“I love my hair because it’s a reflection of my soul. It’s dense, it’s kinky, it’s soft, it’s textured, it’s difficult, it’s easy and it’s fun. That’s why I love my hair.”
– Tracee Ellis Ross (a Black woman who be knowing)
Hey, hey, hey! With the end of the year, comes a lot of last minute shopping, cleaning and deadlines. So just like all of you, I’ve been hella busy but I needed to make time to do this episode. So I ain’t even gonna hold up the greatness any longer.
As always, read, share, discuss and comment as the spirit moves you and please listen to the episode as there are so many gems and jokes you don’t get to hear when simply reading.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
BWBK: Black Women Be Knowing, Episode 8. It is now [unofficially] winter time, and that means we got all kinds of Christmas and Kwanzaa and Hanukkah festivities going on so shout out to everyone celebrating. But it’s also a time for your edges to be dry. So we’re talking about the dry and damaged ends, the moisturizer and the oils. But we’re also talking about how great it is to be a Natural today.
So I’m sitting her with three ladies who you already know because they’ve been on previous episodes: Ladies, introduce yourselves, starting to my left:
Cynthia Gillespie and I was on Episode 1- Because Black Women Be Finding Their Freedom Through Fashion
Niquae– Episode 5- Because Black Women Be Educating in a World That Don’t Love Us
Felicia– Episode 4- Because Black Women Be Nurturing the Next Generation of Black Women
BWBK: Because you have all been on before, we are gonna do something slightly different. You’re not gonna describe yourself. You’re gonna describe your hair in three words. We are all natural [hair] women or transitioning into being natural.
Cynthia: I’m gonna start with
Sorry not sorry
Gray is the new black
Niquae: I’m just gonna go cause ain’t nothing good after that. But I’m gonna go and say,
The evolution of me
Thick and continue to be thickums
My current joy
Felicia: So I’m thinking,
All me, all natural
Something to keep further exploring
BWBK: So I’ll just say,
Strong as fuck
My crowning glory
Love/”hate” relationship because I love on this damn hair but sometimes I don’t think it likes me.
How is your hair a reflection of who you are based on the words that you chose or did not mention?
Niquae: I mean for me, definitely evolution. I am constantly going through a metamorphosis. I am currently transitioning and I stopped chemically processing my hair about 8 months ago. But I myself, am physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally evolving.
BWBK: I would say strong as fuck. That’s a big part of my personality. I tend to be dominant and I was torn about using the word strong; I love to use the word powerful instead. So maybe I want to say my hair is very powerful in the way that I show up and how powerful it is/[I am]. When Cynthia talked about perfectly puffed, she meant that shit and I think that’s a clean segue to Cynthia talking about herself.
Cynthia: So, I would say gray is the new black. I started going gray in my thirties. I remember having a gray streak and going to my friend’s house and her mom saying, “You really need to dye your hair. You look older.” So, I remember taking that to heart and dying my hair and experimenting with a lot of colors. In my early forties, the dye began to have awful effects on my hair-it started thinning. The gray roots were very powerful. They would show up like “WASSUP.” So I stopped dying my hair and I remember my son saying, “Wow, you look really cool with your hair gray.” That was it- that was the stamp right there. So gray is the new black.
Felicia: Just to piggyback off what Cynthia was saying about going gray, I am getting my little grays and I am embracing them. I didn’t want to dye my hair. It didn’t mean aging for me; it meant a sense of being secure. In regards to the question, I think silky smooth applies to me. I’m typically laid back. I don’t let a lot of things get to me.
BWBK: So we’re gonna rewind since Niquae mentioned the time [of her transition]. We weren’t always about that natural life. Cynthia and I have had conversations about her mother pressing her hair and we’ve all had experience with either that and/or the ‘creamy crack.’
So my question is, when is the first time you got a relaxer and why? And you can go back further than that because I know some of us have had our hair pressed with the straightening comb.
Felicia: So I remember when I first got my hair relaxed, I was transitioning into high school. (BWBK– oh so you was a late bloomer? Niquae– you was damn near grown. All laughing)
I used to get my hair braided from my cousin upstairs every weekend so there was no need to explore perming. I just remember it being expensive as shit. I started out with a kiddie perm because my hair texture was naturally soft so I was trying to get it bone straight. Then I started using ‘Cream of Nature’ and it was an interesting time.
Niquae: I was young and tender. I was 10 years old. I got it cause my mom had a lot to do and she was spending a lot of time combing my hair everyday. I think she did it so I could [manage] it more and I wanted it too because I wanted my hair blowing in the wind. I think my very first perm, my aunt did it and she was the fashionista in the family. I was 10 and I thought it was helpful to us all.
BWBK: I got my first relaxer when I was seven. I did not get it done routinely [right] after that. It was a one and done situation [for a little while.] My grandmother had taken me [to a salon]. I already knew it wasn’t gonna come out the way I wanted it to because she took me to a woman who looked like her name was Hattie Mae Pierce.
My hair looked like one of them old woman wigs. Those curls were TIGHT! I just remember walking out of there looking like I had bills to pay. Bitch was seven looking like I had a mortgage and stress. I went back to box-braiding my natural hair and didn’t consistently get a relaxer again until I was 10. But prior to that, I did sometimes get my hair straightened with the hot comb when I was around five.
Cynthia: I was maybe 9 or 10 but prior to that my mom pressed our hair. My sister and I had a lot of hair and although my mom was a beautician, another member of our church wanted to do our hair. She said, “Please let me take that pressure off you, Sister Gillespie. I’ll do their hair.”
She was so mean to us and she slapped the perm in our hair saying that we thought we were better than everyone because we had long hair. She let the perm stay in too long and we had burn marks all over our heads. Needless to say, my mother was pissed. I don’t know what happened after that. She let our perms grow out and continued to press our hair… That lady was mad at us.
BWBK: When did you make the switch to going natural and why? What was the event, the feeling that pushed you to go natural? Niquae, you have the least amount of time [being natural] and Cynthia has been natural the longest. So I’m gonna go in that order.
Niquae: I actually started to feel like I wasn’t looking cute anymore. I know that may seem basic and people want really deep things like, “I went to Africa and found the motherland and now I want this 4C to come through” but now we are in the age where there is so much product, so much education- shout out to YouTube University- and I wanted versatility.
I wanted to know what it looked like to rock my regular ass, curly, natural hair. So there is a love-hate or better a love-dislike relationship because I never really hate my hair even when it’s not doing what I want it to. But it is everything and I’m so glad I’m here. I MADE IT MAMA!
Felicia: So I think I might be next because I began my journey February 2016. My hair was thinning and I was running out of products to thicken it up. Plus it was expensive, getting those wash and sets every two weeks and my scalp was burning from the dryer on top of the hair already being permed. I just got tired and cut it all off. And the first chop, I wasn’t happy with. The person didn’t really even it out and I went to a different beautician and she had to even it out.
BWBK: My last relaxer was in May of 2013. So I’ve been natural for over six years. I think the reason I transitioned had to do with my daughter not embracing her natural hair the way I would have liked her to. She’s the only one in the family who did not have a perm. All of my sisters have really thick hair (there’s four girls) and my mom just couldn’t manage all of our heads. So we all had straight hair.
When Kaori came along, I made it my business not to relax her hair. But as she got older and went to middle school and looking at boys, she really wanted to emulate us more. She kept blowing it out and blowing it out and her hair started to [look dry.] I realized that I kept telling her that her hair was gorgeous but my hair was straight so I needed to be the example.
Cynthia: In 1989, my mother freshly pressed my hair with the ‘Creme of Nature’ and we rode to Atlanta to Clark Atlanta University. I didn’t think about what I was gonna do with my hair once it needed to be pressed again.
So we went to Six Flags and it started to rain on my pressed hair and there was a little beauty salon and I was able to get it pressed a couple more times. Renell Lewis, who I mentioned in the first podcast episode, was from Texas and she had some pink lotion. She said, “If you try some of this, we can play with it.” I knew what my natural hair was when it was washed but not to wear it like that. So I remember having my hair in a puff and I really liked it. I had some waves and I could twist it. Seeing so many other women with braids, bantu knots and twist outs gave me the courage to say, ‘That’s fly, I wanna do that too.’
BWBK: We’re gonna segue into transitioning and what that was like for you because I had to embrace the fact that I had gone through an ugly phase. I could not big chop. You be out here thinking you looking like the bald women in Black Panther and you out here looking like a stage 4 cancer patient.
It was hard. I had to do lots of Senegalese twists then take’em out and clip off the scraggly hairs then put’em back in. It started to form into this little curly fro. And I think the hardest part of transitioning is product. Everybody talking about the money spent at the Dominican salon twice a month. Listen, it’s hard filling your Amazon shopping cart 17 times a month. You know how much money Amazon got from me?
It became difficult cause I wanted to be cute. I had to start figuring out these head wraps, these hairstyles cause everyday ain’t gonna be a good hair day. So I just wanna hear a little bit about what transitioning was like or is like for you.
Niquae: At first, I was like, “I don’t understand. It’s so much harder to comb the roots.” Then it was the trial and error with products and the time. I was like, “I can’t be spending a whooooole Jesus day just to wash this hair.” I wanted to be in these streets; I had things to do. Now that I’m doing it, it’s really self-soothing and I appreciate it- going through every strand.” The two textures are a hardship at times but it is not as hard as I thought it would’ve been. I’m with you- those ugly days…they weigh heavy on me, LOL.
Felicia: Transition for me was also an ugly phase. In the picture with my big chop, I thought I looked like Woody Woodpecker’s cousin. It was still winter and I was supposed to be wetting it and styling but you can’t wet your hair like that when it’s cold. I too, didn’t know what products to use. I didn’t like myself or my hair for quite some time. And it wasn’t until I got around the Black Excellence crew that I started to really embrace my natural hair. Before, I was just trying to slick it back in a ponytail like it was still straight. I’m trying to rock with the big hair. It’s coming. It’s coming. Silky smooth is coming.
Cynthia: I’m actually gonna talk about when I transitioned back to an afro from locs. It was locked for maybe 3 or 4 years. I needed to figure out how not to be so attached to my hair and I needed to release. I remember my friend cut off one of my locs and I lost it.
My hair was my identity. My hair was my everything. [People] would say, “You know Cynthia Gillespie, the one with the long hair?” So I rocked my hair shaved all the way around with the locs on top. I actually cut the whole thing off and had an itty bitty fro. I was pregnant at the time and again all we had was Pink Lotion, Nature’s Blessing and Indian Hemp.
It was definitely a spiritual transition cause I was trying to figure out who I was.
BWBK: I wanna ask this question in a way that doesn’t feel on trend. What does it feel like or how are things different now that you’re in the natural club?
I don’t want it to seem like I’m making the natural movement seem like a trend but I’ve been reading a lot of bell hooks and she talks about the 60s and the Black is Beautiful/Black Power movement and how we went back to the straight hair once we were allowed to be in certain spaces. I hope that doesn’t happen because there is a way that naturals acknowledge each other that is very different than if your wig is laid.
It’s a conversation starter and a connection piece. I don’t feel apprehensive to speak to other women who are natural. [So what’s that like?]
Cynthia: I’m happy to hear you say that connecting piece. I think because it has become very ‘on trend.’ I find myself speaking to younger women. I’ve stopped young women in the street and have told them that when you see other natural women, you acknowledge them because you are part of a group; you are part of a tribe.
I remember back in the 90s, being in Fort Greene and everyone was natural and artists and [there was] that whole piece of community and support because we were going into a world that was very much white. We had to tell each other, “No, hold it down. Make sure your bantu knots are tight cause you’re still wearing bantu knots to the interview, LOL.”
We had to stay steadfast on who we were trying to be.
Felicia: In the workspace here, I’m gonna pay it forward to the two women in front of me, Khalya and Cynthia who encouraged me to wear my natural hair in the workplace and connecting with other natural women. I’m not a conversation starter and so both of these lovely beauties have allowed me to feel more comfortable and proud of how I show up in the workplace. When I see younger or older naturals, I do make eye contact. I don’t go up to people and talk to them yet but I do make eye contact.
Niquae: For me, I think definitely building community is [important.] I love building community with people of color. People might not even know I’m natural cause I always have these braids in my hair. But when I see Black men, women and children, they say things like, “I love your braids.” But in the office, White people love my hair. It is the antithesis of their hair. My trainer is Irish and there is some sensationalizing of the hair and also the idea that “I can’t do that with my hair.”
BWBK: Ok Niquae since you brought it up, let’s dig into these White folks. I do feel like there is a sense of awe but [it’s more than that.]
What are some of the other reactions you’ve gotten from White folks? I’m gonna add, what is said that could be an additional verse to Solange’s “Don’t Touch My Hair”? To take it even further, if you had to take what they say and make it into a song title, what would it be?
One of my pet peeves is when White people say, “I prefer your hair like that.” That would be the White song and then my Black response to that would be a song called, “Bitch, who asked you?”
That’s really exhausting and the reason that bothers me so much is because there’s power in word choice so I don’t mind if a sista says she likes my hair a certain way. That’s not to negate the way I wore my hair last week. So it’s almost like [White people] were waiting for you to walk up in there with the hairstyle they wanted so that they can tell you that’s the one you should wear.
I don’t say anything to you when you come in here with the same raggedy ‘do everyday. The most y’all do is highlight it or cut it. I don’t feel the need to mention it though. It’s just harmful if you’re not being mindful of the word choice.
Cynthia: I don’t get a negative response from White people nor do I get, “Can I touch your hair?” anymore. Now I get, if it’s a bald headed white man, he’ll say, “Can you share some of your hair with me?” I get a lot [of comments] from White and Black women that they would love to go gray.
Niquae: What you said resonated with me Khalya because it’s not about your hair. It’s about policing who you are. Don’t tell me about your preference. You gon’ get this bitch how it comes, cause it’s still them trying to tell you how to be in their space that they claim for them[selves]. I totally get that.
You know what, if I come in here with the Ike Turner bowl cut, my fro out or braids or bantu knots or silky smooth with waves; if I wore my best Beyonce, ombre, don’t come here and tell me what you like more. Consume what I give you.
Cynthia: But the audacity you have to even tell me your preferences.
Niquae: THE AUDACITY!!!
BWBK: That’s a whole fucking song right there: The Audacity. That’s the Hair Playlist.
So one of the things I did want to ask just for shits and giggles, what’s your favorite hair product right now?
Niquae: One of my Latina hermanas, just put me on to a Latina in the Bronx who makes her own organic hair products- it’s called Pistachio Hair Wonders. It is hydrating and moisturizing and I feel good about supporting small business.
BWBK: I like any product where I can pronounce the [ingredients] so I like Mel’s Butter Blends and she’s based in Brooklyn. She has a product called Hair Crack and it’s very hydrating. It keeps the hair really soft and you put it in the refrigerator so you know it’s natural cause it got a [close] expiration date.
Felicia: I’m looking at things that are home grown from the garden or something I can purchase from the supermarket. So I’m into rice water rinses. It’s been helping to texturize my hair, helping it to grow and giving me the moisture, protein and reducing the shedding.
Cynthia: So I make a deep conditioner. It has aloe, avocado, eggs, coconut milk. That’s the bulk of it. When I was young, my mom would do the conditioner with the egg and mayonnaise and I wanted to replicate that but I didn’t like that smell. It has a better smell and it leaves the hair very soft.
BWBK: So as we close, I want you to give some words of wisdom to someone who is struggling with going natural. What would you tell them in one sentence?
Cynthia: Enjoy all the phases.
Niquae: Honestly, if you’re not ready, don’t do it.
Felicia: Walk around with your unbothered face.
BWBK: Would this outer change reflect an inner change/What are you trying to project outside that’s happening inside?
Thank you, ladies for sitting with me a second, sometimes a third time and sharing with me.
Remember to follow Black Women Be Knowing on IG and BWBK_ on Twitter. Follow on Soundcloud and we’re gonna keep talking shit. Share your Black hair, don’t care stories in the comments.
Black women be freaking their fros.
Black women be curating their curls.
Black women be loving their locs.
And if you don’t know, now you be knowing.