Black women · Culture · Discussion · Hair · HBCU

The Politics of Black Hair: (HBCU Edition), A Series of Interviews..

slim sway interview pic 2

As this series continues, focusing on the politics of black hair, in writing and listening back on the third interview of the series, I can’t help but think of how amazing it is that we as Black women, on the campus of Wilberforce University alone, can relate to so much when it comes to this topic. I can only imagine the many women before us that attended Wilberforce University and their experiences with their hair. It makes me think of an interview that I watched not too long ago with Kathleen Cleaver, a former member of the Black Panther Party as she said to the interviewer:

“This brother here, myself, and all of us were born with our hair like this, and we just wear it like this because it’s natural, the reason for it you might say is like a new awareness among Black people that their own natural appearance, physical appearance is beautiful and pleasing to them.” As she closes the interview with the phrase “Dig it, isn’t it beautiful? Alright”

The third woman of the series is Shanyael Hinton (also known as slim), a senior, intellect, writer and more here at Wilberforce University, (you can check my blog for a previous interview with her that I wrote discussing literature ‘Beloved: Literature, Love, and Livelihood’)

Check out her responses below:

Allahnastevie: What does your hair symbolize for you?

Shanyael Hinton: My hair is more attached to this feminine idea. It’s actually not as deep or spiritual, it’s not like it used to be I guess. It’s more so like woman have hair. When you’re coming to terms with if you should cut your hair or not it comes down to the feminine aspect of it.

AS: So, you are natural now, how long have you been natural?

SH: Since 2016.

AS: What made you go natural?

SH: Coming to college. When you’re at home, you’re like ok let me go by me a relaxer but when you get to college it’s not that easy to get around and you’re not about to be stacking up on perms, like you’re not going to buy six perms, so you can have them in advance. Coming to college and then having braids in all the time, I was like I might as well stop putting perms in my hair. So that’s what I did, and I wanted a really big afro.

AS: How is it being natural? Do you sometimes feel yourself not feeling as beautiful?

SH: For me it’s not, not feeling as beautiful. It’s feeling younger, feeling like I look younger. Feeling like if I’m going to wear my natural hair I should wear makeup or something, to make myself look my age. It’s frustrating sometimes because it takes work doing your hair, genuine work, and then it takes trying new things and being disappointed when it doesn’t work out. Depending on your relationship with your hair that can really be a lot.

AS: Do you feel like the wigs that you wear are just another form of an accessory?

SH: Yeah, cause a lot of the stuff that I would do with my hair I can’t do. So, for me, I wouldn’t call them accessories, I would call them extensions. There more so like extensions of myself. One day I might be feeling really curly, fun, another day I might be feeling basic, black bob and a hat. Maybe one day I just want my hair to be a different color, you know? Or maybe I want bangs, and I’m never going to cut my hair into a bang. At the end of the day I don’t have the hair to do these hairstyles, so for me they’re more so like extensions of myself.

AS: But you could live with out wigs?

SH: Yeah, it’s just like tattoos. Once you get one you’re just on a roll.

AS: Do you understand how systematically you may have been steered into believing what beauty truly means?

SH: Yeah, and I think that it ties into colorism. Like with my sister people say that she has the same hair as me, but she doesn’t. Her dad is mixed so she has white in her, her dad’s mom is white. My dad is Black, my dad’s mom is Black, my mom is Black, my mom’s mom is Black, everybody is Black! There’s no trickle of something else. So, for me kind of what I saw was light skinned girls are not only prettier, but they have pretty hair, and so that was more so my experience with the systematic oppression. That really came from growing up in a certain kind of household and my own biases towards lighter toned people. Then of course, growing up it really wasn’t a problem because as little girls we always had our hair braided, we always had ballies and barrettes and it looked nice. Nobody could ever try to roast you, like your ballies and barrettes were “drippy”! It wasn’t until the perm became popular or like when just everybody had straight hair were you’re like “ Welp guess its about that time” even though you knew you should have never done it.

AS: Do you feel that now we are represented more within media?

SH: In media like where?

AS: Television and magazines, things like that.

SH: I honestly couldn’t tell you about magazines, because I’m never in tune with them. I don’t really watch TV. But, I would say there is definitely a movement on social media. Embracing of Black hair, on that particular medium. Netflix just dropped a movie solely based on the Black hair experience, so I think were getting there, but I did hear that some place did just ban dread locks in the work place which is directly aimed towards African Americans, so were kind of in the middle.

AS: As a Black woman do you feel Black men contribute to the oppression of the Black woman’s hair experience?

SH: When I was in middle school, it really wasn’t because of my hair or anything I just internalized that it was my hair, but I grew up on the west side of Columbus where a lot of interracial relationships happened anyway, but I took it as, because you have straight hair. Like it wasn’t anything else, there literally wasn’t anything else at that time with my middle school mind frame that would make a Black boy prefer a white girl over me other than their hair. That was my mindset, because I was young. Those were Black boys at the same time. Black men on the other hand, there are a lot who love natural hair; I think, but at the same time they don’t understand it. My relationship is very complicated and kind of toxic, but I think as women it takes time to kind of sperate yourself from appearance, just because its been pressed on us so much since we were born. I think a lot of Black men do love natural hair now. I’ve seen some Black men be very amazed by what Black women can do with their hair. So, yeah, I don’t think it’s that negative of an affect. I think they’re doing alright.

AS: If you could go back in time what would you tell your younger self about beauty?

SH: I would tell my younger self don’t get that perm, don’t get weave, take care of your hair. I knew a girl, her name was Rhonda, and she wore ballies and barrettes into middle school and a lot of people considered it lame or whatever, because we were transitioning into being older. She wore that into middle school and her hair was “drippy” and at this point if I could go back I would tell myself

“Thug it out with your natural hair”

matter of fact cut it off, do what ever you want with it, stop having to blow it out and straighten it. I wasn’t really insecure about anything else. I got suspended in middle school because my hair wasn’t done.

AS: Wait how did you get suspended?

SH: I had two French braids, I think they made me look like a little boy. So, I had a hoodie on and I kept my hood on for the entire day. My homeroom teacher asked me why I had my hood on, I told her it was because I was having a bad hair day. She said that’s fine and she let me keep it on. I went through every single period with my hood on, got to sixth period and the teacher was like “ take your hood off” and I was like “so I’m having a bad hair day and all of my teachers have been completely understanding up into this point”, so I was like “no, I’m not taking my hood off”, she literally sat there and argued with me for about 5 to 10 minutes of the class time, and then she was like well you can go to the office and so that’s where I went. In the office they were still like all you had to do was take your hood down.

“F*** all you white people, y’all do not understand”. That is where my insecurities lied that’s where my identity was. It’s where my identity still is, I’m not going to sit here and front with you. So, if I could go back I would say, look at your eyes, look at those lips, focus on other things, look at the style you’re developing, and all of the talents you have. There is so much more to life than hair, I’m still trying to teach myself that, so I wish I could go back because I could instill that into myself earlier instead of trying to remind myself of that every day.”

Slim Sway interview picture

“Beauty was not simply something to behold; it was something one could do.”

― Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

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