India Arie says ‘I am not my hair….‘
I disagree with her. I am my hair. Of course my hair (dreadlocks these days) is not all that I am. But it is all that I have chosen it to be. Hair’s one of the few physical characteristics we have control over. Everything we do to our hair is a choice. We can (fairly easily) change its texture (temporarily), style, length, feel …whereas it’d take plastic surgery to alter our facial features.
So what’s the point of spending vast amounts of money, time and energy putting in a weave or relaxer only to say “it’s only hair?” All of it is a choice. Personally I’ve sported weaves, relaxers, braided extensions, afros, twists, cornrows….And when I chose those styles I chose them because I liked the way it looked on me, at the time. Later, I fell in love with the natural texture of my hair and chose to reveal it. Whatever style we go for, why should we disown our hair and our hair choices – whatever those choices are – by saying I am not my hair? Our hair is surely as much a part of us as our brain, our eyes and our heart . I claim my hair
Read on for an interview I did with the writer Memphis at Charcoal-Ink
Precious Williams UK writer and author of the book Precious (Color Blind U.S. version) shares with us how she became a writer and what inspired her to write her first book. Along with being a writer Precious rocks natural hair and shares with us her natural hair journey.
Precious when did you begin writing?
As soon as I’d learnt to read – aged around three and a half – I felt an urge to write my own stories. So I began writing as soon as I’d learnt how to use a pen or pencil.
How did you know that writing would become your niche?
It was the thing I’d always felt most excited about from as far back as I can remember.
As a young black woman living in the UK did you find it hard to get your work recognize as a writer?
I was first published at the age of eight – so the answer to your question is clearly ‘no’. I’m not clear why being young-ish, black, female and living in England would make one assume I’d find it hard to get my writing ‘recognized’. When it comes to getting work as a writer, in my experience the most essential factors are talent and tenacity, not having a specific shade of skin. I encourage aspiring writers to focus on their craft and not to assume that their ethnicity or gender is going to be some kind of handicap.
You’ve written a memoir called Precious (Color Blind US. version) about growing up in foster care with a white family, can you tell us why you chose to write about this?
Many writers’ first novels are autobiographical. I decided to simply write a memoir instead – my childhood was complicated and colourful and it kept hijacking any novel I attempted to write. Having written my memoir I feel I have the space and freedom to create fiction. I’m finishing my novel right now.
What would you like people to gain or take from reading your story?
That you create your own path.
What are your thoughts about people such as Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock, Eva Longoria that adopt outside their race?
I’ve nothing against people adopting outside their own race. However I’m very concerned about this lingering idea that African children – and African people in general – need to be ‘rescued’ and ‘civilized’ by white Westerners. It’s like a modern-day colonialism and it is extremely damaging.
You’ve written for big magazines such as Elle and Cosmopolitan just to name a few, what tips do you have for aspiring young writers wanting to get to that point?
Aim high. Imagine if you always assumed you’ll succeed and that people are out to be kind to you rather than assuming you’ll fail and that people want to discriminate against you. Harness that feeling and go for it.
What tips would you give to someone wanting to write their first book?
Write a book that you yourself would feel excited to read. If people try to tell you “it’s almost impossible to get published these days” tune out and don’t listen to them.
Now on to the natural hair …
How do you rock your hair? locs, afro, twist outs, etc …
I’ve had dreadlocks for nine years. They had grown to waist-length but I just had six inches cut off them this summer as I felt they looked just a tad too hippy-ish.
How long have you been natural?
All through the 90s I wore hair extensions and hair straighteners and bought into the idea that black women actually HAD to drastically alter their hair in order to be accepted and acceptable. Then one Saturday morning In 2000 I was taking out the latest set of straight hair extensions (a task that would take hours). The plan was to then put a hat on my real hair (never allowed my own natural hair to be seen in public), jump in a cab and get to the hair salon ASAP to get yet more straight extensions put in. But then I caught sight of my own hair in the mirror and fell in love with it. It was an absolutely huge lively-looking afro, sort of like the singer Maxwell’s hair used to be before he cut it.
I hadn’t observed my unadulterated hair properly in years. I’d taken to seeing my natural hair as a demon that needed to be corrected or covered up. That day I cancelled the hair salon appointment and decided to keep my own natural hair instead. It felt like one of the most daring decisions I’d made in absolutely years – honestly it felt as though I was doing something utterly forbidden. When I unveiled my hair to my family they were utterly horrified, all of them. Even the Nigerian sales clerk at my local supermarket had a go at me about my hair. It was mainly only white people and Rastafarians who were able to like or love my hair at that time. A white friend asked me why I always straightened my hair when my real hair was so ‘pretty’. My mother told me to expect to be sacked from my job (as a reporter at a national newspaper) if I continued walking around with my natural hair. I was unmoved by the comments, good or bad. My afro grew and grew. So did my “self-confidence”.
What made you want to go natural?
Well in no small part because I really LOVE the texture of natural afro hair. And in retrospect I realized that I’d found it deeply humiliating walking around with the hair of Asian women woven into my head to supposedly make me look more “acceptable.” I feel rather ashamed of the fact that I was once willing to go to such ridiculous lengths (no pun intended). One of the lies I had come to believe back then was that black women had to wear fake, straight hair in order to be desirable to men. Of course that turned out to be complete crap. Most black men are very used to the presence of hair extensions but that doesn’t necessarily mean they like them.
In fact there is a group on Facebook called Black Men Against Weaves. As for white men, I still recall the utter confusion on the face of a white man I’d been dating during my hair extension phase. He ran his fingers through what he thought was MY hair only to feel the tracks where the extensions were attached. Weeks later he nervously asked me why I insisted on wearing “those strange little wigs”. I had no answer. The weekend when I finally took out the hair extensions for good I felt elated. For me personally the wearing of fake hair had become a sort of pathology.
What’s your hair routine?
I pretty much just shampoo and go. I also use ayurvedic hair oil for moisture. But mainly I take care of hair health by eating right and taking Omega 3 oil etc.
What’s your favorite hair product?
It’s not very exciting but I guess my favourite product is my shampoo. It’s an ayurvedic shampoo I get from a health food store in London.
What troubles you most about your hair?
I slightly fear going grey. I don’t have any grey hairs yet and I can’t imagine how I’d look with a mane of grey or white dreadlocks.
Who is your hair inspiration?
I really love the singer Goapele’s hair. Her dreadlocks were just beautiful and I love her braided styles too.
What advice would you give to newly naturals?
Enjoy your hair!
To learn more about Precious and her book you can visit her website at www.preciouswilliams.com