Sarah’s World Beat: Women of Color and Hair

women of color and hairFor time immemorial “women of color and hair” has been a heavily debated, frequently scrutinized and sometimes heated discussion. For all women, but particularly women of color, our hair can be our best friend or our worst enemy. Even if we love our curly / textured / kinky / coily hair, there’s no such thing as wash and go like with many White women.

Hair washing—whether once a week or twice— has to be scheduled into our lives because it’s not a singular event. At minimum we need products to keep the frizz at bay and most women of color have to take more steps to ensure our hair is both presentable and healthy, including:

  • Braiding
  • Twisting
  • Combing in a leave-in conditioner
  • Rolling
  • Training hair to loc
  • Blowing out and / or using a flat or curling iron

And that’s for women of color who wear their hair natural, meaning no chemical straightener is used to reach a desired effect. For women who use a chemical relaxer, it means either doing it at home or a trip to the salon every six to eight weeks when the new growth comes out.

Women of Color and Hair: Societal, Family and Work Pressures

We are barraged with advertisements that point to the European standard as the attainable one. It’s not uncommon for family members to use terms like “good hair” and “bad hair,” and even strangers seem to have an opinion about how we WoC keep our hair.

And then there’s the touching and the fetishizing of our hair. It’s bad enough folks feel it’s okay to express an opinion about our hair, now they want to touch it and ask questions like, “Is that your real hair?”

For women of color and hair that’s textured but not kinky, this can sometimes be a bone of contention for women of color whose hair is kinky. There are the light complexion / dark complexion issues that arise that harken back to slave times and colonization. The assumptions by both light and dark complected women of color about what the other is speculating about the other’s hair make this an even more difficult topic to discuss.

Then there are the employers who want everyone in the company—regardless of race and ethnicity—to conform to the White, European standards of beauty, which means many hair styles women of color love are verboten. They don’t come right out and say our hair has to be straight like a White woman’s, but as one employer once told me, “Sarah, your curly hair is so unkempt. Starting tomorrow I want you to start straightening your hair.” I was stupid and did it a few times and then announced that if she had an issue with it, she could take it up with human resources, The NAACP, the Southern Poverty Law Center, etc.

And these issues are not unique to women of color and hair in the United States. Africa, Australia, Europe, England, Asia, South America, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean: women of color and hair is a topic that I want to focus on for my next world beat column.

To that end, I have created a survey and I would love it if you could participate. The results of this survey will be revealed in my next column on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. Please click on the banner below, which will take you to a survey.

Important! If you are trying to access the survey using a phone / smartphone, the survey reloads before you finish and you lose all your responses. Please access the survey on a computer. 

Thank you for your time,


Survey: Women of Color and Hair


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Published on: May 6, 2017

Filed Under: News & Pop Culture, Sarah's World Beat

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