Puff Balls

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What does hair have to do with it? Why talk about ethnic hair?

I am writing this blog because I want to share my ethnic hair journey as a way to empower other people. It is not easy growing up as a person of color in this world. Too many times, I hear stories or read articles about people of color going to drastic measures because they are dissatisfied with their natural features. For example, people of color may choose to bleach or lighten their skin despite documented risks:

· Jamaica: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/cb_jamaica_skin_bleaching

· India: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120340646

· Multiple African countries: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18377596

There is even a website dedicated to lightening black skin: http://www.blackskinlightening.com/about-black-skin-lightening. It should be noted that this site seems to focus mostly on fading acne scars, hyperpigmentation, etc. and has an article that contrasts skin lightening with skin bleaching (http://www.blackskinlightening.com/dangerous-skin-bleaching-vs-safe-skin-lightening). I would argue that fading acne scars is different that bleaching your skin (a la Mr. Sammy Sosa…I don’t know the man but, wow, what might have led to such a drastic change in skin tone?)

I write about my personal ethnic hair journey because it documents the struggles that I went through with my identity and self-esteem as it relates to my hair. One of my good friends raised a good point when expressing her concern about my focus on ethnic hair, here is an excerpt:

I know it's an (was) issue but at what point do we make a choice to move on and get over it; there are bigger issues in the black community beyond the physical. Let's talk about mental illness and why blacks suffer in silence”.

I think that this is a valid point. Here is an excerpt from my response:

We all have to reckon with the fact that God made each of us different and learn to love it. My point is that when I read articles about skin bleaching, extensive scalp damage from hair weaves, etc. it makes me think, "Man, if you can't love yourself, how in the world are you going to love anyone else and make positive change in this world?" This is an issue that also links people of different cultures and, therefore, can help to build bridges. For example, I just learned that Asian women often feel like we may when it comes to finding a salon: you have to be trained on how to cut Asian hair or else it will get jacked up. This may sound like a basic issue and that's the point. It's about identity, self-esteem, basic building blocks for flourishing in this world. I agree with you 100% that we in the Black community need to rally around issues of mental illness, incarceration rates, unwed mothers, poverty, illiteracy, and many many more.”

I chose to focus on ethnic hair, because as a professor, I conduct research on identity. My hair is part of my identity and it is connected with my ethnicity, age, etc. It seemed like a good starting point to launch important conversations. I’m excited to see that great discussions are already being stimulated.


  1. Tina, it maybe that the reasons we find ourselves struggling with so many of the other issues your friend mentioned may be connected to the identity issues that concern you. If you don't think of yourself as valuable, beautiful, a reflection of the divine...then perhaps the choices you make about your health and future are impacted. Perhaps many mental health issues, and high incarceration rates are related to feelings of low self-worth. I think identity is often at the root of what ails us as folks of color, because it's hard to make life-affirming choices when at a fundamental level you don't think you have value and that includes our thoughts in our physical beauty. And our culture is pervasive in it's creation if standards that serve to repeatedly tell us we are undesirable in so many ways... And we often perpuate those ways of thinking. Thank you for blogging on the topic! It's an important conversation.

  2. Hi Karen, thanks so much for your post! I wholeheartedly agree with you. I am so passionate about this issue! I'm glad to see other people like you are also thinking about it too. Identity is a HUGE issue and I so desire for our sons and daughters to love who they are. When I look at my children I am grateful that my husband and I have been able to foster a loving, identity-embracing environment. But, my heart aches sometimes when I think about the standards that you mention. I hope and pray that those standards change so that beauty of all kinds is accepted. Thanks for following me!