda said...

I second everything you said. amen.

Scintilla @ Bell'Avventura said...

I love tight curls!
My daughter has beautiful loose curly hair which goes down a treat in Italy, but in Luxembourg, you won't see one curly head anywhere because it's not fashionable. It's even hard to find shampoo for it!

afrobella said...

YES! Team Zahara forever!

Monica said...

Thanks for posting this. Maybe wearing my hair naturally did make me militant because I wonder if some black people know that we are free.

The "white makes it right" attitude pisses me off now. "Well, white women wear weave". "Well, white women color their hair." First,it's not the same. Second, why must we have to assimilate and acculturate in every area of our lives.

Another thing that ticks me off, the idea that my hair needs to be managed.

And, the quiet condescension of comments like, "there's nothing wrong with natural hair" and "it's just hair." Okay girlfriend, if it's just hair, why spend so much time and money changing it?

Jesus take the wheel.

I get so angry about this, I have to take a walk.

J.Doe said...

I also think the wearing black hair natural being an issue is bizarre. A few years ago while living in CA a friend (African American) decided to wear her hair 'natural'. It was so full of body and cute that me with my bone straight hair was jealous.
One day she visited me at work. All my white and Mexican co-workers thought her hair looked good and told me so later, but all my black co-workers said things to me like 'Is she sick? Why does she go around like that?' To me it was just a hair style but to them it was like an offense to their beings or something. I wondered then if she would get the same kind of negative reaction in an african or Caribbean country with a large majority of black people.
Well, I'm really glad for you that you are living in a place where how you wear is not an issue. In these times with all the problems in the world it shouldn't be.
P.S. My friend still wears her hair 'natural' but it is short now.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

michelle - grazie cara

annika - amen. Life is too short for me to fight with my hair. If my hair was supposed to be straight it would be. I can't justify spending that kind of money and hours (I don't have) in the salon every 5 weeks. But I will admit it's hard when every single media image one sees (in the States) of beauty looks nothing like you. So yeah I do get defensive when I read crazy articles like Samuel's and think it's outrageous to see toddlers with relaxers in their hair.

simone - so true. It's why even though I know J.Lo is quite the diva, I love that she didn't try to hide her body or lipo her butt away. The crazy thing is it's usually the members of the same community who are the harshest critics.

gibber - can you believe she wrote another article? What the heck?

ccl - I was so annoyed this morning after seeing the article I kinda went off. ha

scintilla - I saw an Italian woman in Sephora who was rocking a serous afro. She looked amazing. I don't think I saw a single white woman in L.A. with an afro and fewer than a handful of black women with that kind of style.

afrobella - really. It's sad we feel the need to defend a 4 year-old against a grown woman.

monica - hello. Maybe it is militant. If so cool. This idea that natural hair must be beaten into submission or managed in order to fit into some kind of "idealized" form of beauty is so offensive to me. There are some serious issues in the black community and this is what some people chose to focus on? Nope some people are not free, not at all.

j. doe - Allure magazine (of all places) wrote an article about this issue years ago. And all my friends sent it to me. In the article the black women who went natural were college educated from a high social economic status. While they were nervous about how their white co-workers would respond, it was the black support staff that was the most critical, asking them "when are you going to do something with your hair." The critics (like Ms. Samuels) seem to be personally offended. I know from my personal experience it's been the same. My mom and one of my uncles (from the Caribbean) made some negative comments but they were the only ones.

Mobile Mama said...

Love your response, and it's so nice to know there's another kindred spirit with hair-like-mine in Rome.

Simone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aron Ranen said...

Please take a moment to check out my documentary film BLACK HAIR

It is free at youtube. 6 parts including an update from London, England.

It explores the Korean Take-over of the Black Beauty Supply and Hair biz..

The current situation makes it hard to believe that Madame C.J. Walker once ran the whole thing.

I am not a hater, I am a motivator.

Plus I am a White guy who stumbled upon this, and felt it was so wrong I had to make a film about it.

self-funded film, made from the heart.

Can it be taken back?


Simone said...

Those within the same community are always our harshest critics and policers. I have an Aunt whose hid the kink of her hair under scarves and wigs and always questioned the "straight" of my "Indian" hair while making sure my braids were so tight that I looked like I had arched eyebrows at thing is I understand her issues, which included the desire to be considered Latin when we wereN't and aren't. I now understood she wanted to protect me from judgement of others and did so out of her own experiences and history. And if that meant making sure I was in line with what she deemed were those protective perimeters "by god she was tame every hair on my head that sought the freedom of a wave" and make sure that no one had a comment about it or our shoes, clothing or homes.

Now that she's in her 70s she has finally let her fro grow and accepted it and the beauty of her hair's natural state. She even apologized to me, who went the opposite way and permed and braided my hair trying to get some kink until I too accepted my hair. Of course that doesn't mean she still won't tell anyone of us to do something with the mess on our heads but now that something doesn't include making it straight LOL!

(sorry I am working on some visual art about this stuff and your post and people's responses are a reflection of what has been on my mind for weeks)

Megan in Liguria said...

Fantastic write A! Bacio!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

mobile mama - thank you.

aron - I'm very curious to see how Chris' doc will do overseas. It's opening in the UK this week I think.

simone - no need to apology. I look forward to hearing more about your project. I do know some of my mom's objectives stem from her being concerned about what people think. I get it. When you grow up in a small village on a small conservative island, it's hard to let go of those values even once you move to a bigger country like America. Hopefully after our last argument about it (2 years ago) she has come to peace with my decision. I'm never going to relax it again. Would I wear twists, get it blown out, maybe rock a wig, sure but the chemical straightening? No, that is done.

megan - grazie cara!

Anonymous said...

You betta' PREACH!
I flat iron my hair in the winter and wear it in a curly fro' in the summer. I live in Korea and people always have something nice to say about my hair. I love it because I no longer spend money on relaxers, that's money that I put in the bank. I'm done with it. I actually like my hair better when it's shorter. I like to wash and go. It's always foreigners who give me compliments about my hair. Amazing, huh?

What a great post! Thank you!

Cherrye at My Bella Vita said...

This was a great post and so educational! Grazie mille.

Anonymous said...

Such a great post. About 10 years ago, I shaved my head, to much horror among my Black friends. I knew I looked good, but I felt myself slowly succumbing to the pressure to conform and get my new hair straightened...along with the misconception that it would make styling (and my life) easier. Fortunately, I was transferred to a part of the country with no stylists for black hair, and I made a decision to lock my hair. Even though I travelled to another state to find a loctitian, and paid an obscene amount of money to do so, the benefits of being in total control of my own hair, whether it looks cute or not so cute, are so great - I don't have very thick hair, and I probably don't elicit much "lock-envy", but it's my hair to do with as I wish, and I think of the thousands of dollars and hours wasted at the beauty shop and it makes me feel really, really good.

However, living in Los Angeles with natural hair was a trial....those men acted like I was walking around with two heads or something. Not a good feeling.

Kim B. said...

Fascinating - I'm afraid to look over and read this lady's article. It's just gonna take more people feeling strong enough like you to do what they want to before elders and others are able to accept it, it sounds like.

Los Angelista said...


It feels like Ms. Samuels probably has issues with Brad and Angie, period, and so is taking them out on baby Z. There's nothing wrong with Zahara or her hair. And her idea that black children have to go around with every hair beaten into submission all the time is just silly. Our hair doesn't have to be in some greased down braids to look beautiful. Too bad Ms. Samuels doesn't know that.

Anonymous said...

Really amazing. Thanks for posting.

Kataroma said...

I've heard the comment before that white people shouldn't adopt black children because they won't know how to style their hair. Seems nuts to me - afterall my white single mum aunt didn't have any problem with my (half African) cousin's hair but of course he's a boy and I guess he's half white but his hair is typically African while my aunt has red curly hair.

Anyway I wonder if the writer is just annoyed at Brad and Angie in some way because they adopted a black child? I wonder if she has similar issues with Maddox's "Asian" hair.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

TTN- I wonder when these hair issues will go away. Given all the press in the past few months, maybe never? sigh.

cherrye - thanks for taking the time to read it. It's a little long. ha

anon - oh I can so relate. People think I exaggerate the level of shallowness in LaLa land. When I first moved to L.A. I couldn't believe how different the vibe there was compared to the east coast. I had the natural in NYC and you know how classy brothers will give you "the nod" and maybe a smile (as opposed to an obnoxious cat call) in L.A. nada. I remember going to a pre-Oscar party hosted by Vibe and Queen Latifah. A huge venue full of black men. Completely invisible except to my female friends who liked my dress and shoes. ha. A friend (with long twists) was complaining until this white guy from NYC asked her out on the spot. My self esteem took a major beating in L.A. and then I got salty with my feminist self for caring. I love that when I go to the salon now, I'm in and out in an hour or less. No more entire Saturdays spent waiting to get in "the chair."

kimb - what's bizarre is that she wrote a second article after the first one was so poorly received. Does she think Angelina cares about her opinion? She needs therapy.

los angelista - I agree. I think her mentioning Madonna and Mercy is to her cover. Nothing more. Who spends this much time and a platform like Newsweek to go after a child and her mom like that? Crazy.

scattered moments - thanks for reading.

kataroma - Exactly. Hello some black parents have problems styling hair. While I know there can be issues with trans-racial adoptions, I believe a loving home with parents who are aware of the issues is better than letting minority children stay in foster car or if they are overseas, in orphanages.

Like LaToya at Jezebel pointed out, Zahara is a third culture kid. Why is Samuels projecting a very specific African-American world view on a child who is not AA? I do think she has some problem with Angie. Notice she never talks about Brad even though he has gone on record saying they love Carol's Daughter products for Z's hair. So only the mom is responsible for hair care? Samuels is so 1950s.

Liane Spicer said...

Ditto what Gibber said. Hard to believe this crap is STILL going down in 2009.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

liane - really. It's not 1909 but 2009. Wake up Ms. Samuels

Kim B. said...

Kataroma has a very perceptive comment with wondering why Samuels doesn't get all outraged about Brad and Angie not having the experience to deal with Maddox's hair! Very interesting!!!

WineGrrl said...

...and people wonder why I have to leave LA for sanity purposes.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

kimb - she does. I guess his mohawk is cute, but Zahara's natural is a "problem."

winegrrl - same here.

glamah16 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
glamah16 said...

I wish we as a race/culture can get over this hair thing and just let it be. Great article. I refuse to held finacialy hostage to my hair and what is seeemed aceptable by certain people.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

glamah16 - I agree 100%

Claudio said...

I completely agree with you!
Wear your hair as they are, cause they are beautiful ;)
If some of those superstars wore an afro once in a while there would surely be more ladies that would do it!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

claudio - thanks for reading. I don't think we'll see any big superstars with kinky hair going natural anytime soon.

Claudio said...

I really hope that someone will have the balls to do it...cause that's what it takes: some balls to set a new trend!
Those that wear their hair natural are few and most of the times they are musicians, and surely they aren't the most known...apart Lauryn Hill, but i think she got a bit crazy lately :(

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

I miss Lauryn Hill. So talented!

Claudio said...

me too. i miss the old Lauryn

georgia814 said...

I will be visiting Florence and Rome in August 2013. Would you be so kind as to recommend the names/locations of salons that style relaxed African-American hair?

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Georgia - sorry I don't have any recommendations. I don't relax my hair and the one salon I know that does, my friends complain about all the time.

I recommend if possible that you visit Rome/Florence in July instead of August. A lot of places close down for the August holiday and the Italians clear out.