CROWN in the House

A national CROWN Act passed the House this week, passed on Friday. Its name has changed slightly, acknowledging that discrimination against kinky hair and Black hairstyles isn’t limited to the workplace. The new CROWN is an acronym for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.”

I like the edit. It’s good to be clear about the fact that this discrimination doesn’t only happen at work. It was never only happening at work. All those stories about children being bullied and abused by their teachers, coaches, and schools make that clear. Bosses shouldn’t be able to discriminate against Black people’s hair, but neither should wrestling coaches, school principals, TSA agents …

And I need to correct my error from my last post about CROWN. I said the CROWN Act had passed in seven states and that a similar law had passed in an 8th state. That was mostly true. Illinois passed the Jett Hawkins Law, which banned discrimination against kinky hair in schools. But since the passing of Jett Hawkins, Illinois has gone on to pass the CROWN Act. In addition, I neglected to give the nod to four other states, states that added CROWN provisions to their existing anti-discrimination laws (or — in the case of Maryland — CROWN became law when Governor Hogan decided that any bill he hadn’t vetoed could just become law, and CROWN fell into that bucket with more than a dozen other bills). Twelve states. Twelve only. That’s better than seven or eight, but still a pretty small number. And this is exactly why we need a national law.

So CROWN has taken an important step forward. Obviously, passing the House doesn’t make a bill a law. We’ve all watched Schoolhouse Rock … and the process of our annoying af legislative branch. But it’s still great that CROWN passed the House.

It didn’t pass unanimously, which should surprise no one. Nearly 200 Representatives couldn’t see their way clear to saying that it isn’t okay to discriminate against people based on the kind of hair that grows naturally from their heads. Couldn’t see how it was a good idea to vote for a bill protecting people from being discriminated against for growing their hair naturally. One hundred eighty-nine of our elected Representatives care little enough about the rights and lives of Black people in this country that they were entirely comfortable making their disregard of Black people undeniably plain by not supporting this bill. That’s some serious comfort in their prejudice, comfort in their ability to flaunt their bias and not worry that they’ll face any consequences for it.

It’s 2022. It’s 2022, and it’s still not “just hair” when it comes to Black folks’ hair. And 189 nay votes for CROWN on Friday tells me how far we are from it ever being “just hair.”


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Back to YouTube University

I thought I should get back onto YouTube and watch some of the 87 gazillion videos about care and styling for my 4C TWA (super kinky teeny weeny afro). Since I haven’t had short hair since forever, that seemed like a good idea. It didn’t go as well as I’d have hoped.

I should have taken a few things into account.

1) I am not patient. Despite having a reputation for being the soul of patience, I am actually extraordinarily impatient in most situations. Watching all these cute youngsters fussing and fighting their way through doing their hair, all the while telling me a lot of things I don’t need to know and pausing to mug for the camera and do length checks … No.

2) I haven’t forgotten all that much … because natural hair care is natural hair care, and I’ve been taking care of my hair forever, so what do I need to learn? This was why I got annoyed with my barber when she began to tell me what I needed to do to take care of my hair. I hadn’t walked into the shop with relaxed hair that I was having cut down to the new growth. Just as she irked me, listening to these babies give sage advice — half of which they will unlearn and move on to better methods as I did over the years — wasn’t a good use of my time.

3) I am a terrible student. I love learning things, but I don’t so much love to be taught things. I like to read ahead, or read something else, or just start trying it on my own, or daydream and doodle while the instruction is happening. Yes, I am a jerk. So watching these videos got on my nerves because I already know a lot and I don’t want to sit and watch someone play with their hair when I could turn that foolishness off and play with my own hair.

If you’re rolling your eyes, join the club! And feel free to point out that this take-myself-back-to-naturalista-school has been an epic fail due to my ridiculously bad attitude.

Of course, what’s actually true is that I have any number of things to learn. First, there are new products. I’ve been pretty set in my ways as far as what I use on my hair. I’ve got the couple of brands I love, and I stick with them. I’ve tried new things in those brands, but I don’t stray off the path much. Some of these adorable kiddos are using brands I haven’t heard of, and I should be paying attention and then doing some homework.

Also, there are new tools, and some new ways to use old tools. I haven’t been a regular tutorial watcher in ages, and I have no idea who makes the best picks, and maybe, with short hair, I might actually want to use the fabled Denman brush that I hated when my hair was long.

My foray into YT hasn’t been all snarky inattention, however. You’ll have noticed that I referred to the women making the videos as children. And that’s because, with very rare exception, they are all quite young. And, in spite of my crotchetyness, I’m actually really happy to see all these young-young women making these videos.

I was first introduced to the YT natural hair tutorial world 11 years ago. Even then, I was much older than the ladies making videos. I was fascinated. There had been nothing even remotely like those tutorials when I first went natural … because there was no such thing as YouTube in the late 80s. There wasn’t even public use of the internet yet. And, too, there weren’t tons of Black women cutting off their permed hair and growing out their kinks and coils. And even fewer people were celebrating anyone who made that decision. We didn’t call it a “Big Chop” then. We were just cutting our hair, and sometimes having to fight with barbers and salon staff to get it done.

I loved watching all those early stars of the movement showing us different styles and care tips, teaching us how to make products and how to use them, showing off how comfortable they were with their natural hair and how fabulous their hair was. And I’m just as pleased to see all these young women making videos today. It’s more common for Black women to wear their hair natural today than it was 30+ years ago, but (as I mentioned in my “it’s only hair” post) Black women’s hair is still strictly policed, and it’s hard to unlearn all the negative stereotypes that have been attached to our hair over time and which persist. There are still plenty of women who need to see how versatile and fabulous their hair can be no matter how they choose to wear it. There are still plenty of girls who need to see all these natural hair role models, who need to be aware of all the choices they have.

I won’t be spending too much time down the rabbit hole of YT tutorials, at least not right now. I’ll be refamiliarizing myself with my short hair on my own. But I’m happy to see that Naturalista World is alive and thriving, that there are so many new YouTubers out there shepherding the next generation of big-choppers into the fold.


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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

It’s “just hair” … unless it’s Black hair.

Hair is a forever-big-deal for Black women, whether we like it or not, whether we spend time focusing on it or not. When I made the decision to cut my hair off in 1988, hardly anyone I spoke to about my plan was in favor of it. People were super comfortable telling me what a mistake it would be, how terrible I would look. “You’ll look like a man,” I was told. “You don’t have the face for it.” “You won’t be able to comb your hair.” “What will people think of you?” “Everyone will think you’re a lesbian.” “Everyone will think you’re angry.” “Men don’t like short hair.”

Ugh. Just a full-on mess. These responses weren’t just to short hair but very specifically to short, nappy hair. I was choosing to cut off my relaxed hair and be kinky-headed on purpose, out in the world. And kinky hair was not popular. Certainly not society’s hair of choice for Black women.

I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating. When I went carried out my plan and cut my hair, people followed through on their ugliness. The older Black woman who worked reception at my night job stopped speaking to me. She literally never said a word to me for the rest of the time I worked there. A cab driver told me that, maybe if I got “fucked right,” I’d feel like a woman and start looking like one.

Yes, my short hair told that driver things he didn’t want to hear. Short hair told him I wasn’t interested in his gaze, in his male approval. And so he needed to threaten me with corrective rape to help me understand how unacceptable it was that I wasn’t presenting myself for his approval and consumption.

Because I had a short afro.

Whenever conversations come up about Black women’s hair, someone inevitably says, “But it’s just hair!”

It’s never been “just hair” for us. It if was “just hair,” enslaved women wouldn’t have been forced to hide their hair. It if was “just hair,” the US military wouldn’t have created (in twenty-fucking-fourteen) a set of guidelines for women’s hair that very explicitly outlawed hairstyles that were particular to Black women. It if was “just hair,” Black children wouldn’t have their hair hacked off by teachers, wouldn’t be expelled from school because of their hair growing in its natural form.

It if was “just hair,” we wouldn’t need the CROWN Act, the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act. A whole fucking law to tell employers they can’t discriminate against Black people — and, very specifically Black women — because of their hair. Starting in California, CROWN has become law in seven states between 2018 and 2020. And the Jett Hawkins Law in Illinois is very like CROWN.

In my state, CROWN exists as law. If it had been a law a few jobs ago, I might have had some recourse when my boss told me I didn’t seem like the right candidate for a leadership role at our agency because my hair was “too street.”

Notice I mentioned seven states and an adjacent law in Illinois. The CROWN Act isn’t national. In September of 2020 and then in March of 2021, the CROWN Act was introduced in the House and Senate. It has yet to pass.

And lest we imagine this hate-fueled crap is focused solely on women, don’t forget Nivea’s disgustingly racist ad for men’s skincare products.

There is no “just” when it comes to Black people’s hair.

There is a seriously robust natural hair movement that’s at least ten years strong. It hasn’t spelled the end of prejudice against kinky hair, but it’s connected to the passing of the CROWN Act, connected to the army’s decision to change its offensive hairstyle ban. It’s also why I wasn’t worried about cutting my hair yesterday. I knew I didn’t have to worry about how people at my job would react, wouldn’t have to worry about not finding hair care products and tools for my little afro. There will still be some negative reactions, but many fewer than there were 34 years ago. So that’s a whole lot of steps in the right direction.

I’m focused on my own reaction to my newly-minted afro more than I am to anyone else’s. And that’s exactly as it should be. So, how am I reacting? With pleasure. I got up this morning and washed my hair — needed to get the mystery products from the barbershop out and use the products I know and love. And then I dove in with a twist so I could start reacquainting myself with how to care for and style my short hair. I took out the twist before a Zoom tonight, and I’m happy with the result.


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Big Chop Revelations

So. Yes. I’ve let someone cut off my hair. And yes. I’m frustrated by the result. And also yes. I can acknowledge that my hair looks fine. It even looks good. It just doesn’t look the way I thought it would.

First there was the disappointment of my temporary color not washing out, despite my use of a shampoo whose sole purpose is to fade this temporary color.

In truth, I should probably have known this wouldn’t work. My hair likes to play exactly this kind of trick on me. Years ago, when I first started using henna on my hair, my plan wasn’t to have red hair. I was going to use the henna and then follow it up with indigo, the combination of which was supposed to turn my hair black. Ha! As if. My hair took the henna enthusiastically … and then just smirked at me when I tried the indigo, laughed and said, “No chance, doll. Your sparkly grey is now sparkly red. Deal with it.” (My hair sometimes has a bad attitude.)

So maybe I should have guessed that my hair would hang onto the color I wanted it to release. I have plenty of grey, but it’s mostly at the roots, so I’ll have to wait a while for it to really show itself. (And isn’t that kind of for the best? I’ve been stressing about just how grey I’d be … and now I can ease into it gradually as my hair grows.)

My bigger disappointment is in the length. I wanted to leave the barbershop with six to eight inches of hair. That may not sound short, but kinky hair shrinks, and I have at least 50% shrinkage when my hair is left loose, so six to eight inches of hair would have coiled into itself and looked like three to four inches of hair.

Best laid plans and all that. I consulted with the barber. We talked through what I wanted. Talked it through three times. She was so clear about what I wanted. And then she cut my hair and left me with two to four inches.

Sigh.

Yes, my hair will grow. Of course. Still and all. Would it have been impossible for her to leave me the length I wanted?

Okay. But what is actually also true, is that I like this haircut. I mean, of course I like it: it’s the same cut I wore for years when I was younger. It’s the cut I’ve gotten nostalgic for when I’ve thought about cutting my hair.

I scheduled a dinner date with two dear friends for immediately after my trip to the barber. I did that because I didn’t want to rush home and hide if I didn’t like my hair, so I forced myself to have somewhere to go, to be out in public and let my hair be seen.

It was challenging at first, but then it was a hundred percent fine. I had a few moments of doing things that would have been necessary with my long hair only to be surprised to find my hair was gone. That was weird, and also funny, like when I was putting on my scarf at the end of the night and reached up to do that nape-of-the-neck sweep to get my hair out from under the scarf. Yeah. Not exactly necessary now.

When I first cut my hair back in 1988, I didn’t love it immediately. I was, in fact, extremely sad about it. I took one look in the mirror at the salon and deflated, felt I’d lost some essential part of myself. I dragged myself home to the apartment I shared with my sister. I walked in and she exclaimed over my hair, declaring that she was going to get hers cut immediately. (And she did. She still wears it short all these many years later.)

I appreciated my sister’s enthusiasm, but I wasn’t feeling my newly short hair. Not even a little. I woke up the next day … still unhappy. I woke up the next day … still unhappy. I woke up on my third full day of short hair … and I was in love.

I don’t think it will take three days for me to be happy about my hair. Because I’m not truly unhappy with it now. I’m unhappy that I didn’t get what I asked for, but my hair looks good. I’m super sleepy right now, but I’m looking forward to playing with it tomorrow, looking forward to remembering all the fun things I used to do with my hair forever-ago … and to diving into the world of YouTube tutorials and learning some new things.

So here, now, the great unveiling:

(Pretty sure that look on my face is more exhaustion than snarkiness, but I have room for both.)


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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Sense and Sensibility: Big Chop Edition

I’m taking a major step next week. I took this same step many years ago … sort of. Back in 1988 I made the decision to cut off my hair. It was a big deal then. A very big deal. I wore my hair short for several years after that. But that was forever ago. I haven’t had short hair in more than 25 years, and next week I’m cutting my hair short … not as short as I cut it in 1988, but short.

Cutting my hair in 1988 was a big deal because that was long before the natural hair movement that has been spreading for the last dozen or so years. As a Black woman, having natural hair is still a big deal, and cutting off a head full of hair is still a big deal. When my kinky coils are stretched out, my hair is anywhere from 20 to 24 inches long. I’m probably going to ask to have all but six inches cut. That will leave me with about five inches more on my head than I left in 1988, but it’s still quite short.

And the short part is exciting. I’ve been missing my tiny afro for years. I mean, I was entirely adorable with short hair:

I was also, you know, 30 years younger than I am today.

That’s the part that gives me the stomach ache. I’m getting ready to cut off my dyed hair, wash out the temporary color that’s been covering my grey, and let the world see my real hair for the first time.

I started dying my hair in my mid-40s. I got sick of it quickly, but I wasn’t ready for my grey. I started telling myself that I’d cut off my dyed hair before my 50th birthday. Yeah. That perfectly good milestone came and went. My vanity convinced me to keep dying, told me my face didn’t look like I should have grey hair. (Seriously, what the hell is that?) With my 50th birthday behind me, I started telling myself I’d cut my hair by my 55th birthday. Vanity blocked the move again.

I stopped using boxed dyes and switched to henna — it was natural, after all, surely that was better for my tresses than the chemicals I’d been using, right? But henna was still permanent dye (and red!). A couple of years ago I gave up the henna and swapped in a temporary color that matched the henna. Still, I was moving further and further past my 55th birthday, and I was still hiding my real hair.

Today, I’m in the countdown to 60. I am still just as vain as ever, but I’m also sick, sick, sick of coloring my hair. Or at least, I’m sick of coloring my hair so that it isn’t clear I’ve gone grey. I think it will be fun to play with silly colors in my grey hair — making my tips rose gold or purple, for example.

My vanity still has me worried, though. What will I look like with so much grey? Am I ready to say goodbye to people guessing my age 15-20 years younger than I am? Will seeing that I’m older than they imagined make people judge me for where I am in my life? Can I just calm down and accept that none of that matters and be comfortable moving forward as my authentic self?

I guess we’ll see, won’t we? I’m going to the barber on Saturday.


It’s the 15th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot