The event, called “An Afrocentric Invitation: A Black Hair Affair,” began with a viewing of the short film, “You Can Touch My Hair” by Antonia Opiah, founder of Un-ruly, an Internet blog dedicated to Black hair affairs.
The film’s feature is a public art exhibit in Central Park, NYC, where Black women from all over the city came with signs, and of course, their hair.
The women spoke about what it’s like to live with their hair. They shared their experiences with strangers, particularly White strangers, constantly wanting to touch their hair.
“It’s invasive,” one woman exclaims. Her sign read wryly, “What’ll it be next, my butt?”
“It’s just curiosity,” another woman says. Her sign read, “You can touch my hair.”
This was the central theme for the exhibit. Was touching Black women’s hair an act of exploitation or education? The opinions of the women in Central Park seemed to be split right down the middle.
However, there was another issue that all of the women seemed to agree on. What followed was an overwhelming criticism on the socialization of Black women to be embarrassed by their hair.
“It’s as if there’s something wrong with our hair,” one woman commented. “Something about the texture is off, and people try to change it.”
“It’s more socially acceptable to wear weaves now,” another woman remarked. “Historically, we’ve started off wrong, and our hair has suffered from it.”
The film briefly shares the story of Sarah Baartman, the woman who spent years in European “freak shows” in the eighteenth century because of her buxom, non-white appearance. To most White people, it seems, Black women’s physical characteristics are still just as strange, though they aren’t sources of as much overt discrimination like they were before.
Like the women in the film, the Black women in Rudisill had their own opinions on the matter. And, exactly like the women in the film, they lambasted the White-oriented socialization of the past.
“Every other weekend my daddy would take me to the hairdresser to get my hair straightened,” one woman shared. “I endured the pain. I still remember hearing my father tell me, ‘Yo hair so nappy it looks like wool.’ It was unbearable. I felt so free when I shaved it off.”
One woman, a speaker for American Airlines for many years, shared her story of discrimination: “One day, before I was due to give a speech, my boss came up to me and said, ‘You know, you’d look better if you paid for [your hair].”
Another woman, a worker for Phillips 66, recounted how the company didn’t allow women to wear braids: “So, as I was leaving, they asked me what I was going to do. I told them, ‘The first thing I’m going to do is get my hair done.’”
A fear many of the women had was the effect this socialization has had on young Black girls. As another woman expressed, “I work with first grade girls every day, and they’re so concerned about their hair. They tell me, ‘Beyoncé has all this money, and she’s not doing anything with Blue Ivy’s hair?’” She concluded, “The media have projected a universal image of beauty which ain’t us.”
One thing remained clear: Hair, for these women, was a source of pride. Many of them shared that they’ve been natural for years. Others, like some of the women in the film, disliked their natural hair. “It’s hard work,” they all agreed.
“All that matters is how you feel when you look in the mirror.”
As for the current state of Black hair in media, the women at Rudisell seemed to agree that things are looking better. “New media are instigators of the resurrection of natural hair.” Bloggers all around the Internet are sharing their tips on how to take care of their locks, while keeping its natural texture.