“Hair traumas happen. Some of those traumas are intergenerational — passed down from generation to generation like warped heirlooms,” Oriowo says, adding that texturism is part of our inheritance. “As a result, some folk grow up and can’t smell certain smells like hair grease … without almost re-experiencing or having flashes of their own past hair experiences. And this type of flashback sounds a lot like a trauma response to me.”
So what if we take a moment to take our pain more seriously? What changes if we stop shrugging off these small experiences and instead look at them as part of our racialized trauma? “We have to start with naming our hurts,” Oriowo explains. “When we identify what hurts us, we are better equipped to do something about it.”
If you’re in a situation like I was, where a stylist is rough or unkind because of your hair, both Oriowo and Mbilishaka say it’s okay to speak up, advocate for yourself, or even leave. “Some of the people who do the best hair may or may not have their own wokeness,” Mbilishaka says. “I would encourage people to restrict their payments or funds. When you’re trusting someone, you’re in a vulnerable position, and they’re not taking care of you but actually harming you.”
In our longstanding commitment to dismantle white supremacy, we must also continue to heal ourselves. We can do that, Mbilishaka says, by questioning and processing the stories we tell ourselves (and each other). We did not create the system that privileges straighter hair, but we’ve inherited it, and so it’s another thing that we have to process and heal. “I think, as we tell and retell some of our personal life experiences, we can see, ‘No, there’s nothing wrong with my hair or my beauty. It’s the system that would critique tightly coiled [and] darker skin,’” Mbilishaka says. “And how sick is that? That they have to create this false dichotomy of good and bad?”
And, whether on social media, in salons, in therapy sessions, or group chats, we have to continue to fortify ourselves against a world that tries to erode our self-esteem. “In the face of all that discrimination, you will need a safe haven. Be sure to find or build a community,” Oriowo says. “There is much we have internalized about our worth and value from what folk have said about our hair. Let’s make sure we are equally working to heal what was hurt.”
This piece is part of The Melanin Edit, a platform in which Allure explores every facet of a melanin-rich life. If you liked this story, be sure to read our report on why some women are leaving the natural hair movement as well as the rising popularity of Botox among Black consumers.
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