Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

The Hair-y Truth (har!) August 8, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — dany @ 2:03 am
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I just discovered the Nappy Ass Hair clip on YouTube. If you have not seen this clip, and are faint of heart, I would not advice watching it unless you are in an extraordinarily good state of mind.

The clip is of a young girl having her hair “brushed” by her mother/caretaker. The adult woman tells her at a point in the five minute clip that she must stay still, and stop trying to physically escape her if she wished to “be somebody.”

This clearly speaks to the nature of natural black/African hair, it’s perceptions, in society, and the ways in which we, women of the African Diaspora are conditioned to regard our hair in its natural state, and that if it is not “tamed” through chemicals, braids, heat, extensions, scissors and other means, we will look “wild” and somehow unhuman. In the clip, the cameraperson, exclaims during the piece that the caregiver must “fight those demons.“ We are taught that our hair is evil, in the most basic of terms, and that we must control it in order to achieve some sort of social good. There are social expectations we’ve all fallen victim to, that are difficult to escape.

I’ll be honest. A couple of years ago, the phrase “my hair is the biggest source of stress in my life” was not uncommonly heard uttered from my mouth. This was just after I started college, 3 years after cutting off my chemically straightened (relaxed/permed) hair, and I had neither the time, patience, or desire to take care for shoulder length natural hair. This was just before I went vegan, and I have a plethora of hair products to choose from, I still had a problem finding adequate products for my particular hair texture– being of mixed-race parentage, with definite African hair characteristics, I was never able to find anything that was quite suitable for my hair.

Since that time, there have a been a couple of products that market themselves specifically to women of mixed heritage who are of African decent, but those had not yet been released at the time, and to my knowledge are not vegan. Then I found the Pantene Pro-V Women of Color line. Although the name is problematic– falsely assuming that “of color” and “of African decent” are synonymous, the line perfectly moisturized my hair, without making it feel greasy, leaving perfect — and attractive ringlets– where “chaos” had once lived.

Then I went vegan, and that completely complicated any progress that I had made with my relationship with my hair. Pantene, owned by I still mourn my loss of “controllable” natural hair. My own personal health, racial, gender, beauty, sexual, class, and animal rights politics don’t allow for straightening my hair. When I was living in Minnesota, finding things like conditioner that were both suitable for my hair and cruelty free were nearly impossible. I began making my own hair care products using the cooking oils that I could find at the local co-op, and was known to spend hours online researching the uses for various essential oils.

Eventually, I decided to bid adieu to my hair, which by my junior year in college reached down to my shoulder blades if stretched out, but rarely saw the light of day because it lived in a bun positioned at the back of my neck. I donated my tresses to locks of love, and left the (white) beauty salon on Grand Avenue in St. Paul with less than an inch of hair on my head. Then I bought clippers, and kept my hair coiffed at a quarter inch for a straight year. Then I tried growing it out, only to cut it after 9 months this past February.

It’s honestly been quite a struggle. I buy oils from the health food stores. I finally live in a city where there are Black hair care products at my local grocery coop. Whereas this is really empowering to see, a lot of the products are filled with perfumes and nonvegan ingredients like beeswax that I avoid. Oil in my hair gets on my skin and I’ve been breaking out like crazy. The majority of vegan conditioners are clearly not made for people of the African diaspora, leaving my hair brittle after I wash it. (Maybe I shouldn’t use Dr. Bronner’s as shampoo anymore…) It’s really a lesson in patience.

The Black hair care industry and I have a tumultuous relationship. I think I’m still traumatized by the years of chemicals. Most of the major companies are owned by White corporations profiting off of my people, giving little, if anything back to us. The animal testing involved in all beauty products basically leaves me wanting to cry. I’m in a place right now where I’m lost, engaged in ideologies around and against beauty, feminism, racism, sexism, capitalism, consumption, and veganism, with no idea about how to marry any of my beliefs in to a hair care regime that’s empowering and consistent with my belief system(s).