Cierra and I are finishing up week three of a month in Dundas, Ontario, a small town of 20,000 swallowed up by the metropolitan area of Hamilton, a city of over half-a-million people. We are staying in a delightful condo in the quaint downtown area. Almost daily we have walked the roughly six-block main street, stepping in to a shop here or there, mostly looking for food. For the first two weeks we walked past the old post office that now houses small shops – a bakery, a clothing store, and a place called Ellenoire. But we didn’t go in. Ellenoire advertises on the sign outside that it is a place that specializes in curly hair.
The first time we walked by I noticed the sign and mentioned to Cierra that it was refreshing to see that they had emphasized their specialty in ‘curly hair’ not ethnic hair. (I have never understood that phrase which has always seemed such a stupid and even racist phrase. White people don’t have ethnic hair, we are the norm. Everybody else has ethnic hair.) We continued our walk. And on every jaunt since, we continued by until Wednesday. As we passed by the post office building once again, the smell from the bakery drew us in. (Like I said, we are usually out looking for food.) We decided to check the shops out. Cierra got a peanut butter cookie in the bakery and as we walked back into the hallway, I suggested we just stop by Ellenoire and what a delightful experience we had. Cierra has pretty short and straightened hair and the owner of the salon wanted to make sure that we new upfront that they focus on natural hair, not artificially straightened hair. There were four employees and several customers in the store. Everyone joined in the conversation to talk about societal pressure on black women to have straight hair – to conform to cultural expectations of the broader culture. As we talked, the owner made a comment about the impact if black female celebrities stopped straightening their hair or getting weaves. And I responded with, “or maybe a first lady.” She laughed and said, ‘Yeah. But can you imagine the uproar and the political costs to her husband if she decided to go natural?” But wouldn’t it be a seismic shift for American culture if Michelle Obama, in the President’s final year in office, decided to stop weaving and straightening? Anyway, she suggested that Cierra and I watch Chris Rock’s movie “Good Hair.” I had seen snippets of it, but not the whole thing.
As we walked back to our condo, I asked Cierra what she thought about the conversation. Her first words were, “I’m not ready to go natural. The cost would be too great at school. Maybe when I graduate from high school, but not now. The only girls that don’t straighten their hair or have weaves are the one or two black girls that are African immigrants. They can get away with it. The rest of us can’t.” (BTW, at her high school, one-third of students identify as African-American, so when Cierra says that only 1 or 2 black girls embrace their natural curls, that means there are about 200 that don’t).
Later that night we did watch Chris Rock’s movie and we talked during and after about the pressure on black women to conform to culturally-idealized standards. Cierra said, ‘we should write a letter to Michelle Obama and tell her to let her hair be curly.’ And, then she also said, but I’m not ready to go natural. I have too many other battles to contend with at school to take that one on.