Wednesday, August 13, 2008

30 Days

That’s how long it is until my first blogiversary! My first post went up on Sept. 13, 2007. I’ll save the essay about how rewarding blogging has been for later, but I thought it might be nice to celebrate What Tami Said’s birthday over the coming month by re-running some of the posts that appeared back when I was the only one reading the blog. (Frankly, looking back at some of this stuff, I’m glad I was the only one reading the blog. What can I say, I was still finding my voice.)

The post below, which originally appeared on Sept. 15, 2007, remains one of my all-time favorites:

Nappy love: Or how I learned to stop worrying and embrace the kinks

My hair is nappy. It is coarse and thick. It grows in pencil-sized spirals and tiny crinkles. My hair grows out, not down. It springs from my head like a corona. My hair is like wool. You can’t run your fingers through it, nor a comb. It is impenetrable. My hair is rebellious. It resists being smoothed into a neat bun or pony tail. It puffs. Strands escape; they won’t be tamed. My hair is nappy. And I love it.

Growing up, I learned to covet silky, straight hair; “bouncing and behaving” hair; Cheryl Tiegs and Christie Brinkley hair. But as a young black girl, my appearance was far from the American ideal. Making my hair behave meant hours wriggling between my grandmother’s knees as she manipulated a hot comb through my thick, kinky mane. The process stretched my tight curls into hair I could toss and run my fingers through, something closer to the “white girl hair” that so many black girls admired and longed to possess.

My beautiful, straightened hair came at a price. It meant ears burned by slipped hot combs and scars from harsh chemicals. It meant avoiding active play and swimming pools, lest dreaded moisture make my hair “go back.” It meant having a relaxer eat away at the back of my long hair until barely an inch was left. It meant subtly learning that my natural physical attributes were unacceptable.

I was not alone in my pathology. Pressing combs, relaxers, weaves and the quest to hide the naps are part of the fabric of black beauty culture. It is estimated that more than 75 percent of black women straighten their hair. In the book “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America,” Ayanna Byrd and Lori Tharps write: “Before a black child is even born, relatives speculate over the texture of hair that will cover the baby’s head, and the loaded adjectives “good” and “bad” are already in the air.” In the same book, a New York City dancer named Joicelyn explains: “Good hair is that silky black shit that them Indian girls be havin’…Good hair is anything that’s not crazy-ass woolly, lookin’ like some pickaninny out the bush.”

Too often, black women find their hair hatred supported by media, men and the rest of the mainstream.Cultural and professional pressures kept me relaxing my curls for 20 years. In the late 90s, the neo-soul movement caught fire in R&B. Young, bohemian singers like Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and India Arie were rocking stylish natural looks, and I began seeing more natural heads strutting down Michigan Ave. in Chicago, where I lived. Two of my close friends took the plunge, shearing their permed hair to start anew. Suddenly natural black hair was fashionable—at least for a small group of people.

Seeing more women, however few, freed from the tyranny of constant straightening, inspired me.I began poring over books about the care and politics of black hair. I became a member of a popular Web site devoted to championing natural hair. I learned about the toxic ingredients in chemical relaxers and the lasting damage they do. I discovered the origins of negative myths about black hair. I learned how to properly care for natural locks and discovered the myriad styles that can be achieved. I met women of all ages who embraced “nappy” as a positive description. And I slowly came to realize the inherent foolishness of believing black women’s hair, apart from that of all other races, needs to be fixed—pressed, weaved and manipulated into something it isn’t.

In August 2006, after years spent admiring the growing number of nappy heads around me; fretting whether my husband would still find me attractive; worrying whether my unruly ‘fro would frighten my co-workers; I chopped my near shoulder-length hair off, leaving barely an inch of kinky curls. I was free!

My hair is nappy. It is soft and cottony, a mass of varying textures. My hair is fun to play with. I like to pull at the spiral curls and feel them snap back into place. My hair defies the laws of gravity. It reaches energetically toward the sky. My hair is unique. In a fashion culture that genuflects to relaxed, flat-ironed tresses and stick-straight weaves, my fluffy, puffy, kinky mane stands out. It is revolutionary. My hair is natural. It is the way God made it. My hair is nappy. And it is beautiful.

Tami’s Note and Update: I thought now would be a perfect time to re-run this post, because next week is my nappiversary—two years natural. (If ya’ll want to throw me a party for these upcoming celebrations, remember: I like butter cream icing; I hate chocolate cake; and clowns are disturbing.) My hair is healthy and it has grown so. Curly natural hair shows length more slowly than straight hair, but the twists I’m wearing today are brushing the bottom of my neck. The decision to accept and wear my hair in its natural state is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. That’s not hyberbole—it’s truth. “It’s just hair,” you say. But black hair has always meant something. That the vast majority of black women do not know their real hair texture…that we spend generous amounts of time and money to hide our natural hair texture with damaging heat and chemicals, and with weave hair from women of other races…that we think our natural hair is hard to manage and ugly…this is a problem. I’ve come to see the black community’s disdain for our natural physical appearance as symbolic of the self hatred that still plagues us.

If you want to listen to a great interview on this subject, check out the latest episode of New Demographic’s
Addicted to Race featuring an interview with Lori L. Tharps, co-author of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America and blogger at My American Melting Pot. You can enjoy a taste of the Tharps interview through iTunes or on the ATR Web site, but it you want to hear the whole thing, consider subscribing to ATR Premium. You’ll get in-depth interviews with people like Tharps, Tim Wise, Jae-Ran Kim and others. Check it out. (Before you decide that the price is too steep, consider how much you pay for cable with its “Flavor of Love,” Tila Tequila and BET bouncing booties. Isn’t some awesome brain food worth a fraction as much?)


Brother OMi said...

happy anniversary on both counts

Lovepoetically said...

this post was right on time tami. i ironically just got off the phone with my mother, discussing whether or not i should get my hair flat-ironed or twisted. i get it flat-ironed every two weeks, which is healthier for my hair than the hot comb that i used for 17 years of my life (not literally, but starting at the age of 12).

now for the past year, i have flat ironed it, and now when my hair is wet the curls now spring and i can see my true texture. prior to the flat iron, the hot comb had straightened/damaged my hair, that when i wet it, there was no curl, but rather straightness. however, this summer fighting the humidity has been tough with a flat iron, as it was toward the end of last summer, when i started using one with a new hair dresser, who has been fabulous.

anywho, i got sick of trying to keep it straight. then i washed it, and there were curls upon curls that i had never experienced, because the hair dresser washes my hair. i was in awe and decided to wear it in an afro until i went back to the salon. it was humid the next day and i giggled. it rained the following and i walked. there was no umbrella. no head scarf or brush, just my hair. i truly felt liberated.

it was an amazing feeling, especially since my hair was performing in the natural "curly" way that ive always wanted!

my mother angrily just told me to "straighten it, because you shouldn't be playing in your hair," were her words to be exact. she saw my hair when i just washed, conditioned it and let it be with bobbypins and a head band. however, i fought with her, saying that i washed and conditioned it today and twisted it and let them out. the look is more crinkly and controlled, with the curls still present, but more defined. i tried to tell her, but there was no success.

i love my hair right now.
my hair appt is at 9:30 am
don't know if i should flat iron it or just have her single strand twist it and then unravel it.

but i do know, that it's beautiful, and i was beyond disgusted the other day in barnes and nobles to see so many black female magazines with women with weaves. we actually do not love our hair.

but im loving mine right now.

Tami said...


Yeah, for you! I think fewer black women would religiously straighten their hair if they knew how liberating and fun to play with their natural hair is. I've thought about one day locking my hair, but I can't do it right now because I would miss playing in the curls.

Not that you asked...but I generally wear my hair in twists for more of the week, then take then down and sport the crickled look, which eventually loosens into a curly afro.

Good luck on your hair journey.

Somebodies Friend said...

Lovepoetically: Hope your apointment this morning went well, I didn't get out of bed until 11:00. Those early apointments are hard for me to get to, espesially on short notice. I like making apointments in the afternoon, that way I have been up for a while and I can have coffee and check my email, maybe do a little surfin' first. Love those girls that have got the nappy look goin'. Be well!

Francis L. Holland Blog said...

Happy birthday! One of the posts at my blog that many people found most compelling, linking to and finding on search engines, was a post called "Free Your African Hair".

I, personally, love braids and I feel an immediate attraction toward women with braids or locks in their hair. It's sexy. It's beautiful. It's practical and intelligent. It's African in origin. It's Black.

dmarks said...

Happy nappibloggiversary.


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