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Colorism

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Based on your comments, it seems that you all agree that Dark Girls (http://vimeo.com/24155797) is bound to make a big contribution to our ongoing discussion about self-acceptance. My blog primarily focuses on hair and identity but skin color is also a strong identity marker. I love the fact that we are discussing these topics! One thing that was also brought to my attention was the fact that light-skinned Black women also encounter colorism (discrimination based on skin color), being treated as “less Black” in some instances, oftentimes by other Black people. A post from Tamara Harris, one of my high school classmates illustrates this point:

“The Color Game is alive and rearing it’s ugly head in full force! As a product of a “blended family” my skintone/hair texture/etc was, and IS, an issue for some people. My family never even discussed color/race as we are all shades from white to brown. No one was any more special than the next. Everything I know of racism I learned from the black community once I left the comforts of home/family. Growing up it was made clear to me by others that I was “different” and they never missed an opportunity to point it out…and make their assumptions based on my shell without getting to know me. Sadly, the only people that felt the need to treat me differently were people of color…my own so-called people. Unfortunately, for some, it never goes away; the giving and receiving of “color hate” (my own term). I was at work not too long ago having a conversation with a coworker (who is brownskin) and another lady we work with walked by and said hello to my coworker (by name to make it clear who the intended was). I mentioned that the lady had NEVER said so much as hello to me. The response: “That’s cause you aren’t really one of “us”…most people aren’t sure what you are.” (said with laughter and a smile, of course) But, even at my age, it was hurtful because there was more than a little bit of truth in her statement. Perhaps I’ll never fully understand the reason behind the color barrier within the race, but I certainly know what it feels like to be treated differently simply because of the color of your skin.


I also had an Indian woman proclaim that colorism is a HUGE issue in Indian society (see my earlier post where I talk about skin bleaching in India: http://tropie7189.blogspot.com/2011/04/why-talk-about-ethnic-hair.html). I’m sure we all have our theories about what led to colorism amongst African-American people: field Negroes versus house Negroes, economic access, social mobility, education, ability to pass versus inability to pass, etc. I love to dig into history to understand the present. However, I am keenly interested in how we can overcome these issues. What do you think? Will we ever be able to overcome colorism and discrimination based on hair texture?

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Hallelujah I’m Free: Liberation from the Relaxer Cage

I continued to relax my hair until the winter of 1998.A lot went into my decision to embrace my natural hair.I’ve mentioned the health issues I had (i.e., bald sections on my head).I also began a lot of introspection trying to unearth why I was still relaxing my hair.I realized that since first getting my hair relaxed, I perceived two main hair options:1) get a relaxer or 2) have nappy hair.I know, that sounds ignorant.It really does, but that’s what I felt.I felt that the relaxer was saving me from having nappy, difficult hair.WOW!I couldn’t believe that I felt so negatively about my hair, and by extension (no pun intended), I felt negatively about myself.

I’ve heard people say that hair doesn’t matter.I don’t see how it cannot matter.Hair is public.Hair is judged. We know that people look at our hair and develop impressions of us.Plus, if hair didn’t matter, we wouldn’t have spent $1.5 billion in 2009[1] to press, comb, relax, brush, pull, tighten, weave, gel…ANYTHING to hold down and control those immortal naps.Yes, I said immortal.Because they keep coming back, the natural texture of my hair never changed no matter what I did to it.At that point, I realized, WAIT!This is what God has blessed me with.He blessed me with a certain texture of hair, shouldn’t I at least take the time to learn about it, how to style it, how to nourish it, how to LOVE it?If altering my hair is not such a big deal, why didn’t I also choose to alter my eye color?Wear blue contacts, green contacts (it was a fad back in the 90s but has passed)?Heck, get the color permanently changed?Or, alter my skin color?Skin lightening is big business (see earlier post) why not alter my skin color?

I think the reason I chose not to tinker with my eye color or skin color was because it seemed too artificial…like I was changing a key part of my identity.Ahhh, but hair, it is malleable, it can take on different forms.I could dye it, cut it, relax it, wet it, etc and it would still be there (well, except for the bald patches).But, I realized that the fact that I chose to alter my hair was affected by societal norms.I mean, if we lived in a society where people walked around barefoot all of the time and painted the pads of their feet, there would likely be debate about the best color, texture, brand and style of foot painting!

Society determines the value affixed to different standards of beauty.I realized that I did not have to buy into those standards.Hallelujah, I realized, I’m in the process of being liberated from societal notions of what is and is not beautiful.I claim that I’m beautiful and I’m walking in it!


[1] Note that the vast majority of the market is comprised of chemically based hair care products targeted to African-American consumers (Packaged Facts, 2010).However, the same report estimates that while it has been historically reported that approximately 80% of Black women relax their hair, the number may be more like 31% according to data from Experian Simmons.Also promising is that a Packaged Facts survey done in February 2009 revealed that 18% of Black adults, 17% of Hispanic adults, and 12% of White adults are trying natural and or organic products.I hope that this means healthier option but the jury is still out.

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