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Brazilian Blowout

Last night my husband and I watched a fascinating episode of Dr. Gates’ “Black in Latin America” on PBS ( episode focused on Brazil, specifically Salvador, Bahia.This city is the third largest in Brazil (behind São PauloandRio de Janeiro).Dr. Gates was drawn to investigate Salvador because upwards of 80% of the population has Black African heritage.This is not surprising because Brazil had the largest Atlantic Trade slave population in the world at a whopping FIVE MILLION SLAVES.This was ten times the number of slaves deposited onto the soil of the United States of America.

Given the high number of slaves, it was almost inevitable that there would be a lot of “race mixing” and the resulting rainbow hue of people.And with mixed race, you KNOW there are varying hair textures.I was thrilled when Dr. Gates visited a hair salon renowned for teaching women how to embrace their natural hair texture.This is in stark contrast to the famed hair treatment known as the “Brazilian Blowout” which is reputed to have originated in Brazil.The hair treatment is renowned for giving people shiny, bouncy, frizz-free hair and works best when applied to chemically treated hair according to this website:

But, STOP!Recent media coverage ( and suggests that the hair treatment contains formaldehyde which is hazardous to your health.Why would such an unsafe hair treatment have originated in Brazil? The above MSNBC article “Hazardous for Health?Roots of Brazilian Blowout” quotes Ms Eliza Larkin Nascimento[1] as saying, “There is a racist culture in Brazil, and one of its expressions is a beauty standard that values what is European.Discrimination in Brazil rides a lot on appearance — on facial features, on hair texture. Hair is a great focus, a great symbol”.

Wow, we are all sisters confronting many of the same issues.

[1] Ms. Nascimento is director of IPEAFRO (LOVE that “AFRO” is part of the acronym!) an organization that concentrates on Afro-Brazilian studies.

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Me, my head scarf and I

Yesterday, as I prepared to hit the gym, I had an interesting hair experience. I had to decide whether or not to wear a headscarf to the gym. The thing is, the gym is located at the college where I work and I often see my colleagues and students at the gym. This may seem like a small issue but I had a flurry of ambivalent thoughts. On one hand, I said to myself, “Who cares what people think? Girl, you better protect your hair! You know if you don’t wear a scarf your hair will get sweated out and you’ll have to tighten up your edges all over again.” On the other hand, “You are one of a handful of black female (or male) professors here. People already have preconceived notions why are you helping to confirm them? Why in the world are you going to walk around looking like a mammy?

(I found this image at

Yes, I went there. Picanniny, mammy, ghetto. These words darted into my mind before I could control the onslaught. Then, I wondered how the simple act of wearing a protective scarf had become endowed with such negative connotations. Hmm, was it because, shriek to self, white women don’t wear headscarves when they work out!!!? That is, was my aversion to headscarves because of my personal opinion or because of societal messaging that it was unacceptable because it was different from the norm? Isn’t wearing a head scarf while working out similar to wearing a swim cap when swimming (I won’t even get into the fact that I can’t find a swim cap that fits all of my dreadlocks! I need to invent that!)?
I am not saying that I would sport a head scarf to the mall, to work. Wait, I’ve seen beautiful head wraps at work so there are definitely different types of scarves. I’m realizing that my visceral response to head scarves is because they emphasize racial identity. In an environment where there are not a lot of people like me (according to the PhD Project, less than 5% of business professors are of color), I want to stand out because of my competence and sparkling personality (haha) NOT my choice of accessories. Woo-hah, self-discovery! I love when I’m writing and I gain insight into myself right on the spot. What are your thoughts about head scarves? Have you ever worn one to work? Do you wear them in public? Why or why not? How did people respond?
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