Beauty of My Black Hair
Imagine an average day, you’re out in public, at school, or work, or wherever you spend your time when suddenly a stranger comes up to you and asks if they can touch your hair. How would you react?
For many black people, this isn’t a hypothetical scenario, this isn’t something they get to just imagine, this is an issue that many have faced firsthand. Diversity Achievement Center student staff member Zakeiba Ofosu decided to find a way to educate people on the subject of black hair and its significance in black culture with a presentation and discussion titled “The Beauty of My Black Hair.”
Students and faculty gathered in the DAC on Wednesday, Feb. 21 for the presentation that is the third installment of the DAC’s Black History Month event series.
Ofosu led the discussion and addressed several key components on both the logistics of maintaining natural black hair and the importance of embracing one’s natural hair.
The idea for the presentation came when the DAC was brainstorming student-staff-led events for the month of February. Ofosu came up with the idea when she was wearing her hair in an afro and someone she didn’t know touched her hair without permission and compared the texture to wool.
“It made me so mad because I felt like it dehumanized me and even when I did approach the problem in a pretty professional and nice way she still got mad at me,” said Ofosu.
“I realized it was because of her lack of education towards my hair and towards the feelings I have for my hair.”
She then approached Director of Institutional Equity Javier Cervantes about doing a presentation to educate people about black hair.
She started the presentation by talking about hair relaxers, a lotion or cream that helps chemically straighten tight curls. Her presentation explained the dangers of using those chemicals as sometimes it can burn people’s scalps. Ofosu also shed light on how and why people in the black community feel obligated to use them.
“One of the biggest reasons people use things like relaxers is assimilation,” said Ofosu.
“Straightening your hair was looked at as more professional, so that’s how we started with relaxers and straightening.”
Ofosu then mentioned the Natural Hair Movement, a cause that encourages women of African descent to keep their natural textured hair.
“The Natural Hair Movement was a movement against assimilation. It was to tell black girls that ‘your hair is beautiful. You can grow out your hair and it can be natural and it can be stylish without having to chemically straighten your hair,’” said Ofosu.
The presentation covered a variety of other different topics about black hair ranging from how to wash it, the variety of different hairstyles, to the subject of weaves and extensions. Ofosu was joined by Dr. Ramycia McGhee, an english professor at LB. The two talked about what it’s like to have coarser textured hair and living in a predominantly white area.
“It is hard. You are forced to be creative because people don’t know how to do your hair and going to a salon is almost like going to your 5-year-old cousin– You don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Ofosu.
McGhee added that she drives up to Portland at least once a month to get her hair done.
“I go to Portland every month. I have to. I have no other way to do it, that’s why I have to go. That’s why I had to research before I even got here [to Oregon] because it was essential that I had someone here that knew how to do my hair,” said McGhee.
Ofosu shared an anecdote about her mother, how she wore dreadlocks, and how she felt forced to cover them up with a wig when going through job interviews for fear of appearing unprofessional.
“People look at this hairstyle that my mom has had for over twenty years and they say ‘that is unprofessional.’ They will question everything about your credentials and everything about your background just because of a simple hairstyle,” said Ofosu.
“The reason why the natural hair movement is so important is because you can’t tell a little girl that what is growing from her head naturally is unprofessional and expect her to be a confident woman and expect her to love herself…Hairstyles just need to just be hairstyles. A woman can dye her hair bright pink and still be a professional woman, she can still be a woman of great character.”
She also explained why it is upsetting when people try to touch her hair.
“It reminds people of wanting to touch an animal. I’ve had people pat my hair and groom my hair like I’m a dog and that’s literally how it feels,” said Ofosu.
“I don’t ask to touch a painting I look at the painting. It’s beautiful and it’s art, and I think of my hair as art.”
Cervantes explained the importance of presentations like “The Beauty of My Black Hair” and how they can help people learn more about different backgrounds and beliefs they are not regularly exposed to.
“Zakeiba’s program, and the other programs we have for that matter, are examples in which we try to better prepare students for differences that exists when they get into the workforce… or any university that they choose to go to,” said Cervantes.
“That’s why it’s important to this campus that the campus and the people who come to these events sees this as a learning opportunity to prepare themselves for values, opinions, beliefs, that are different than your own.”