In the Black community, we tend to do things subconsciously. We don’t realize that our ideas and feelings may have ties to our ancestry. Black hair, bodies, and skin are politicized. We sometimes feel that we need to follow forced beauty standards to fit into society. We sometimes feel like our hips are too big, our skin is too dark, or our natural hair is a “distraction.”
As a child, I was told by my mother that I needed to “look presentable.” To my mom, that simply meant that I needed to put a relaxer in my hair and slick my hair back. I always thought the idea of not dealing with my natural hair made no sense. Why do I have to straighten my hair with chemicals to look “presentable?” I was over that idea and started my natural hair journey in October 2013, when I became an adult.
There were not enough books or YouTube videos to prepare me for my natural hair journey. I had always thought women with natural hair were amazing and carefree. There is a lot more work that goes into natural hair, but there is a different type of ownership. It’s a feeling that I can’t explain.
The books I read and videos I watched went over how to care for my hair. These videos and books never discussed the attention I would get or the “distraction” I might cause. I went from the “struggle phase” to shoulder length natural hair in a matter of three years. That was the goal. The bigger my hair got, the more excited I became.
Once I got my hair to shoulder length, I started to feel my hair was a distraction at work. My job never had a specific hair policy, but I still thought I needed to look a certain way when going to work. There were always customers that comment on my hair. I received compliments and people wanting to touch. It got to the point where my hair was so big, and long I felt that it was necessary to pin it back while at work. I did it automatically, not even thinking that I may be the only one at work hiding natural features to fit in. I was never asked to wear my hair in any particular way, but I felt it was necessary.
I came across a Black history post on social media that stuck so hard in my soul. I couldn’t believe what I was reading, so I had to do more research on it. The article talked about The Tignon Laws that were put together in the late 1700s, in Louisiana by the governor, Esteban Miro.
Miro felt that the way black women wore their hair was too elaborate. He thought that women of color during that period had gained too much attention from these elaborate hairstyles. His goal was to make black women seem less desirable to white men. In Louisiana, Europeans were mixing with Black women, and The Tignon Laws were designed to help control that.
Black women did not allow these laws to stop them from expressing themselves. They wore their tignons in bright and colorful fabrics. They wrapped their hair in unique ways that allowed them to express their personality and culture. Miro created laws to downplay their beauty, and it didn’t work.
To think, I was covering my hair at work because it was a distraction. I was baffled. It made me wonder if there was anything else that Black men and women do subconsciously to blend in. We were groomed to act and look a certain way. Our parents taught us; their parents taught them, and their parents taught them. This type of behavior goes back so far, and it is troubling. Black people as a whole are different and tend to stand out in various ways, but it’s okay. It’s 2018 we should proudly stand out. We should proudly be the “distraction.” I wear my hair out at work proudly now because once women like me were forced to cover up.
By Jessrey Leary