So, a few months back, I did a post about ‘grown and sexy’ nat­u­rals: pro­fes­sion­al women over 50 with DOPE hair. One of the women I men­tioned was Nao­mi Davis, a for­mer attor­ney and founder of B.I.G. (Blacks in Green), a Chica­go-based orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cat­ed to rais­ing envi­ron­men­tal aware­ness and bring­ing green jobs into impov­er­ished Black com­mu­ni­ties.

I asked her if she’d like to be inter­viewed to kick off our work styles give­away, and she agreed. This is just the first half of the inter­view, I’ll post the sec­ond half next week. All of this is very thought pro­vok­ing, so I would love to hear your thoughts on it!

Leila,

I have nev­er had a for­mal oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk about my hair phi­los­o­phy and am grate­ful for the chance.

In fact, I had a con­ver­sa­tion with Renee*, intern for Chicago’s Depart­ment of Envi­ron­ment last night, and Charice*, a local busi­ness con­sul­tant who some­times caps her nat­ur­al coif with a wig just to silence the vio­lence, so to speak about nat­ur­al hair in the office.

No amount of mon­ey or “secu­ri­ty” could have me deny my nature.

For over 10 years I’ve been nat­ur­al and not locked. It’s not easy giv­en my gru­el­ing work sched­ule, and how nap­py my hair is…but I’m com­mit­ted. And this means com­mit­ted in spite of major hair loss from neglect and stress, to be hon­est. Most­ly I pin my hair into an Ida B. Wells updo and call it a day. Ele­gant and most decid­ed­ly African.

L says~Ida Bell Wells-Bar­nett (July 16, 1862–March 25, 1931) was an African Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist and news­pa­per edi­tor. An ear­ly leader in the civ­il rights move­ment, she doc­u­ment­ed the extent of lynch­ing in the Unit­ed States. She was also active in the women’s rights move­ment and the women’s suf­frage move­ment.

A few years ago I would occa­sion­al­ly press my hair for a diver­sion. I’ve been a long -time fash­ion­ista — that is to say, brought up in the NYC wrag trade, Assis­tant Buy­er at Bloom­ing­dales, and Paris run­way fanta­ciz­er. So fash­ion and a diver­si­ty of looks comes nat­u­ral­ly to me, and so hav­ing a diver­si­ty of looks for me is ok. But the last time I had my hair pressed, one sec­tion of my hair would not revert and after 9 months + I cut it out and resolved that no hot comb would ever touch my hair again. Per­ma­nent con­ver­sion was not my bag.

I enter­tained a prod­uct called Straight Ends** which promised supe­ri­or press and curl stay­ing pow­er with­out per­ma­nent chem­i­cal con­ver­sion, but I could nev­er get their sys­tem down, and to this day have no sense of whether it real­ly works. And no longer care.

What’s not ok is hat­ing one­self and not know­ing one­self when it caus­es us to fund an entire lifestyle and image that’s Euro-based. This does not include fash­ion, because God did not cre­ate the fash­ions on our backs but did cre­ate the hair on our heads. It does not even include plas­tic surgery, because while God did cre­ate our faces, every plas­tic surgery is not for the pur­pose of look­ing less Afro/moreEuro. It most def­i­nite­ly includes the bil­lions we spend on Chi­nese hair for “African” braids, the longer the bet­ter.

And no, I don’t think every woman and girl needs to scream Africa! But let’s get at the root of self-loathing. I ain’t mad at Madame CJ, but let’s all read Belle Hooks’ book on black self-hate, Rock My Soul, and get real about how our oppres­sion chas­es at the heels of our progress.

It’s every­where. The black baby/white baby exper­i­ment results are as con­sis­tent and alarm­ing today as they were in the 50’s.

L says~The Clarks’ doll exper­i­ments was con­duct­ed in the 1940s to test Black children’s self per­cep­tion relat­ed to race. The chil­dren were giv­en the option to play with a black doll or a white doll. Exper­i­menters found that Black chil­dren often pre­ferred to play with white dolls over black; that, asked to fill in a human fig­ure with the col­or of their own skin, they fre­quent­ly chose a lighter shade than was accu­rate; and that the chil­dren gave the col­or “white” attrib­ut­es such as good and pret­ty, but “black” was qual­i­fied as bad and ugly. They viewed the results as evi­dence that the chil­dren had inter­nal­ized racism caused by being dis­crim­i­nat­ed against and stig­ma­tized by seg­re­ga­tion.

In 2006 film­mak­er Kiri Davis recre­at­ed the doll study and doc­u­ment­ed it in a film enti­tled A Girl Like Me. Despite the many changes in some parts of soci­ety, she found the same results as did the Drs. Clark in their study of the late 1930s and ear­ly 1940s. Click here to see Kiri Davis’ exper­i­ment.

And I could go on and on. The sto­ry of work­ing to devel­op my own product…the sto­ry of the endow­ment to build hair fac­to­ries in the ‘hood…the sto­ry of BIG’s (Blacks in Green) recent work­shop, “Race~Class~Environment” which remind­ed me of my own feel­ings of black infe­ri­or­i­ty. Yes, even me.

But uncov­ered, these boogey­men loose their lever­age. It’s called Truth & Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

*name changed to pro­tect iden­ti­ty
**com­pa­ny name changed to pro­tect

***

And a quick “dope­ness in the blo­gos­phere” alert!
Jc over at the Nat­ur­al Haven has a great post on whether the coconut/lime nat­ur­al relax­er is actu­al­ly a relax­er. Great info! Click here to check it out.

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noel­liste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop cul­ture and black beau­ty enthu­si­ast. bell hooks’ hair twin…

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18 Comments on "Naomi Davis // Natural Hair Style Icon"

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Copa-canary

Great post! This seg­ment on pro­fes­sion­al women and nat­ur­al hair is a great idea! it bridges the con­cept of wear­ing nat­ur­al hair in gen­er­al and wear­ing it every­day, which for most of us involves wear­ing it to work/offices. I can’t wait to read the rest of Ms. Davis’ inter­view. Always insight­ful mate­r­i­al to read on this blog :-}

Anonymous

This par­tic­u­lar inter­view was inspir­ing. I am an old­er hair diva and some­times I don’t want to “look” to young with my hair­styles. Thanks for shar­ing Namoi’s sto­ry.

Loolalooh

Thanks for post­ing this inter­view. Nao­mi sounds like a very wise woman and hit some real­ly good notes.

Anonymous

Nao­mi,

You are so beau­ti­ful. I real­ly love your hair. You are my new hair idol. God Bless you.

Patricia Grannum

It’s so great to see a suc­cess­ful black woman say it’s per­fect­ly alright to wear your nat­ur­al hair in the work­place. Hope­ful­ly this will help dis­pel some mis­con­cep­tions!

http://womanofcolour.blogspot.com

Crackkills
I remem­ber when my for­mer super­vi­sor told me my afro would scare white peo­ple away from tak­ing tours where I used to work. And indeed some white peo­ple would seem stoked to see the muse­um until they learned I would be their guide.… I guess they didn’t feel com­fort­able being tak­en around a plan­ta­tion with an “Angela Davis” type. I no longer work at that place, but I still have that think­ing of how my “rev­o­lu­tion­ary” hair is off­putting.… It’s real­ly hard if you are a pub­lic ser­vant because you have to make your­self look approachable.…and in some areas of… Read more »
Sugabelly

Nao­mi Davis’ hair is my weed.

The Notorious Z.A.G.
Her hair is beau­ti­ful, and her wis­dom is inspir­ing. I feel as though we could all learn some­thing from Ms. Nao­mi… I know I did! I first heard of the Black doll/white doll exper­i­ment a few years back and was imme­di­ate­ly thank­ful to my mom who pro­vid­ed me with beau­ti­ful Black babies and Bar­bi­es to play with. Its messed up that not only is racism is inher­it­ed from one gen­er­a­tion to the next, but so is self-per­cep­tion, self hatred, and self con­fi­dence.Being hap­pi­ly nat­ur­al is only one of many steps that need to be tak­en to ful­ly embrace the anom­alies we… Read more »
lilone

awe­some :)

Black girl with long hair
Black girl with long hair

@ Zee… thanks!
@ Anony­mous… lol, a new “shero” indeed. I love Nao­mi, but I’m also hop­ing that more bomb pro­fes­sion­al nat­u­rals will arise. I know they’re out there!
It is kin­da crazy/inspiring, tho, to hear from some­one from a dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tion who’s been nat­ur­al for so long.

sharmaine

Wow! This was a great post!

Naomi’s hair is gorgeous…maybe she’ll grace us with more pics? a reg­gie even?

Great job bglh. Can’t wait to see the rest.

Anonymous

Wow, a new shero has arisen. I love her hair. @JC. I don’t think the com­ment was direct­ed at braids in gen­er­al or the African roots of braids. I thought it referred to the extrav­a­gant amount of mon­ey we spend to buy hair from Chi­na (and India) to use for our braids. Black women spend and extra­or­di­nary amount of mon­ey on hair care. That’s what I thought she was refer­ring to.

Jai

I real­ly enjoyed part 1(I look for­ward to the oth­er parts). I wish every­one who watched Tyra’s show this week could read this inter­view and learn some­thing REAL about nat­ur­al hair!!!

Great job L.

@ Nicole, I see it in my child­hood as well and I’m glad I have a total­ly dif­fer­ent mind set now!!

Nicole

Great post! Love the hair and a great per­spec­tive.

It’s so wild, I look back on my child­hood and see signs of infe­ri­or think­ing, more than I’d care to admit. Fun­ny how soci­ety works on you (not real­ly).

Jc
I liked most of this inter­view and I had nev­er actu­al­ly heard of Ida B-Wells or the doll stud­ies …so inter­est­ing. I do strong­ly dis­agree on the com­men­tary on ‘Chi­nese hair for African Braids.‘Principally because I am Kenyan and I love African braids. As an exam­ple of tra­di­tion­al use of exten­sions — Maa­sai in Kenya do add wool/cotton to increase the length of their hair and some anthro­pol­o­gists believe before trade began they used cow’s tails!  I cer­tain­ly think that every­one has an idea of what is and isn’t Euro­cen­tric. There are actu­al­ly peo­ple who think of braids as ‘ethnic’(not used… Read more »
msjaim

I love it.. cant wait to see pt 2. so many ppl need to get the idea of naps not being pro­fes­sion­al out of their head. when­ev­er I here folks regur­gi­tate that mad­ness it makes me cringe…ppl need a lot of re-pro­gram­ming.

Zee

Wow. L, you are so cool for this. I can’t wait to read more from Nao­mi. I mean there are edu­ca­tion­al blogs and then there’s this blog, a cut above the rest. 

Excel­lent read.

jenteel

THANK YOU for the real talk nao­mi! beau­ti­ful, edu­cat­ed and classy! you are absolute­ly regal.

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