When India Arie released the song ‘I am not my hair’ back in 2006, I image that many people in the black community were left shouting ‘yassss’ while they fist pumped the air. Finally, someone understood. Finally, someone was in our corner. There must have been a real sense of pride in knowing that someone had shouted real loud from the rooftop of MTV Base, Kiss and Channel U ) the very thing that all black people had known for centuries ‘I am not my hair.’
Suddenly we could hide behind the security of these words, wear them like protective Armour. We could clutch them to our chest, and strap them to us like a bullet proof vest to numb the pain of the words that had long since been lodge like broken arrow in the deepest corners of our hearts. When anyone mentioned black hair, afro, ‘nappy’ hair, bad dress day or bad hair day we had a comeback: ‘I am not my hair’. Heavens, we could sing it and if one wasn’t the best singer they could buss out the iPod, the iPad, the iPhone/android. What am I saying here? Arie’s single meant that anything was possible, we could even flip open our 15.6inch laptop screen and have India Arie proclaim on our behalf:
‘I Am Not My Hair, nor am I this skin’.
I am undefined by the fro. My intelligence, my stubbornness, my professionalism neither are based within the constraints of my hair, my skin or – if I may add – my fashion sense. There is a lot more to me than this.
This should have triggered a mutual understanding between the natural hair community and the world. ‘Hey guess what? I am not my hair.’ Because truthfully Arie was correct ‘We are not our hair’ and our hair is not us. We are so much more than the strands that grow from our heads.
But the truth is a large part of the World has yet to catch up to what Aries and so many others knew years ago because there is still a considered sense of beauty today and it is not necessarily natural hair. There are still many places that black men and women wouldn’t consider working without weave or a short hair cut (not against weave or short hair cuts by the way) because for many vacancies ‘we are our hair’. Our hair dictates our professionalism and our hair dictates whether we are taken seriously by the CEO or director of a company, no matter how cute or intelligent we are. It’s no longer about being clean or hygienic. It is about being presentable and unfortunately a majority of the time natural hair does not make the ‘respectability cut’. In many business environments if one wishes to progress they must ‘tame the mane’. Okay maybe we can give the natural hair thing a try in 3 months, you know….after the probation…. and see how we are received, but if many black women and men really care to admit it we would not go to a job interview with our natural hair less we do not get the job.
I face problems with my hair weekly. At church I am told to make it tidier, at my previous job people want to touch it and pet it like I am an animal while proclaiming ‘Oh it soft and feels like wool’, because many have the perception that my hair would be coarse like scotch brite; worst still until recently I was often told plainly ‘I do not like you hair’. Words like ‘nappy hair’ are a common occurrence. Should I be fazed? Heavens forbid, I love my hair it is a part of what makes me – Me. My hair or my dress sense is not a revolution, it is normality. We are not our hair, but since it does grow from our heads it is certainly worth being proud of it.
Arie, India: 2006, ‘I am not my hair’