It’s a sad secret in the natural hair community. Sometimes you want to go natural but you’re not sure how the love of your life will take it. If you are like many women considering how to transition from chemically straightened hair to a natural hair style—your love interest’s potential reaction can be a big factor.
We have to be honest about the fact that “going natural” is not just a transition for Black women—but it is also an issue for the Black men in our lives.
Sometimes it is easy to forget that Black men are socialized the same way that we are when it comes to standards of beauty and hair texture. A lot of men are trained to want a woman with “straight” (aka “good”) hair. Some of them don’t know how to take it when the woman in their life decides to Big Chop and embrace her natural kinky coils.
One Brotha’s Natural Hair Journey
There was an article circulating last week called The Reasons I Did Not Want My Wife to Be Natural where one man had a very honest and common reaction to his wife’s desire to wear natural hair. The author, Dr. Corey Guyton, admitted that as a young Black male he was:
always encouraged by older men, my peers, and even some women to find a woman who had “good hair”.
One of the reasons this article struck a chord was the fact that the author was so honest about his feelings. He said that after his wife declared that she wanted to go natural:
I progressively started researching as much as I could about the entire natural process to figure out what in the heck my wife was about to do to herself. As I learned more and more about the process, my mind started playing tricks on me. The questions in my mind began to transform from being about why my wife would want to be natural to why did I want to keep her from being natural. This is the point I started evaluating myself instead of my wife. So the million dollar question is why did I want to keep my wife from embracing her natural hair?
This is a strong testament to the power of knowledge. Just like many of the sisters in our community, most Black men have no idea just how harmful chemical straightening products can be. Most of them have no clue that their idea of what is “beautiful” is shaped by the fact that they grow up in a world that teaches them to see beauty in a Eurocentric way. Even fewer are aware of how these belief systems damage the self esteem of many women of color.
As noted by Mr. Dr. Guyton, he was
…blinded by so many things including Eurocentric values, the media, and my own people.
He admitted that because he grew up in a society where the standard of beauty was based on European characteristics he:
Fell into the trap of thinking that my definition of beauty was supposed to be the same as their definition of beauty. This false sense of understanding lead to me having the spirit of oppression towards my beautiful Black sistas, including my wife. Sadly, I tried to place those Eurocentric values on my Afrocentric queens… I was also blinded by the numerous images of “beauty” that were portrayed in the media… Finally, I was blinded by my own people (including myself) who constantly displayed self-hate. The men constantly spoke about how women with short hair or non-straight hair were nappy headed and sistas put tons of weave in their head for the purposes of “increasing their beauty”.
That is a powerful statement and one that could really help a lot of us realize the impact of adopting a standard of beauty that does not start with Black features as the norm. As I’ve noted before,
Black hair is not the same as White hair. It doesn’t act the same, grow the same or look the same. And it is not supposed to. Like one of my heroes Tom Burrell says in his book Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority, “Black people are not dark skinned White people.”
Black hair is nappy. By design and divine intention. (And if you don’t believe in divinity – by evolutionary design.)
Nappy hair has its own standard. That standard is not a brown version of the standard for Caucasian hair.
Nappy hair has its own rules. Those rules are not a darker version of Caucasian hair rules.
Nappy hair has its own needs. Those needs are not a negrofied version of Caucasian hair needs.
Respect the Process – For Both of You
After his article hit the internet, Mr. Dr. Guyton’s wife Mrs. Dr. Chutney Guyton added her comments to the conversation. She acknowledged that while she’d been thinking about going natural for years, her husband had just begun to entertain the idea. She admitted that:
One thing I eventually learned about my transition process was that the transition was not mine alone, but my husband’s as well. What I mean is that by the time I went to Corey with my thoughts on returning to my natural roots, I had already mentally and psychologically prepared myself for the journey.
This is important. Black women have natural hair books, chat rooms, websites, meet ups and Youtube to help us make our transition. But rarely are there places for Black men to have similar conversations.
So What Can You Do?
First, acknowledge that this is a process for both of you. Talk with your partner about why you want to go natural in the first place. Though it may seem scary, preparing your partner for your transition may make things a lot easier than if you leave in the morning with hair down your back and return in the evening with a teeny-weeny Afro.
Second, remember, knowledge is power. One thing that rings true from the Guyton family’s experience is that Mr. Dr. Guyton was much more on board once he understood the issues surrounding straight v. natural hair. Once he started learning more about the way he was socialized to see beauty through the eyes of European standards, he was much more able to empathized with his wife.
Third, make your decision for you. At the end of the day we have to recognize that not every many is going to get on board the “natural is beautiful” journey. I’m reminded of that scene in the movie the Matrix where Morpheus tells Neo that the longer one is in the matrix, the harder it is for them to get out.
Those men who truly love us for who we are and what we represent as strong, beautiful Black women will wise up and those who do not will fade away.
Fourth, count the cost. If going natural is something you’re committed to doing you need to know why and you need to know what it is your willing to give up to make that happen. If your lover can’t see your beauty and the value that you bring to the world unless you’re wearing a weave down your back—is this truly the type of life partner that you want? If your lover can only see your sensuality if you have on a waist length wig—what does that mean for other key areas of your relationship? You may want to follow Mrs. Dr. Guyton’s advice when she says:
At no point did I ever feel that Corey did not love me, but I was aware that he was ignorant when it came to a Black woman’s identity as it relates to her hair. So for the sistas out there who are struggling to get a man’s support of your natural journey, stand firm in YOUR decision, but give him an opportunity to remove the blinders.
Personally I’m lucky because my husband and I met after I’d already Big Chopped. That said – in those early days it was still a bit of a struggle for him to embrace my hair. As I noted in my book:
Sometime later when I asked him what was it that allowed him to see me in such a positive light when I was the only nappy-headed Black girl around, his answer was surprising. Though he did not let on at the time, he did struggle with my hair. In fact, he struggled a lot, because I was not his “type.” He was used to dating racially ambiguous light skinned girls with “good” hair. Compared to his past, I was a bit of a contradiction. Sure, I may be on the lighter end of the brown color spectrum. But with a nose and lips clearly inspired by Africa and with hair as nappy as mine, there is no mistaking the fact that I’m a Black girl. There was no racial ambiguity here.
But at that time in his life he was searching truth. His truth just so happened to come wrapped in a 5-foot-3, 110-pound, skinny Black girl with nappy hair. He wrestled with the fact that nappy hair was not supposed to be beautiful or sexy because he thought my hair was both beautiful and sexy. After fifteen years, it is the only type of hair that he likes to see on Black women.
So ladies, there is hope out there. You need to know that there are many brothas out there ready and willing to embrace Black beauty on its own terms. And even more who are willing to learn how.
What about you? How did you tell your lover that you want to go natural? What was his reaction to your Big Chop? Sound off in the comments below. And if you’re looking for more thoughts from an Afro State of Mind, check out my book “Afro State of Mind: Memories of a Nappy Headed Black Girl now available on Amazon.com in paper back or e-book.