There’s been a storm brewing over at Curly Nikki, a site dedicated to showcasing black women with their natural hair. Under the “about me” section, the site states:
“CurlyNikki.com was created to serve as an online “hair therapy session” for those struggling to embrace their naturally curly hair. It not only serves as an educational tool, but as a platform for each of you to share your experiences, frustrations, and triumphs of being Naturally Glamorous.”
Many black women have flocked to the site to read narratives from other natural-haired black women about their hair journey. The site spotlights different women all the time; however, on June 26, 2014 they featured a white woman with curly hair. The white woman’s name was Sarah and she talked about her own journey of learning to embrace her hair. She labels herself “natural.” She states:
“There’s something very freeing about accepting your natural hair. I feel like I have a lot of inner confidence, regardless of whether my curls are looking amazing or not so great that day, because I love my natural hair either way. I love the unpredictability of my hair and how unique it makes me feel.”
Many of the readers who commented were irate at the fact that a site that regularly caters to black women featured a white woman who appropriated the language of the natural hair movement to describe her own journey.
I also find Sarah’s feature to be quite problematic.
Natural hair was never meant to only focus on texture. It’s a political movement that’s framed around a particular type of identity resisting white supremacy. To have white women join the movement is counter-productive because they still benefit from white supremacy, regardless of their hair texture.
Images of natural-haired beautiful black women rarely get spotlighted on television, which is why so many black women flock to the internet to see themselves represented. It’s OUR space. To have white women populate this space of resistance is pure co-optation. They are already represented in mainstream media…we are not. I purposefully go to natural hair spaces to see BLACK women. If I wanted to see white women’s hair, I would just turn my television on.
Additionally, I hate that white women are attempting to relate to black women by framing this hair issue as though we all have the SAME struggle. I can’t tell you the amount of times white girls with curly hair told me they could “relate” to my struggle. While they were attempting to build solidarity with me, their loud admission of understanding my hair drowned out my experiences with systemic racism. In my head I would think there is no way you could relate to my experiences as a black woman, regardless of your hair texture.
Black bodies and white bodies possess differing amounts of social capital. So, a white woman with a “natural” hair texture will never be interpreted in the same way as a black woman with natural hair. While white women too possess curly textures, they in no way can possibly understand the struggle of being a black woman in a white supremacy.
Featuring white women means the natural hair movement is solely about hair texture, which it isn’t. It’s rooted in a political struggle of agency and identity. The mainstream capitalist marketplace would love to turn the movement into just a space to sell hair products because then the mainstream will profit.
While I’m certain the Curly Nikki site had great intentions featuring Sarah, and while I’m sure Sarah really has learned to embrace her hair texture, I don’t know too many black women [myself included] who want to read about a white woman’s struggle with her hair in a white supremacy…the same white supremacy that has made black women feel so ugly with their natural hair to the point that they would rather cover it up with wigs and weaves that are straight. We purposefully made the natural hair movement for this reason…
Privileged folk always want to act as though black people carving out their own spaces of empowerment means that we are being segregationists. Privileged people are normally granted entrance into every space, so they become enraged when they’re not granted access into ours. They feel entitled to join without even really understanding what the space represents.
Suddenly inclusivity becomes a project for minoritized people where we have to accommodate others while they don’t accommodate us. Because white supremacy alienates us, and excludes us, we are forced to start our own spaces for empowerment purposes. This is a symptom of being excluded from the mainstream, not a project of segregation.
Again, the natural hair movement was never just about hair. It’s about being black and feeling comfortable and beautiful, considering the mainstream only privileges white skin and straight hair. The movement is rooted in consciousness raising. While everyone should feel comfortable in their own skin, including white women, that doesn’t mean our natural hair space is open to them.
I don’t want the movement populated with white women like Sarah who think that natural hair is simply just about having a curly hair texture because it strips away the political core of the movement. Feeling comfortable with your hair as a white woman shouldn’t have to transform into colonizing a movement. When it does, you need to check yourself.
Having white women in the movement transforms the natural hair space from one that was about consicsourness raising for black people, to a post-racial de-politicized movement about hair only. Natural hair is uncomfortable for the mainstream because it resists it…so…if white women feel compelled to be a part of it…there’s a deeper agenda involved. The easiest way to destroy a political movement is to have the mainstream appropriate it and turn it into a de-politicized nothingness that can be commodified.