Melissa Harris-Perry Gives the 101 on Black Hair

I suspect that just like myself that there will be Black women who will be bookmarking this 101 bit to forward to all of the nosy, inappropriate, rude, and racist, White people, who cannot seem to stop asking, touching, or talking about our hair.  Here’s everything you have always wanted to know about Black hair. Watch it and please refrain from harassing us from here on in. Don’t say I’ve never done anything nice for you.

  transcript below the fold

Ever since we first opened the doors to nerd land, one topic has made regular and frequent appearances in the subject line of viewer emails – my hair.  So today I would like to take this opportunity to answer some questions about Black women and hair.  Why tackle such a hairy topic on a political show? Well there are few follicles more politicized than the ones that grow out of a Black woman’s head. And were going to talk a little bit about the politics later but first I want to do a quick teachable moment, so let’s begin.

A perm, used interchangeably with a relaxer is a process by which tightly curled strands are chemically relaxed to create straight styles.  And please don’t ask me about that Chris Rock movie; a perm does not fry your brain open like a coke can. Now, those straight styles can also be achieved with a hot comb – a heated metal that Black women have long used to straighten their hair without chemicals. A hot comb features prominently in the childhood memories of many a Black woman. It’s why when a Black woman talks about the kitchen, she is not just referring to the room in he house where the comb was heated and where the straightening sessions occurred – she’s talking about the hair at the nape of her neck, commonly the hair most resistant to heat induced transformation.

The weave – it’s the addition of hair that you bought to he hair that you grew.  Black women get weaves for all kinds of reasons:  to add length, to add fullness, to experiment with new looks without altering their hair, the list goes on.  Remember this about weaves, there are generally two categories: synthetic hair which is well synthetic and human hair which came from an actual person. If our hair is much longer today than yesterday, it is safe to assume that we probably got some added in.  And yes, it is our hair; we paid for it. But not all Black women with long hair are wearing weaves, and no, it’s not polite to ask.

Braids, now that is what I have now.  You can braid your hair with or without extensions.  When we get our hair braided with extensions, it can take up to eight hours.  So, for everyone whose asked, that is how long it takes for me to get my hair done. No, we don’t shampoo our hair everyday. Yes, we are still clean.

Nappy is a term we use among ourselves to reclaim pride in something that was once used as a weapon against us.  We’re happy with out nappy, but just like that other N word, you probably shouldn’t use it.

If your Black friend spends the night, she may wrap her head in a silk scarf. It’s because she wants to preserve the smooth style that she spent many hours to achieve and your cotton pillow cases gonna frizz it up, which is why she may decline to join you in a cannonball at your pool party.  Water is the enemy to a Black woman with a straight hairstyle.

If you have a Black boyfriend with a short fade and you want to run your fingers through his hair, rub forward, never back. 

Natural hair means that a hair has not been treated with any chemical relaxers.  An afro that small or voluminous halo of highly textured hair that floats above some Black women’s scalps, does not mean that she’s about to set off the revolution.  There is nothing dreadful about dredlocks. They’re also not a sign that someone, smells, sells, or smokes marijuana. And by the way, they’re locks, not dreds. And a Black woman who chemically straightens her hair, is not trying to be White.

When in doubt, the best course of action is to understand a Black woman by what’s in her head, not what’s on it.

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