Guest Editorial: 'Natural', Perms, Braids, and the African in African American by Monica Vieira Tuck
(DALLAS - July 24, 2012) - The “Natural movement” is a mystery to me, so I decided to read and get informed about it. According to a 2009 survey conducted by Design Essentials, “36 percent of African-American women have significantly reduced their regular visits to the hair salon, drastically affecting salon owners and their business.” I understand women not wanting to use chemicals on their hair for various reasons; almost all of them are valid and make sense to me except the “I want to go back to my roots” response. “WHAT roots?” I ask.
Coming from a family full of African women, including my hairstylist aunt, I grew up observing my mother, grandmother, aunts, cousins and friends performing a religious ritual of perming, coloring and straightening hair. So, for me, it was just normal at an early age to do the same.
The “Natural Movement” is not popular in Europe or in Africa where the hair industry makes millions and women spend what they don’t have on weaves, perms and relaxers. So, it was very unusual to me seeing women growing into this now-national trend.
With years of observation, I noticed something that was shocking to me: the total lack of African identity that African-Americans have as a community - one that knows nothing about Africa, nothing about African culture, and even less about African habits and customs. Having houses decorated with paintings of black people and the Last Supper with black disciples does not teach you the real essence of that culture.
The first time my mother - a born and raised African - came to Dallas, many asked me if she was really African, due to the fact that she is not dark. I had to explain over and over again that Africans come in many colors and that the colonization in some areas created many shades of black.
The lack of basic knowledge about it made me realize that it was not their fault. We, African Europeans, live with Africans daily. We live the culture that is taught by our parents and grandparents. We are the sons and daughters of refugees and emigrants and we truly, regardless of color, are brought up eating Moamba, Calulu and Catchupa. And, we hear our siblings speak in their native Umbundo, Kimbundo or Crioulo. We proudly go to African clubs listening to Zouk, Kizomba and Funana…..
So for me, observing a group of people who were given the name “African” by a government (Jesse Jackson saw a copy of the poem in 1989 Black History Calendar that Duncan sent to Mrs. Coretta King. Jackson then collaborated with Ramona Edelin and others and made the push to use the term ‘African-American’) that was simply trying to give some sort of identity to a community without it.
So, to me, to talk about “natural” and “roots” is funny and strange. When people don’t know exactly where they came from, the only thing they can do is try to find out. That is one of the horrible consequences of slavery, and although many try to look for their roots, many others look at Africans with disgust saying loud and clear: “I am not African.” Indeed, you are not!
So my question remains: WHAT roots? I will respect and understand the health and personal choice of any women that decides to go without chemicals as a form of improving and gaining a sense of freedom from something that - with time - becomes an addiction (I suffer from that.) I love natural hairstyles and bold ethnic looks the same way I love the boldness of women that shave their heads or use really long extensions or super short hairdos. What I will never embrace is the “Natural Movement” as a way of reconnecting to a place that they have no idea where it is, to a culture that they don’t get and don’t care for, and know nothing about.
Last year I was in Baltimore with my husband. In the hotel where we stayed, there was a Nigerian Convention of over 500 people. While in the elevator with a group of Nigerian ladies, one of the ladies asked Mack (my husband) in their native language something that we didn’t understand. The lady then said, “You’re not here for the convention?” He replied, “No, I am not Nigerian.”
The lady smiled at him and said: “You don’t know what you are and where you came from. You look just like us,” and smiled away!
I look at the Africans that rock their traditional clothes with nice, permed hair underneath the turbante. I look at Africans having to leave their countries due to war, lack of food and water - living throughout the world with scholarships that barely pay for a week’s worth of groceries, making it and going back to rebuild their countries - with big weaves and long braids.
Of all my African-American friends, none ever went to an African club or restaurant. Honestly, there is no interest whatsoever in knowing anything relevant to Africa. That is where you came from! I observe their faces when my Ipod stars jamming African music. I just have never seen a group of people so eager to call themselves Africans and yet care absolutely nothing about it. They make very little effort to change and know better. People laugh when I look at my African-American husband and tell him: I am much more African than you, with my permed straight long extensions and almost white skin.
Africans could care less about the “Natural Movement” - especially when they have a continent to rebuild. For somebody who was born there, hair and such is simply that: An irrelevant subject that deserves no real attention. When millions are dying of AIDS, when slavery in between tribes is still going on, when a very few get rich and the majority is struggling - the effects of a perm is a silly subject.
Going Natural is not going to make you more African. A perm is just that ….A perm. Do U!
What do you think?
5 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.
Totally agree! Some misconstrue what going natural represents. I wen natural not just b?c it represents black but b/c I was tired of spending my days and nights in the salon. Also perming my began to thin it. Now that I am natural I have more versatility. Nappy doesn't make you black :-) Great aticle!!!
Greetings to you. Well i enjoyed reading your comments on the "natural movement" and agree with most point. Me, myself, i am a woman of color and too use to wear perms,weaves,color and so forth but my reason for stopping was on a totally different journey and that was to briefly say getting in tune with nature and self. Sure research is good on all things cultures,auras,chakras, energy, etc. But i jus felt my beauty needed no added chemicals so to speak especially after a period of time it gets to be on a i need to have a perm basis or what have you. But i most certainly agree with people changing to go back to their roots movement when they dont even know where they are now lol but this was a self decision i made to go natural (locks). Good article! Bleesings to u
Thanks so much for this article,Monica Vieira Tuck.I really enjoy reading your articles,that you share with everyone. I so much needed to hear this.You be bless and your family be bless..Love U... :+)