Black hair: more than just a texture

The criticization of Zendaya Coleman wearing dreadlocks to the Oscars could not have come at a better time. Ryerson’s black community held an event this week that discussed the ins and outs of being judged for wearing their hair au naturel, and in other forms.

Five panelists shared personal experiences about how their hair affects their lifestyles and  treatment in society — both in positive and negative ways.

Yesterday the Ryerson Students’ Union, in collaboration with the Caribbean Students’ Association and the African Students’ Association hosted “My hair, My look, My swag,” an event designed to showcase the different ways black women can choose to wear their hair.

The event was also an open forum for discussions about how black hair, in different forms and in different environments, is perceived by society — the politics of black hair.

Jalen 'LickMyFashion' Nelson (right) sits with guests of My Hair, My Look, My Swag event. (Caroline Dinnall / Ryersonian Staff)

Jalen ‘LickMyFashion’ Nelson (right) sits with guests of My Hair, My Look, My Swag event. (Tari Ngangura / Ryersonian Staff)

Shelly Campbell, President of the Caribbean Students’ Association believes that this event was about more than just the topic of hair.

“It’s a question of self-identity and acceptance of our selves. We are constantly told our skin is not beautiful and add hair to that mix too it becomes difficult to see your own worth,” she said.

Campbell also said that European standards of beauty play a part in what most black women deem as beautiful, denying their “natural” appearances.

Controversy arose after media personality Giuliana Rancic commented on teen star Zendaya Coleman’s loced hair on the Oscars red carpet. Rancic said “Zendaya looks like she smells of patchouli oil and weed.”

Bee Quammie, a healthcare professional, speaker, blogger and one of the panelists at the event believes that it is because of such comments that these discussions should still happen.

Bee Quammie (far left), Jalen 'LickMyFashion' Nelson (middle) and Keina Morgan (far right) on the panel.

Bee Quammie (far left), Jalen ‘LickMyFashion’ Nelson (middle left), Keina Morgan (middle right) and Greg H’Side Samba (far right) on the panel. (Tari Ngangura / Ryersonian Staff)

“As much as we might not want to accept this fact, black hair is very political. There are perceptions that come as a result of the way we choose to wear our hair. A black woman loving her hair is a revolutionary act because we have constantly been told it is unacceptable,” Quammie said.

She added that it was hard to transition to natural hair in the corporate workplace. She found herself as a victim of microaggressions.

“Although no one ever outright said ‘do not wear your hair that way’, hearing comments such as, ‘Your hair is like snakes, it reminds me of Medusa,’ made me second guess myself.”

Back view of guests listening in on the panel discussion. (Tari Ngangura / Ryersonian Staff)

Back view of guests listening in on the panel discussion. (Tari Ngangura / Ryersonian Staff)

A man’s perspective was brought forward when Greg H’Side Samba, professional dancer and another one of the panelists, talked about finding a balance between his work hair and his social hair.

“There are some styles that do not work for my (dancing) job, but I wear outside of it. So I am always trying to fix my hair in the context of where it is I am. Because sometimes it is seen as distracting,” he said.

The 5th annual Queering Black History Month, also the final event for Black History Month event series will be held this Friday.


Story by Tari Ngangura

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