Tangled in Hair Politics

Tangled in Hair Politics

Challenge 8 thumbnailIf I were to win Miss Nappturality 2009, my first task would be to contact the National Organization of Woman (NOW) and start a campaign for the Right to wear your Natural Hair without facing opposition or sex discrimination. This organization has been taking action for women’s equality since 1966. NOW works to eliminate discrimination and harassment in the workplace, schools, the justice system, and all other sectors of society.Championing with NOW would be the ideal partnership in undoing the injustice Women of Color face in wearing their Natural Hair.


Challenge 8 article photo

December 18, 2009

National Organization for Women
1100 H Street NW, 3rd floor
Washington, D.C. 20005 

Dear National Organization for Woman,  

I work for one of the Top 20 Fortune 1000 companies in the Nation. In my 10 years of working in Corporate America, I have been fortunate not to have faced discrimination or opposition against my Natural Hair. Unfortunately, I can not say the same for many other Women of Color.   

At some point in a young woman’s life, she has to make a life altering decision before entering the workplace …”Should I permanently straighten my hair or not”?  For most of us, this decision was made at a very young age without any input of our own. Instead of being able to embrace the natural state of our hair, we are unconsciously accepting the false media images of long silky straight hair as ideal sense of beauty. This saddens me because the pressure to straighten your hair has no bearing on your job performance and/or quality of work. 

I applaud the NOW Foundation in celebrating its12th anniversary in the Love Your Body Campaign. Your presentation on the ABCs and Ds of Commercial Images of Women is spot on in bringing awareness to unrealistic beauty standards.  As Miss Nappturality 2009, I would like to add the freedom of wearing your Natural Hair without persecution to your platform.

In the attempts to fit in to what Society deems as beautiful or suitable professional hair, Women of Color are losing their hair permanently at alarming rates.  In fact, 73% of African American women suffer from hair lose due to the over use of chemical Hair Relaxers. This hair loss is larger than any of other ethnic group.  Billions of dollars are being spent by African American women every year to achieve straight hair in order to blend in with our surroundings at the workplace, school, and other sectors in society.  We do not ask or expect our male counterparts to have straight hair nor do we impose unrealistic beauty expectations upon them. Our content, character, and work-related experiences should be the main focus in the Workplace not fears of discrimination for wearing our Natural Hair.  

I have included descriptions of the main toxic ingredients found in Relaxers to straighten kinky and curly hair:

  • Sodium hydroxide – is very corrosive and can cause severe burns with deep ulcerations in all tissues that come in contact with it.  Pain and irritation are evident within 3 minutes, but contact with dilute solutions may not cause symptoms for several hours. Contact with the eye may produce pain and irritation, and in severe cases, clouding of the eye and blindness.  This ingredient can also be found in oven cleaners. 


  • Calcium hydroxide – traditionally called slaked lime, hydrated lime, slack lime, or pickling lime is an alkali or soluable base used as a lye substitute in no-lye hair relaxers. Health risks include Respiratory tract irritation, coughing, shortness of breath, and chemical bronchitis. Severe eye irritation, pain, ulceration, and blindness. Also, skin burns and blistering. Chronic exposure causes dermatitis or severe irritation to skin.


  • Guanidine carbonate and guanidine hydroxide – is a very strong alkaline and water-soluble compound used in no lye relaxers. It is formed in urine as a normal product of protein metabolism in the body. It is used as a component of rocket propellants because it produces a large amount of heat when burned. It is also used to manufacture plastics and explosives.


  • Thioglycolic acid – an organic compound that replaces oxygen in an acid with sulfur. It is used to weaken the keratin structure of hair.  This compound is also used in depilating agents or unwanted hair removal products.


  • Lithium hydroxideis a corrosive alkali or base hydroxide. Its general purpose is to lubricate greases due to its high resistance to water.

If I were to ask a woman if she would allow me to apply the chemicals found in oven cleaners, plastics, explosives, urine and/or HAIR REMOVAL to her hair, I would receive a definite No!  But if I package these chemicals in a jar with a model on the box displaying long flowing silky hair she would say YES!!!  The severity of the damage to our hair, skin, and health must be addressed and can no longer go silenced.  

My mission as Miss Nappturality 2009 is to 1). Raise awareness to the persecution of wearing Natural Hair in all places of business, 2). Educate women on the toxic chemicals they are willingly applying to their hair, and 3). Work with the NOW Foundation to add “Love your Hair” to their current “Love your Body” campaign. Together with the help of the National Organization of Women, we can fight the injustice that faces so many Women of Color in wearing their Natural Hair.  

Thank you,  

Karla Thomas 



National Organization of Women website:  http://www.now.org/ 

The ABCs and Ds of Commercial Images of Women:  http://loveyourbody.nowfoundation.org/presentations/SexStereotypesBeauty/index.html 

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov 

Chemicalland1.com aims to be a resource of individual chemical information including technical data: http://www.chemicalland21.com 

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