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This article titled “For black women, cutting your hair off is political – as I and the star of a new Netflix drama well know” was written by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, for The Guardian on Tuesday 7th August 2018 06.00 UTC
Finally, a film taking black women’s hair stories to the big screen. Netflix film Nappily Ever After, based on the 2000 book by Trisha R Thomas, tells the story of Violet Jones (Sanaa Lathan) – a black woman who prides herself on her long, straightened hair and is desperate for her boyfriend to propose to her. Her life starts to fall apart after her boyfriend presents her with a dog rather than a ring, and so she cuts both him and her hair off. “My hair was like a second job,” she says. “Now I’m forced to focus on myself. I wonder who I’ll be?”
It’s deep stuff – if you know where to look. The natural-hair movement has been in full swing since the mid-00s but there are plenty of black women, like me, who are still at the beginning of their journeys. I cut my relaxed hair off three months ago. I don’t regret my decision, but I can’t deny that I often feel ugly and conflicted about my hair’s texture.
The gravity of a black woman deciding to cut her hair off and go “natural” in a white supremacist society (yes, ours) should not be underestimated. Almost every black hairdresser I visited before finally plucking up the courage to cut my hair off told me I was making the wrong decision, but it was a reminder of how deeply entrenched these views are.
This isn’t just about looks: our wider history is stained by instances such as the apartheid-era pencil test in South Africa – those who could hold a pencil in their hair without it falling out could not be classified as white. To this day, black women and girls lose job offers and are sent to detention or are suspended because our hairstyles don’t suit white sensibilities.
The natural-hair movement itself has biases: its obsession with “laying your edges” (using gel products to flatten the edges of your hair), and the way glossy curls are championed over kinks. Even Lathan has a loose-textured curl that sits closer to acceptability than a texture like my own. I believe black women can wear a weave or relax their hair and still love themselves, but I wonder where the film will draw the line in terms of the reliance many of us have on chemical straighteners and weaves. We are not a monolith and rather than insecurity, many decisions stem from practicality or fun – who wouldn’t want rainbow braids for Black Pride? Beyond that, I don’t think you can blame us for falling into the grips of what society has always said is “good hair”.
It is a shame that Nappily Ever After doesn’t feature a black woman whose hair is more tightly textured, but I’m hopeful that the cheesy rom-com will go some way in terms of normalising what is already normal: the hair that grows out of our heads and what we choose to do with it.
Chitra Ramaswamy is away
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