Friday, July 17, 2009

Natural Women: Our Hair, Our Stories (A. Jalani)

A. Jalani's Story
Background / I am 51 years old. I was born in Memphis, TN and have lived all of my life in the Southern States. I'm a writer and student, currently pursing a master's in fine arts.

Hairstyle / Presently, my hair is in dreadlocks. I started wearing an Afro in high school in the mid-70s. I switched to dreadlocks after my marriage in 1992.

Reason for wearing a "natural" hairstyle / My high school years coincided with the latter part of the Black Arts/Black Power Movement. Though I didn't know much about The Movement back then, I was interested in it and emulated the style. Bob Marley and Rastafarians gained popularity during my post-undergraduate days and people began wearing dreadlocks. The man I eventually married was wearing locks when I met him and an old college friend helped me switch styles shortly after the wedding. I admire Bob Marley and enjoy some Reggae music. But I have never been a Rastafarian.

Support of your natural look / The folks that I refer to as my non-biological family have been most supportive.

Negative reactions / Mostly people just tend to stare. Store security sometimes act as if they expect me to steal.

Response to negative commentary / I usually just say that my mother doesn't like my hairstyle either. The implication here is that if I am not changing to appease my own mother, then I am certainly not interested in the opinion of the current speaker.

A woman with natural hair whose style you admire / Toni Morrison. She impresses me as a strong independent woman with a clear spirit and a lot of talent.

Advice for women considering a more natural hairstyle / It's more work than it seems and be prepared for peoples' attitudes towards you to change.

Additional Commentary / When I first moved to Memphis in 1985, a woman with a short afro was considered unfeminine. When dreadlocks first gained currency, many people thought that it was not possible to keep that much natural Black hair clean and that it could harbor bugs, such as ticks, especially in warm weather, which was in keeping with the belief that the kind of people who wore dreadlocks weren't that interested in personal hygiene.

There was a time when natural hairstyles were an expression of identification with African heritage and Black unity. When I first began wearing dreadlocks I knew about everybody in Memphis who wore locks, at least by sight. Now locks are everywhere, including television news, government offices, and on non-Blacks. Dreadlocks are not synonymous with Black culture anymore, but it's good to see that something so culturally specific is no longer considered a social stigma.

Definition of "A Natural Woman" / To me, a natural woman is a woman who is a useful, nurturing part of her community without letting her personal development be confined by the expectations of that community or by the larger society.

"A. Jalani's story" is part of an on-going series I created that focuses on African American women who wear their hair au naturel. Check the archives (see sidebar on the right) for past segments, features and profiles. If you'd like to participate in the series, please email me for details (go to my blog's profile page or visit my website for contact information).

Your feedback is always appreciated. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments you might have about "A. Jalani's Story," the "Natural Women: Our Hair, Our Stories" series or Black hair in general, in the section below marked for comments.

Thank You!


pjazzypar said...

Response to A. Jalani's story: I feel what you are saying. I too wore my hair natural for many years, finally giving way to perming and the Jheri curl in the 80's. I have found that most of the negative commentary comes from your own people. Others could care less.

Katrina said...

Love the direction of where you're going with your natural series. The closest I've gotten to going natural is living without my weave! And even then could only hold out for a couple of days! Bravo to you

Lori said...

@ Pjazzy & Katrina,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject.