News, On Campus

BC’s Women of Color Reflect on Experiences With Their Hair

For Nicole Rodriguez-Rowem, LSOE ’19, chopping off her hair was a way to combat societal norms of femininity in a world where black women are sometimes judged for their hairstyles. Her story of struggling with her hair as a part of her identity is one that is common among other black women at Boston College.

A panel of black women at BC spoke to students about their experiences with their hairstyles on Tuesday night. The event, which was titled “Good Hair Day,” was hosted by United Front, an organization that links student groups representing cultures from Africa, and FACES.

Rodriguez-Rowem opened the event with a brief presentation outlining different types of hairstyles commonly worn by black women and the stereotypes that often result from them.

Before the presentation, she spoke about her experience with her own hair. For many years she kept her hair long and natural, until the beginning of the semester, when she decided to cut it off and style it into a pixie cut.

“For me it was detaching myself from feeling that obligation that my femininity is attached to my hair,” she said. “It was a liberating experience.”

Rodriguez-Rowem then outlined the different hairstyles often worn by black women—from dreadlocks and boxbraids to bantu knots and afros. She detailed how each hairstyle culturally links to Africa. For example, bantu knots originate from the Bantu people, who are represented by over 300 ethnic groups in Africa. Afros originated from the black power movement in the 1960s and ’70s.

She also discussed the cultural appropriation of black hair. When a non-black person wears dreadlocks or has an afro, it is considered trendy, but when a black woman does the same thing it is seen as unkempt and unprofessional, she said.

“The privilege that someone who is not black holds when they style their hair that way … you’re not only taking away someone’s culture, but a lot of people don’t understand the meaning behind why those styles exist,” she said. “Not learning the culture of the purpose behind that style is problematic as well.”
After the conclusion of the presentation, a panel of female black students and an administrator spoke about their experiences with their hairstyles.

“For me, my hair is an expression of something consistent for me. I have always had a deep connection to my hair and what I choose to do with it.”

—Maakeda Sinclair, CSOM ’17

Araba Mantey, MCAS ’18, was raised in Ghana. At her school, the norm for girls was to have their hair permed, so to fit in with her classmates, she did that for many years. When she moved to the United States, however, she decided to stop perming it and let it grow out. Mantey now wears her hair naturally and wears wigs.

Maakeda Sinclair, CSOM ’17, has been growing out her dreadlocks since she was 3. Since her whole family has them, she never thought of her hair critically in her childhood. It was the summer of her junior year in high school at an internship when she noticed she was different. Although she could not cite a specific example, she said she noticed microaggressions in the workplace, which made her feel uncomfortable. For Sinclair, keeping her dreadlocks has been a political choice to push back against the perceptions some people have of black women with dreadlocks.

“For me, my hair is an expression of something consistent for me,” Sinclair said. “I have always had a deep connection to my hair and what I choose to do with it.”

Mantey also noticed microaggressions at her first job. She described feeling out of place with her hairstyle.

“I felt like my bosses were staring around me instead of at my face,” Mantey said. “I put it in a ponytail [or] in a bun so it was less to stare at.”

The panelists were then asked if they had experiences with non-black people relating to their hair.

Alyssa Savery, LSOE ’17, has an afro. She said that she often receives comments that she has nice hair “for a black girl.” A couple of the panelists felt that some of the most critical comments they have received have come from their families and friends.

“It’s not just people who are not black,” Maakeda said. “It’s actually black folks who ask me about my hair too.”

Maakeda notices a difference, however, in how black women and white women are treated because of their hair.

“A lot of times it’s annoying to have people continuously ask you about your hair when you know a lot of white people don’t get asked about their hair because we see it on TV,” she said.

Featured Image Alex Gaynor / Heights Staff

December 4, 2016