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
Tags: , , ,

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).


13 Responses to “The Hair-y Truth (har!)”

  1. Alicia Says:

    Watching the video made me sad for that little girl, her mother and everyone who witnessed it. For once I actually agree with many of the people who commented on the video. That mother had no clue what she was doing. It looked like she was beating that poor girls head with a brush. It literally looked like an attack. That poor child! I pray she grows up to love her hair and not be traumatized by having the straightness beat into it, literally.

    I think this is a great subject that you have posted. Growing up I was the only African American child in my elementary school and one of only a dozen in middle school. Everytime I changed my hair style there were a million questions. Whether it was curled with sponge rollers, in braids with beads at the end, traditionally braided, in pig tails, anything I did to it there were questions. I don’t know if it is just who I am or if it was the way I was raised but I actually enjoyed that awe and wonder that was associated with my hair. I realized that I had a unique quality that none of my other friends possessed. I think the hair of women and men of African decent is the most beautiful and versatile hair in the world. I love that we can wear it in an afro, natural curls, a beautiful afro puff, straight, braided, weaved, locked, etc. You think of it and we can do it! I just love the versatility of it. People not of African decent simply don’t have all those choices available at their fingertips. I find my hair, and all the things I can do with it, to be such a source of pride and love for myself. I actually just woke up this morning trying to think of what I would do with my hair next.

    After I went vegan I stopped relaxing/perming my hair because all the relaxers had egg in them and frankly, it’s better for my hair. It’s grown tremendously! I just love playing in it now, experimenting with different styles and thinking up new things to do daily. I now live in Atlanta and if you want some inspiration on what to do with your natural beautiful African hair just step out on the street on any given day and you will be inspired!

    Have you heard of Chris Rock’s new movie “Good Hair”? It looks to be an amazing movie. I can’t wait until it hits theaters.

  2. leftofemma Says:

    I just posted an angry rant on my blog about my hair and how frustrated I am with it. I’m half black and half Asian and my Asian mother had no idea what to do with my hair. I decided to stop relaxing my hair a while back, but haven’t done anything with. Like you, I mostly put it in a buns, but recently decided to work towards embracing its natural texture. Since then, all I hear from friends and co-workers is, “Oh, I love how big and wild your hair is!” One person even wanted to play with my hair as if I’m some kind of doll. WTF?!? It’s really irritating to feel othered on a regular basis.

    I’ve used almond oil with some success, but I’m always looking for a vegan option for my hair. I’ve been reading this site: There’s an ingredients dictionary that’s helpful for deciphering product labels. It’s an ongoing process, but I feel that I’m getting closer to a solution that’s vegan friendly and works for me.

    • I have been using shea butter and hempseed oil on my natural. I swear by it– especially the hempseed oil. It took me a short amount of time to find a vegan, organic and mostly fair trade source of hair care products for my afro. It has frustrated me that so many hair products for black female’s hair is (1) tested on animals (2) has animal ingredients and (3) is quite toxic. I use Nutiva brand Hempseed oil, which I buy from Amazon Grocery for a phenomenal price. I buy my shea butter in bulk from . It is organic and ethically harvested.

      I wrote this on my blog, back in March 3, 2008.
      March 3, 2008

      Wow, I am on the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database right now. I was wondering how “toxic” relaxers are. Guess which product made the list of being the most toxic?

      I cannot believe that a product with “Africa” in it is being sold for kids and is the “winner” of the most toxic.

      0-2 scores are low toxicity. 8-10 scores are HIGHLY toxic.

      Look at how number 4, Africa’s Beat Organics has “organic” in the label. This is sick and false advertising. 

      I am not against straightening of the hair, so please don’t get me wrong. I’m just concerned that if folk are straightening their hair, what products are they using and how will it hurt our bodies (and our children’s)? Look at the ingredients: there are chemicals in their that cause reproductive illnesses and cancers. Is this one of many reasons that black females suffer from fibroids, 3-6x more than the average?

      As vegans and vegetarians, most of us are concerned about what we put in our mouths… but what about on our hair? And I’m sure these products are not animal byproduct free, or animal testing free…

      So, “Africa’s Best” is to make our bodies sick for straightened hair? And as these chemicals go down the drain, does this mean our environment is being polluted? Probably…


      #1 Africa’s Best Kids Organics No-Lye Organic Conditioning Relaxer System with ScalpGuard, Kids Regular (hair relaxer) Score : 10/10
      #2 Africa’s Best No-Lye Dual Conditioning Relaxer System (hair relaxer) Score 9/10
      #3 Africa’s Best No-Lye Dual Conditioning Relaxer System (Super) (hair relaxer) Score: 9/10
      #4 Africa’s Best Organics Touch-Up plus Organic Conditioning Relaxer System for New Growth (hair relaxer) Score 9/10
      #5 Dark & Lovely No-Mistake No-Lye Children’s Relaxer System (hair relaxer) Score: 9/10
      #6 Luster’s PCJ Pretty-n-Silky No-Lye Conditioning Cream Relaxer Childrens Coarse (hair relaxer) Score: 9/10
      #7 TCB Naturals No-Lye Relaxer Regular (hair relaxer) Score: 9/10

      #8 TCB No-Lye Hair Relaxer, Naturals (hair relaxer) Score 9/10

      #9 TCB One Application Relaxer Regular (hair relaxer) Score 9/10
      #10 Africa’s Best No-Lye Dual Conditioning Relaxer System Super (hair relaxer) Score 9/10

    • supernovadiva Says:

      guuurl don’t you know about
      check it out

      that’s fair trade and vegan. check out for hair tips and there’s crazy links of natural haircare from there.

  3. prof susurro Says:

    I’m not sure what texture your hair is but I would recommend Carol’s Daughter (if you live in the NYC area or can afford the shipping and handling). The products are made by and for black women (including biracial women) and they are all natural and not tested on animals. All of the products I use are vegan and they have limited scent, tho other products have very strong scents. The hair care line comes in oils, creams, and gels and their first products were specifically for women with natural hair tho they have expanded somewhat.

    The philosophy of the company is centered around the basic concept that black is beautiful. In its original incarnation it’s website was filled with powerful images and stories supporting black women’s beauty and black owned businesses. Every page had pictures of the founder, her family, or other black women in naturals with various hair textures, skin tones, and hair styles. There was an emphasis on telling the story of black women with natural hair working to create natural, sustainable, fair trade product that worked. Unfortunately, as it has become more recognized (post-Oprah special) the website and the marketing have transformed into a tale of celebrity product users and “recognizable” super light and white models whose hair is seldom pictured. It’s a natural hair salon with no images of natural hair anymore, a black woman’s business for black women, that no longer celebrates normal every day black women. No more images of the women and girls who receive the most hair policing. The marketing strategy is a hugely depressing development but the products are still quite amazing.

    here’s the link:

    I use hair milk and in really hot weather, I use a pinch of mimosa hair honey.

  4. prof susurro Says:

    PS. also b/c their products are all natural, they are safe for children (as opposed to many of the corporate products for black children that use hormones and other ingredients that may disrupt or negatively impact their development). They have a children’s line.

    (not hair related – the chocolate bath soap is delicious after a hard day)

  5. Victoria Says:

    I have been a long-time fan of this site and have yet to reply to anything, until today 🙂 This has been an issue for me for most of my adolescent and adult life. Although I am not biracial (both my parents are African-American,) my father has Native-American ancestors on his side of the family.
    I know! I know! many Black people say that they have “Indian in them” (very problematic phrasing!) but yes, my grandfather was in fact part Native American.

    Racial heritage aside, my hair has been a source of my frustrations for most of my life. My mother always put my hair in braids (or “plaits” as she called them) and this was done from the time I had hair up until I was about 18 and I decided to get my first relaxer. By this time, thankfully, my hair was relatively long (but most important) healthy!

    (Mother really does know best, those braids really “preserved” my hair and kept it in pretty good shape.)

    But I wanted to get a relaxer and have super straight hair…
    and as you can guess, it basically took the life out of my hair, making it brittle and “unnatural” feeling.
    So after about 4 relaxers (and incredibly hot straightening comb usage) over a span of 2 years, I stopped getting relaxers altogether, but still straightened my hair.

    Around twenty years of age, I became vegan and that complicated matters…but (after almost 5 years) I’m still trying to find products to nourish my hair and scalp!

    I do like my hair straight, so instead of relaxers and chemicals I use a Maxiglide hair straightener. It still uses a fair amount of very high heat, depending on the setting, but it doesn’t damage my hair as much as relaxers.

    I’m also still using some non-vegan hair products (which bothers me to the core) and on top of it all, I just moved to a new state for college, so I need to find a “hairdresser” (in reality, someone who’ll simply wash and “plait” my hair, so I can press it out myself the following day!)

    And I could go natural, but I am so used to having my hair straight, I would feel completely “out of place” and not like myself with naturally curly hair.

    Needless to say, it’s all so frustrating and complicated!!!!


    I don’t know if I just need a good place to rant…
    probably so!!…ha-ha…
    but I also wanted to mention this vegan/all-natural site for hair care products:
    I haven’t tried any of the products out yet, but they look very promising!

    And before I forget, I do use this product:
    Nature’s Blessing Hair Pomade
    available at:

    Warning: it may be too “greasy” for some hair types, but it works for me; and it’s vegan!

    So that’s my rant on hair for today….thanks for posting on such a complicated and sometimes personal issue!
    But as the saying goes, “the personal is political!”

    It feels good to talk about these issues
    and get them out in the open!

  6. prof susurro Says:

    I like the cosmetic database, but I would add to breeze’s post that you have to read it carefully – ie look specifically at the rating for each *ingredient* not just product b/c some of their conclusions are more accurate than others.

    sadly, while double checking the hair milk ingredients, I discovered it has 2% beeswax. this is new. so not vegan any more. sorry.

  7. supernovadiva Says:

    i hate that video. pissed me right off. both the mother and the kid was clowning.
    i don’t go to the ‘black beauty supply’ stores. they don’t cater to natural hair and many use cheap ingredients like mineral oil or petroleum. i use these sites- by black people for black people: fair trade and vegan

    not all are 100% vegan but they do have vegan products.

    i don’t miss straightened hair at all. about 15 years off the creamy crack.

  8. Lizzie Says:

    My hair is natural and I use JASON seaweed shampoo and conditioner in my hair (these products are vegan)…I also use 100% coconut oil in my hair which I purchased from Superdrug in the UK. They are not necessarily for “black” hair but i find that they do the trick.

  9. Abram Says:

    That was very disturbing to watch. On the most basic level, the way she brushed looked so rough. On another level was the whole internalised racist bs about ‘fighting demons’. Poor girl.

  10. G Says:

    After moving to Texas to attend University several years ago I could not find a hairstylist to keep up my relaxed hair. The amount of money that I poured into chemical processing is a horror to think about. It took a while adapt to my new found hair texture. I’ve found that Aveda shampoo works best on tangles and last forever because I shampoo once or twice a week max. I don’t fancy Aveda conditioners so I use Nature’s Gate Jojoba or BWC. Everyone seems to be ok with my hair and I think its awesome. My parents on the other hand have an entirely different opinion. My hair is according to them,” Too pretty and long to look so messy.”

  11. Victoria Says:

    I was just looking back at my old post- wow!- what a difference the years have made! I have been natural for about 9 months now…all that heat from the Maxiglide finally caught up with me and my hair had some pretty severe breakage, so I decided to go natural for a while! I’ve tried almost everything else over the years, so I thought “why not?!?” It took some time for me to adjust, but I realized that the hair that grows out of my head is perfectly fine just the way it is… it doesn’t “need” to be straightened, all it needs is some deep conditioning, moisturizing products, and a little tlc. So yeah, I just wanted to share a little hair update with y’all 🙂 I hope everyone here has been doing well! 🙂

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