Panelists on Ethnic Hair Care Panel open up about personal hair stories

Eryn Wecker

The Black Student Union hosted about twenty people at the Natural Hair Care Panel on Sunday in the Esch-Hurvis room. The panel consisted of about ten students and Associate Professor of Anthropology Carla Daughtry.

All but one of the panelists were female. The panel became a sounding-board for students to talk about hair history, type, style and health, especially within the African American community. The moderator, sophomore Brienne Colston, addressed the panelists, asking questions ranging from “What’s your personal hair story?” to “What is your definition of natural hair?”

Colston said, “Our main goal was to educate through this event. For many of the panelists…talking and educating and seeing different points of view are really great when you’re doing a panel. It’s really great for the Lawrence community to come and see what we’re talking about and why it’s important.”

While hair might seem like an unusual topic, Colston and panelists explained the historical significance in the African American community. She gave examples of events throughout history that signified the pressure to straighten or alter kinky and curly hair types, since the time of slavery.

Colston cited Melba Tollivant, who was fired from her post as an NBC news anchor in 1971 for wearing an afro hairstyle to cover the Nixon wedding, as an example. Daughtry referred to the negative media commentary about 2012 Olympian and gymnast Gabby Douglas’ hair, as evidence that the issue of hair is still important and relevant today.

Colston noted, “Usually we get, ‘Oh, it’s just hair.’ But there is a history attached to it, and there is a history that still affects us in the present.”

The only male panelist, sophomore Andre Augustine, insisted that hair is not solely a woman’s issue. Augustine commented, “Guys do have to deal with this kind of pressure, too…They told us, ‘If you don’t cut your hair, you won’t look professional, you won’t get a job.”

Much of the debate swirled around the issue of ‘going natural.’ Panelists acknowledged that there are varying definitions for this term. There were also varying reasons for being pro-natural hair: the injury and damage treatment can cause, the work that kinky hair can require and rejecting the notion that naturally kinky hair can’t be attractive.

Denissa Whyte said, “I just want to stress, first, the panel was not looking down on the people who don’t have natural hair. Our problem is when there is just one way. That only permed hair is beautiful.”

Some panelists recounted negative experience with “relaxers”-chemical processing used to straighten the hair-which can burn the scalp or cause breakage, as a reason for abstaining from treatments. Others saw it as an issue of hair health.

Junior Julian Washington, President and co-founder of BSU, expressed his own concern over hair health.

Washington said, “While it’s okay to want to have different styles or alter your hair the way you want, it’s also important to consider to what your styles or alterations are doing to your hair, as not to destroy. I think that’s what the whole natural movement is doing.”

Whyte extended an invitation to the Lawrence campus to attend meetings. Whyte said, “Please, feel free to come to our meetings. They are Thursdays in  the Warch Campus Center. You don’t have to be black or consider yourself black to come…we want to see diversity at our table.”