at the black hair panel black to My Roots, part of Harbourfront Centre's recent Kuumba Celebration of African Heritage, curls, braids, locks, pressing combs, twists, weaves and cornrows are the mane story. Looking around the room, I'm impressed and comforted by the diversity in the designs and textures of our crowning glories. From the tightly curled, honey- bronzed afro of the soul 70s, to the constantly reinvented permed or braided "updo" of regal curls caressing the face, our tresses do not wish to be tamed. Or do they?Listening to the discussion, a flood of memories from childhood overtakes me. I remember once running Olympic-style to the one black hair-care store before it closed to get Robert's Natural Bee's Wax. Back then you couldn't get it at ordinary establishments. Now it's in big-name grocery and drug stores -- on those special one or two shelves -- but at a premium of at least 50 per cent, as if they're doing us a favour by carrying our brands.
The award for worst mane memory goes to the swimming pool. All of us with perms and curls are familiar with the cost of dunking our heads in chlorine. As a child, I longed to jump in uninhibited, like many of my classmates. But when I did make the leap, I'd spend what seemed like an eternity shampooing and re-shampooing in a futile attempt to discipline my bushy exuberance. Definitely a scary thing to have to do in a school where it was not cool to be the "other," with hair that did not blow in the wind.
Now, 20-something years later, it feels inspiring to meet Robin Battle, manager of A Different Booklist, sporting her locked tresses. For her, it's a political-cultural statement, not a simple fashion trend. Or audience member Keisha McIntosh, who says she loves her kinky head-topping and points to the lack of representation of black natural hair in mainstream media.
Ryan Hinkson, CEO of the urban FlyBro Entertainment company, notes that where black males are targets of racial profiling, locks, afros and cornrows are often stereotyped as criminal.
Then there are the sisters in music videos and commercials wearing au natural afros or low fades, using the Afrocentric fad as a saleable commodity. What happens when braids or the 'fro aren't the "down" trend any more?
Standing in front of my mirror, I see a permed head of short black hair. Why is it straightened? I've gone from braids to perms to braids and back again. Dancer Simone Sargeant describes her permed tresses as easier to handle. She declares, "No, I am not selling out. My culture is within me. If I shaved my head clean, would that imply that I had no culture?"
Still, it's time to get rid of the dead-end language used to describe our natural plats -- words like bad, tuff and picky have got to be trimmed off. For all us perm-getters and hot-comb-doers, we cannot and should not attempt to escape the personality of our black hair. After all, every six to eight weeks it reminds us of our roots.