As a black woman with natural hair, I’ve come to expect fascination, ignorance and sometimes insensitivity about my appearance from people outside the black community. Comments such as “your hair is messy/crazy/wild today”, “you look like a sheep/brillo pad” and “your hair gets in the way” are frequently part of natural life.Really? That sounds just…well, fake. Like so many of CiF columnists’ claimed experiences.
What I’m less ready to tolerate is criticism of natural hair from other black people.Errr…
Sometimes the criticism is subtle, such as dirty looks in the street from other black girls wearing their hair in weaves. Other times it’s from those closer to home. I have friends whose family members have repeatedly asked: “what are you doing with your hair?”Yup, me too, when I’ve tried something new with it. Would you prefer no-one notice?
A few weeks ago, while preparing for an important interview, a well-meaning black friend, advised me to straighten my hair, and another acquaintance recommended I “put it in a bun”. I was appalled. They failed to address any of my real concerns yet felt entitled to burden me with this “advice”. I went for the interview, feeling as if my hair was yet another thing counting against me.These are not simple pieces of advice, such as we all get from friends & strangers alike. These are, apparently, ‘microaggressions’. If you’re self-absorbed & have a chip on your shoulder, anyway…
Since moving to Paris last autumn, though, I’ve noticed a stark difference in the attitude towards my hair. Nobody seems to care. And it’s relieving. No one pets my hair on the Metro, which has happened on the tube more times than I care to remember. More surprisingly, there is a distinct lack of hostility and commentary from other black people, whatever their hairstyle choice.
When I ask various black French people why other black people don’t critique my hair in Paris, the resounding reply is: “You’re black and your hair looks like what a black person’s hair should look like. What is there to say?” For them the in-fighting surrounding natural hair is pointless.And the source of this miraculous lack of interest in trivialities?
Having said that, the reasons may not always be positive.Oh, right. Perish the thought!
“Black people in Paris have bigger problems, such as their constantly questioned identity and racism,” says Alex, a 34-year-old artist. He’s right. The recent spike in support for fascist parties in France such as the Front National is much more of a concern, as is the high rate of unemployment which still disproportionately affects black people.Gosh, you mean, faced with real issues of racism, ‘microaggressions’ don’t get a look in? Fancy!