In Professor Gidjunis’ Postcolonial Women’s Novels class, topics regarding colonialism and postcolonialism are discussed at length. One of the novels that is read in this course is called “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith. In this book, we see how white beauty standards are perpetuated in European society. We especially see this with a young black girl named Irie. Throughout the course of the novel, readers can see how this not only affects her self-worth, but her entire sense of self. These standards impact not only how she views her body, but more specifically her hair.
In Postcolonial Women’s Novels, we watched segments of a documentary called Good Hair narrated by Chris Rock. Although the film and the book gave us insight into this topic, Professor Gidjunis decided to put together a Black Hair panel of multiple people so that we, as a class could understand better Irie’s point of view.
The speakers that attended in person and/or through video chat, were Jackie Irving, Tanishia Coleman, Angeley Crawford, and Paige Poteat. Jackie Irving is Eastern’s own Interim Vice Provost for Student Development, Tanishia Coleman and Angelie Crawford are both former Eastern graduates, and Paige Poteat is a current student who is involved in leadership roles including being a Resident Assistant for Eagle Residence Hall. Since the panelists trickled in at different times, the panel initially began with Tanishia Coleman.
She graduated with a journalism degree from Eastern and has done a lot of research regarding black hair and white beauty standards. Although she wanted to go into journalism, she felt that her hair was unwelcome. She felt like she couldn’t wear her hair naturally in a journalism setting because her hair would be deemed unprofessional. She told us a lot about her own personal journey for hair acceptance. She was actually the first one in her family to wear her hair natural. In this decision, she faced questions from her family about why she didn’t perm it (the process of straightening one’s hair using chemical relaxers). She constantly felt like she needed to do these things in order to fit in. However, she realized quite quickly that she didn’t want to blend in. She also noted that gender norms were also a big factor in deciding to wear her hair short or long.
“Hair is very important to me, its about self-image and helps in how I’m perceived to the world,” she said.
Later on, the panelists started to discuss their own personal experiences with their hair. As the panel continued, it became clear that straight hair is often deemed ‘professional’ while natural hair is not. As we heard black women’s stories, it was stressed that we should affirm them because these events do not happen in isolation.
Angeley Crawford stated that “the way we express our hair is related to white supremacy” and that the American standard of beauty never included black people. She also talked about the white gaze and white supremacy and how that contributes to how Black women view themselves in society. Overall, the panel was very informative and eye opening.
In light of this panel, it is also important to note that Eastern has their own natural hair club called Keeping It Natural or KIN. The members of KIN are committed to the promotion of healthy and natural hair, body, and life practices. If you are interested in learning further about these topics, keep an eye out for upcoming KIN events!