The summer of 2015 has unified black people under an umbrella of consciousness that encourages the development of our own ideals and unique forms of expression. Seasonal events such as Curl Fest and Afro Punk have been designed to magnify the voices of black people and to also offer a platform where the black experience is celebrated instead of brutalized or interrogated. Each local and national gathering seems to attract a crowd of African-American people who are often young, eccentric and easily distinguishable from those who regularly represent our race and culture within the framework of mainstream media. These crowds are dominated especially by a slew of women adorned in their dashiki dresses, wedge sandals, big, wooden jewelry and big, shea butter infused, twist-outs to match. These women exist as this generations ethnic, online icons – the card carrying members of #TeamNatural. Seen by onlookers up and down numerous tumblr timelines, Instagram feeds and various blogs dedicated solely to their subgroup amongst black women, #TeamNatural seeks to embrace beauty on their own terms by first accepting their natural, physical traits.
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a surge in African-American women who are consciously choosing to display their tight curls and natural coils as opposed to wearing Eurocentric, chemically enhanced styles. Mainstream Hollywood starlets like Viola Davis, Lupita Nyong’o and Tracee Ellis Ross are walking red carpets and taking center stage under a spotlight that reinforces the beauty of cropped, kinky, spiraled hairdos — challenging America’s obsession with long, straight, blonde locks. Young, black girls are witnessing a change in the tides. Their big sisters, aunts, classroom teachers and moms are truly beginning to cultivate the roots of our ancestors by now embracing their natural wave patterns, instead of heating and straightening their hair strands or hiding them beneath bundles of Brazilian weave. Still, however, as more and more women begin to dump their perm kits and elect to wear hairstyles that cater to the likeness of Angela Davis, I have to wonder if #TeamNatural is all but another contemporary, pop-culture trend or a permanent movement towards changing the narrative for black women.
In light of current political and social protests against racism, ignorance and police brutality, it seems that black women are joining forces to disengage themselves from the physical standards of beauty that have been structured by American society. Within this raging climate, #TeamNatural seems to represent not only a simple hairstyle, but also a sense of empowerment for women of color. Just as the civil rights movement of the 1960’s highlighted the civil wrongs on American soil, people began wearing AFROS as a revolutionary political statement. More than just simply an expression of fashion or style, the natural textured fro became a distinguishable representation of black power. Now, over five decades later, it’s not too farfetched to believe that the rise of the #BlackLivesMattermovement has ignited the reemergence of progressive statements that black women are making by using their virgin hair to represent self pride.
My sister exists as one of the only women amongst her core circle of friends who still gets her hair permed every 6-8 weeks, visits the salon twice each month for professional styling and sometimes elects to have her strands highlighted with honey blonde streaks. While she has spent this past summer wearing long, Senegalese braids, my sister admits that she often feels judged by her female peers and other black women alike for not jumping on the #TeamNatural bandwagon. She does not ever wear weaves, extensions or wigs. Sometimes my sister wears her hair straight, bent at the ends and a short bang that edges slightly above her eyebrows. Mostly, however, her hair is styled in shoulder length curls that fall all around her head. As a professional, corporate woman who engages in yoga and other gym related exercise programs at least 3-4 times each week, my sister has shared with me that it’s simply easier and more convenient to manage her hair when it is processed and permed.
Meanwhile, despite her personal preferences and choice of convenience over the now popular twist-out hairstyle, it seems that my sister, along with other women in her position, are possibly being looked down upon. These women may be seen by those who exist along the #TeamNatural spectrum as “still” simulating whiteness and conforming to the mainstream standard of beauty.
But if #TeamNatural exists as more than a contemporary, pop-culture trend, then it suggests to me that the movement is indeed open to enveloping all women who support the idea of progression. As black women join forces to increase their visibility on movie screens and magazine covers, inside of board rooms, along the front lines of major political parties and amongst the ranks of the powerful, decision makers in the world, ones decision to wear her hair in its natural state is only a part of the fight. That very brave and powerful decision can possibly be paired alongside the responsibility that comes with redefining a generation.
The movement could begin challenging its members to live an overall, organic lifestyle. Wearing your hair in tight curls or a kinky updo does not necessarily make one natural, conscious or socially aware. I’m also thinking of the black women who elect to have thick, afro-textured, wooly fake hair sewn into their real, braided hair as a method to merely achieve the “look” of being natural.
The natural hairstyles are merely the top layer that sits above a pyramid that can include organic eating, African dress, minimal to no facial makeup, the full use of natural soaps, toothpaste, juices and other organic, skin care products as well. Beneath the Afros, must exist an understanding of what wearing natural hair represents politically, as well as a train of thought that is focused on total abandonment of processed living.
It is my hope that #TeamNatural and all of it’s card-carrying sisters remain as visible and collectively strong long after the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag fades from online, trending lists. I want to feel that black women truly understand that their natural, physical beauty shouldn’t only be celebrated in mass numbers as opposition to racial unrest or the fight for equality on American soil. Being proud of our skin and our nappy or kinky hair isn’t a trend that only coincides with a social climate riddled with hatred and earthly damnation against black people.
If #TeamNatural continues to reign supreme in the pages of our magazines, on our billboards and amongst our everyday communities, black women take back the agency in deciding the value and politics of their entire being amongst contemporary, westernized society.
I just started following you on Twitter two weeks ago. I saw a few of your posts retweeted in my timeline about praying, but also taking action in your own life to assist with the prayers. It was very interesting to me because my pastor has been preaching the same message lately. You said something along the lines about movement or change comes into people’s lives only when they begin doing the things that we ask God to do for us. And I truly believe in what you’re saying. You said if we do our part using the resources that he has given us then he will do his part and open doors that no man can close. That was the exact sermon in my church this past Sunday. I have been praying and asking God to help me with my youngest son and asking him to give me the proper tools to deal with him as of lately. I have two children. My oldest son is 18 years old and my youngest just turned 14 in May. I’m a young mother of 36 and raising both of my boys pretty much on my own. My oldest son’s father has been in his life since birth as far as spending time with him but I still take care of everything financially. He just graduated from high school and will be attending Mid Michigan Community College in Harrison this fall. He has always been a good student in school, active in our church youth group, works part-time at the Lakeside Mall and has never given me any problems growing up. My youngest son seems to be the total opposite of his older brother and I don’t understand it. This will be his first year in high school and I am trying my best to get him academically prepared. Although his 8th grade state test scores rank in the top percentile, his grades from middle school weren’t high enough to get him accepted into the school he is going to, the same high school my oldest son just graduated from. It’s a college prep type of high school. I had to pull strings with the principal in order to get my youngest enrolled because he plays around a lot. Just too much to really concentrate on his work. I let him go out for the JV football team this summer only because I know that it looks good in the community that my son does have extra curricular activities under his belt like my oldest did. However, I told him that if he starts bringing home grades lower than 80-85 then I will snatch him from the team during the season. I mean that. I have had to constantly remind my youngest son to complete his homework all throughout middle school. Now I am having to keep on him about reading the two summer books that the high school requires for all incoming freshman. He is suppose to be keeping a journal for each chapter he reads but he only writes 3 or 4 sentences that are just general statements instead of the 3-4 full paragraphs that are required. I ask him all of the time why he can’t be more like his older brother instead of me always having to run behind him to make sure he’s doing schoolwork and other tasks. I have tried my hardest to get him to spend more time with my oldest son at the church or even just sitting down to talk to him and he just wont do it. If he fails his English or Math class after this freshman year, the principal will automatically send him to one of the neighborhood schools and I can not have that. Everyone at the church knows our family very well and I was raised in our church. I don’t want my children looked at as being failures or drop outs like some of the others. Years ago the women in the church gave my mother a hard time when I got pregnant at 18 and we were determined to prove to the congregation that I would still graduate from college and make a healthy and successful life for my boys. I want only the best for both of my sons but am having a challenging time trying to get my youngest to understand the importance of his education. Since on Twitter you talked about actually taking action after praying what do you think I can physically do to help my youngest son actually achieve in school this year? They go back in two weeks. Any advice you could offer would be appreciated. I love your website by the way.
Thank you so very much for supporting my platform by following me on Twitter, reading my articles and now trusting me to offer you advice on issues pertaining to your youngest child. As I was reading your email, the one line that stood out to me most is when you shared the fact that you ask your youngest son why he can’t be more like his older brother. With that statement, you are verbalizing to your youngest son that he isn’t behaviorally, academically or socially as good as his older brother. One of the reasons why your youngest son rebels against spending time with his older brother in church or otherwise is because you have unconsciously created an environment where now your youngest son feels that he is in competition with his sibling. You have somewhat created silent labels of GOOD SON VS. BAD SON. Your youngest child has obviously taken the cue that he is the ‘BAD SON’ and therefore, he acts out accordingly. He is playing the role that he thinks is expected of him. Sometimes, parents assume that hailing one of their children as the ‘golden child’ will encourage the other siblings to model their behavior after that particular brother or sister. However, in many circumstances, the siblings who are being compared to the ‘golden child’ will intentionally act opposite of how the ‘golden child’ behaves. It’s their way of maintaining a forced identity within the household.
Instead of saying, “why can’t you be more like your older brother”, I advise that you begin saying to your youngest son, “try YOUR best to pay attention in class and complete all of your assignments. YOU are intelligent and bright.” Remove the focus from simply ‘getting good grades’. We often place emphasis on the end results as opposed to encouraging children to meet the standards at every stage of the education process. Every child should be made to feel like an individual within the structure of the household, school and community environments. Verbal comparisons between siblings create an unhealthy competition.
Additionally, your youngest son may be acting out because he resents you and his older brother. The absence of his father in his life may affect him in ways that he doesn’t verbalize to either of you. The fact that he has watched the father of your oldest son come around for years, probably makes him feel neglected. You didn’t mention whether or not the father of your youngest son is ever in the picture, but I am assuming he is not. Your youngest son may feel like the outcast whenever the father of your oldest son comes over to the house or when your oldest son leaves out to spend time with his dad. Your youngest has been forced in those moments to accept that his older brother has an established relationship with both of his parents. Once again, by comparison, his older brother appears to have the advantage. Do you have open discussions with your youngest son about his biological father and why he isn’t active in raising him? If not, at fourteen years old, your youngest son is ready to hear the truth.
Though I am very confident that you are an amazing mother, I do suggest that you possibly turn towards your pastor or even the JV football coach and ask one of them to begin mentoring your youngest son. Now that he is entering high school, it is crucial that your son begin receiving positive, male energy in his life on a regular basis. He should be receiving this sense of guidance outside of his male, peer group. Since he obviously doesn’t feel a natural attachment to his older brother right now, another adult, male figure that you trust should begin building a solid relationship with him. There are certain issues that your youngest son simply isn’t going to feel comfortable bringing to you now that he will be experiencing early manhood thoughts and feelings.
Also, you may be a little too concerned about public ‘appearances’. You mentioned the fact that you only support your youngest son playing JV football because of how children who participate in extra curricular activities are “looked upon” positively by others in the community. You then went on to say that if your youngest son had to attend the actual neighborhood high school that he was accepted into, members of the congregation would see him as being a failure. I could understand if you suggested you didn’t want your son to attend the local high school for safety reasons. However, it seems that you are encouraging your children to reach for a standard of success that is measured by outsiders. You cannot push your children to make decisions based on how they will be judged by a community of onlookers.
Now that you have pulled strings to have your youngest son placed into the college prep high school that your oldest just graduated from, he is going to face greater levels of academic difficulty than he experienced in middle school. Your son is obviously intelligent, as he performed exceptionally well on the standardized tests for eighth grade students. However, if your youngest son isn’t an independent student, as you suggest he isn’t, the pace of his classes are going to be challenging for him. It would have been wiser for you to allow your son to attend the school where his academic performance matched the structure and pace of the curriculum. If he started to feel out of place or more advanced than his classmates, he may have pushed HIMSELF to earn a transfer slot into the college prep high school for his sophomore year. By calling in favors to have your youngest son placed in a high school above his progress level, you also sent the message to him that he doesn’t have to work for certain opportunities because his mother can pull strings to arrange them. Keep that in mind before calling in favors next year to secure your youngest son a seasonal or part-time job.
Honestly, your youngest son will begin to display academic progress once he is able to sort out his internal struggles, as well as carve his own position at home and in his new school. Give your son room to step from behind the shadow of his older brother. Allow him to develop a positive relationship with his coach and classmates during this freshman school year. I encourage you and your oldest son to attend as many of the football games as possible. Your presence will make him feel that his individual accomplishments are being supported. Do not pull him from JV if he isn’t bringing home all grades above 80 during the first or second quarter. Beyond the physical training, team sports have the ability to build self-esteem, confidence and focus in the lives of many young boys. The confidence your youngest son feels on the field will translate into his determination to achieve academically. He is already a smart young man. People don’t always perform poorly in school because they’re lazy or unintelligent. It’s often that these individuals are dealing with internal stressors as well. Help him to cope by using language and love that is specific to his needs – not as your youngest son in comparison to his older brother, but as a fourteen year old boy who is still trying to find his way in the world.