What does Natural Hair mean to You?

The Ideal of Natural Hair

If you’ve ever met a celebrity, you’ll know you can get a little swayed by their ideals.

Well, that was how my natural hair journey began.

The celebrity was Stokely Carmichael from the civil rights movement – one of the original fist raisers.

 Stokely Carmichael from the civil rights movement - one of the original fist raisers.

https://www.panafricanalliance.com/the-50-most-important-pan-africanists-in-history-26-50/

Kwame Ture (born Stokely Carmichael, June 29, 1941 – November 15, 1998) was a TrinidadianAmerican who became a prominent figure in the Civil Rights Movement and the global Pan-African movement. He grew up in the United States from the age of 11 and became an activist while he attended Howard University. He would eventually become active in the Black Power movement, first as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), later as the “Honorary Prime Minister” of the Black Panther Party (BPP), and lastly as a leader of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP)

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stokely_Carmichael

Confidence, Mr. Carmichael & the White Prep. School

During my years in a white college preparatory school, my self esteem was shot. I spent a lot of tearful nights with my studies. It seemed the curriculum in Chicago’s inner city, where I’m from, was very different from the curriculum where the cream of the crop were educated. Even though I had graduated from middle school at the top of my class, I had learned no geography, and I was missing half of what was required for English composition class. My level of math was also very, very basic.

Being subpar was gruelling for me.

As an avid reader, books brought me relief from school.. And that was how Mr. Carmichael and I first met, in a manner of speaking, in the tiny library of that elite prep. school.

And why was a collection of speeches by Stokely Carmichael sitting on their upper crust library shelves?

I still don’t know.   But the library became my retreat, on almost every break. It’s where, thanks to brother Stokely, I furtively quenched my thirst for knowledge, sans pressure.

To do so, I would hide in one of the six small aisles of library books. I wondered what my peers would think of my reading choice.   It felt risky, but in my mind, it was a risk worth taking for so many ideas and ideals, so much logic and so very many semicolons. I was amazed.

Who was this outspoken black man?

I didn’t come out of the library a socialist, or any kind of follower. But it was intriguing to me, as a youth, to discover how far Stokely Carmichael’s knowledge spanned, what his reasoning was, and how many different cultures he was familiar with.

I only knew two cultures, black and white. I wasn’t “black enough” for the less than 1% of African Americans at the school – meaning I wasn’t willing to isolate myself with them. So my friends ended up being white.

So what would my friends say if they knew I was reading Stokely Carmichael’s work? The answer I arrived at during my last months there was that it didn’t matter.

Meeting a Celebrity

While home on vacation, my mother said she was taking me to a pan-African meeting. I wasn’t enthused. It would be the same restrictive rhetoric about who, and who wasn’t, African enough. But when she told me Stokely Carmichael would be there… I went.

When I stepped up to meet Mr. Carmichael after his talk, I tried to stand taller, but I was wondering if I could somehow ditch my damning prep. school accent in a hurry. I settled on being myself.

And what were the few words he said? “My young sister, you are beautiful. But you would be more beautiful if you wore your hair in its natural state.”

The gall… The nerve!

The truth.

A Test of Oneself and One’s Values

I knew I didn’t have to wear my hair natural. And I wasn’t trying to cut it to suit the ideals of a stranger, however famous. Doing so would put me in the category of “groupie,” right? Ugh!

My mother was already telling me to think twice before cutting my hair.

But what he said was only a reminder of my own principles. It didn’t matter what everyone would think. It really would be better for me to wear my hair the way it was created. Not out of defiance, but because of my own values: the acceptance of truth and the unwillingness to be false.

That is what it meant, to me, to have natural hair.

Keeping my natural texture meant the same thing as not lightening my skin color, no matter who loved or hated it. It meant being confident enough to fit in anywhere I wanted to, exactly as I was. It meant challenging the narrow mindedness of others just by being present.

I continued, taking what I believed would be the equal reactions of family, friends and peers, and weighing those reactions against my own self-perception. Which was more important?

 I ended the counter advocacy by grabbing the scissors and quickly cutting off every lock.

And I was beautiful.

Did you do any soul searching before embarking on your natural hair journey?

I’d so love to hear about it. Share in the comments below!

About the author: Ghanima is an African American writer writing for Black Hair Spot. She is Fulani, Cherokee, Irish and whatever-else-we-couldn’t-trace American! Check out more of Ghanima’s hair topics on her Twitter account.