Nichelle Gainer: It's Time to Fully Embrace Natural Hair

I don't frequent the black-gossip blogs and forums Allison Samuels linked to in her first article (especially the ones that feel comfortable giving Maya Angelou "Ho Sit Down" awards), so I have not seen recent pictures of Zahara Jolie-Pitt's hair. The lone exception is the photo that accompanies Samuels's criticism, which even she acknowledges did nothing to help her argument. As Samuels has noted, Zahara's dad, Brad Pitt, made headlines in 2006 when he told Esquire that he and Angelina Jolie used Carol's Daughter products on Zahara's hair. He even mentioned the "beautiful luster" the products gave her hair and how "nice it smelled." Clearly the Jolie-Pitts are aware that their adopted Ethiopian daughter has hair that is different in texture from their own and needs to be taken care of, so why devote an entire article on this particular child now?

Samuels asks in her rebuttal, "Hey, if Maddox can get blond highlights and a Mohawk, Zahara can at least get a quick top knot and rubber band. Is that asking too much?" Yes, it is. While a top knot would be a matter of taste, rubber bands are damaging to curly/kinky hair like Zahara's, which can be quite delicate and prone to breakage. I happen to think her loose hair looks fine in the recent pictures I dug up after reading Samuels's article. However, I realize that there are times when kids are out and about and their hair doesn't hold up. Should Jolie and Pitt whip out a comb every time the paparazzi follow them down the street?

Some people will always think that kinky hair in its natural state looks "uncombed," no matter what is done to it. Unless it is in an array of smooth, round, socially acceptable ringlets, the sight of a woman's natural hair can be jarring for some people. With the exception of a brief period in the 1970s, natural hair has been mostly unacceptable socially, professionally, and (if they knew what was good for them) romantically for black women. In fact, a female relative of mine who attended a historically black college in the late 1960s once told me how women with Afros got a lot of "Hello, my beautiful black sister," from men on campus, but stayed in their dorms on Saturday nights while their counterparts with straighter hair went out on dates.

It is interesting that Samuels compares herself to Chris Rock, because he is seemingly averse to any substantive criticism of his documentary, "Good Hair," especially from dreaded bloggers. Many people saw special advance screenings and expressed their views online, favorable and unfavorable, minus any unnecessary personal attacks on Rock. Others avoided "Good Hair" altogether solely based on Rock's appearances on The View and The Oprah Winfrey Show, where he checked Oprah's hair for weave tracks and cracked that she "looked like a slave" in a childhood photo. Just as Rock's questionable "Men don't care about hair" statement on Oprah rang false to many viewers (minutes later, he recounted running his fingers through the hair of former white, Latina and Asian girlfriends), Samuels's obligatory "natural hairAfro, dreads, etcis fine, if it's maintained regularly," in her first article felt tacked on because that is true for all hair textures.

It's great that Samuels has fond childhood memories of getting her hair done, but many of us weren't that lucky. I remember holding my ears, shutting my eyes, and bracing myself as a sizzling pressing comb went through my hair so it would be "done." I remember going through the day in grade school with my braided style not quite holding up and being teased for having a "bird's nest" for hair. I remember what a big deal it was for me to get my first relaxer and the reaction of people, the tacit approval, after the deed was done. As for living in a "wash-and-go world," believe it or not, some black women and girls already live there! Hair that does not look "maintained regularly" to some is indeed... maintained regularly. I don't believe that Samuels meant to "attack" Zahara, but statements like "There will come a day" when Zahara will "realize unlike her younger sister, hers is not a wash-and-go world" made the tone of the article just seem off.

Are we all really "Team Zahara?" Sadly, when it comes to her hair, I don't believe so. It is true that black girls get far more pressure about their hair than other girls, and Samuels's articles are perfect examples. However, I think the little Zaharas of the world should have the same freedom with their hair that little Shilohs have to wear men's ties. It is the message that black natural hair is automatically "uncombed" and not "maintained" that is unacceptablenot Zahara Jolie-Pitt's hair.

Gainer blogs at 55 Secret Street.