For as long as I can remember, my hair was presented as a problem that needed to be managed. From a young age, I was taught that it was something shameful. I was required – by any means necessary – to make it resemble European hair, and when that wasn’t possible, it was to be hidden.
Growing up in Ireland, with a white mum, at a time when there were very few Black people in the country – there just wasn’t the access to the products or the expertise required to care for my hair properly. My tightly coiled kinks were so outside the beauty standard that dictated little girls have long, silky, swishy tresses – that I was really excluded, regularly bullied and shamed for my hair’s texture and appearance.
It took me all the way until I was pregnant with my first child before I had the confidence to go for the ‘big chop’ and join what was at that time the burgeoning natural hair movement. After years of chemically straightening – ‘relaxing’ – my hair, this was a huge step for me. Even then it wasn’t easy. I had a LOT of conditioning to undo. I still felt embarrassed by my hair and thought there was no way I could be seen as attractive, but that was a sacrifice I had to make for my politics. Can you imagine? I was still brainwashed. But this isn’t just about all the things we’ve internalised. It’s also about the very real external hair discrimination that causes these internalised feelings. I was painfully aware that natural hair was still deemed as unacceptable in many environments, and of the ways in which Black people are penalised for daring to wear our hair as it grows from our heads.
My hair has played such an influential role in my life that it became a subject and theme of both my writing and my academic research. In 2019 I published Don’t Touch My Hair, a book about why Black hair matters. DTMH has been really successful in creating a better understanding of the characteristics of Black hair. It’s also been influential in bringing about change both in schools and workplaces, where uniform policies disproportionately affect Black people. We’ve seen uniform policy changes from secondary schools to the British Army.