Syann Thompson

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About her dissertation Why Black Women Hate Their Hair.

 

Syann Thompson

About her Thesis The love-hate relationship between black women and hair.

I am very happy that I came across your piece. Since I went natural in 2000 and discovered how many other women had hair and scalp issues because of the use of relaxers, I have been asking myself this question as to why do Black women straighten their hair so vigorously? So I am really interested in what you have found but let’s start chronically.

You were born in the Bahamas. How was life there and how old where you when you moved to the UK?
I came to London as a student to complete my Bachelor and Master’s degrees. At the time I was 26.

Was it easy to adjust?
Adjusting to the weather and the culture took some time, but I’m adaptable so the transition from my home country to London was good.

Why and when did you start wondering about why Black women straighten their hair?
I was in grade nine in my country, Nassau Bahamas when I started to think about why every 6 to 8 weeks I had to perm my hair. I realized how much I loved the natural texture of my hair compared to the straight version. I really thought that I was changing to much of who I was as a person when I had to straighten my hair. I realized that there had to be another way.

What was the dissertation for and can you tell us how you went by your research?
The dissertation was called Why Black Women Hate Their Hair: A Look at African American, British and Caribbean Women. I used mature female students from my university who filled out questionnaires. I also emailed women.

What is the craziest or most unexpected case or thing you found during your research?
The most unexpected thing that happened is that I met a few Black men who really, really loved to see Black women with their natural hair. Usually for me it was the opposite. Black guys would ask me if I’m trying to go back to Africa with my hair or if I didn’t own a comb. So to have these few guys love the natural texture of Black women’s hair was absolutely great.

I think this statement is very true:
In my opinion, black women are quietly fighting an internal and external battle over the natural texture of their hair.

How did you come to this conclusion?
I came to this conclusion because this was my experience. I felt pressured to have my hair straight. I was in high school at the time I wanted to cut my hair and allow it to grow out naturally, however my mother was opposed to it, she asked me how would I look beautiful and what would happen to my hair. When I was younger I felt very conscious of my natural hair growing back under my permed hair. People in The Bahamas called it ‘cousins’, it’s those tiny new growth buds coming up out of your scalp. I truly felt ugly at that time. But I had to break out of that mentality, and eventually I began to cherish and love the natural hair life gave me.

In my experience in Suriname girls would get their first perm after their period started or around the age of 14-15. It was a huge surprise when I found out that girls in the US get their hair hot combed as young as 5 and nowadays they even get perms at that age. Did you notice difference like that in researching the UK, the Bahamas and the US?
I didn’t see a difference in the age girls would get their hair straightened.

I travel between the US, Holland and Suriname and at my last visit I noticed that there were a lot less perms. I get credit for that and it enormously humbles me but isn’t there a world wide realization going on?
There is a paradigm shift going on and more and more Black women are beginning to love their hair, the media is beginning to accept it as a norm and as beautiful. We still have a long way to go but it’s happening slowly but surely.

Are you against relaxers? Can you please elaborate?
I am against anything that will completely alter the true characteristics of a person. With that said, yes I am against relaxers. They are potentially harmful to the health of Black women, but we fail to see that.

What is your favorite hairstyle?
I don’t have a favorite hairstyle, but I have my hair in locs and I’m completely in love with them.

What is your hair care regimen?
I shampoo and give my hair a treatment every two weeks or if the weather is hotter, every week. During this time I groom my locs and oil them with a little bit of olive oil and I also use hair sheen, Mizani is a good one to use.

Have you ever encountered discrimination or mistreatment because of your natural hair?
I have come across a good amount of ignorant people. However, I have been fortunate to not have been turned away because of my hair. I’ve just come to the conclusion that some people will remain ignorant and closed minded about Black women’s natural hair.

As I said I have given this question a lot of thought as well. What really boggles me is the fact that 73% (at least in the US according to a study by dr. Jeffery*) of us suffer from hair breakage and other hair and scalp issues but it’s like it doesn’t matter. Initially it was hard for us as a community to discuss aids and even homosexuality. Why is it you think that we can’t even recognize this as a problem?
Some Blacks are ashamed of the texture of our hair. In slavery Blacks were separated by the shade of their skins. Lighter skinned Blacks were house slaves and darker skinned Blacks worked in the fields. Most of the time, the lighter skinned Blacks had softer hair that was more prized than the hair texture of darker skinned Blacks. Early in the history of the U.S., there was a comb test that Blacks took in order to become members of elite lighter skinned Black groups. So all of this had an impact on why Blacks today are ashamed of their hair. However some refuse to admit that this is the problem.

Is it me or are discussions about hair among Black women quite hard? It gets emotional and often uneasy. Do you share this experience?
You’re right it often gets emotional and uneasy. Some people will always think that natural Black hair is unkempt hair just by the way it looks. If that’s the case we need to blame God for giving us what some Blacks call “ugly” hair. I believe that any type of hair texture from any race that it not cleaned and groomed properly can be regarded as unkempt.

One of the arguments I hear all the time is that other races are perming and coloring as well. In my opinion the difference is women of other races don’t continue chemical treatments after damaging their hair once or even twice but we keep repeating the same harmful services and even pass it on to our children. Just this week I heard from a woman who said her mother permed her hair at the age of 7 even though the mother lost her hair because of a perm. I think we are obsessive and compulsive when it comes to long flowing hair. What is your opinion?
Yes we’re obsessive with long flowing straight hair. But we must realize that having our hair natural not only celebrates the beauty of our hair but it keeps it healthy as well.

Do you really think we hate our hair?
To a degree some of us do.

What can we do to work on the relationship with our hair or to ease our hair struggles?
Work with the hair texture we’re given and learn to appreciate it.

You say in your piece: The results I found were very telling. What was most telling about your research?
The fact that Black women realized how difficult it could be having natural hair.

What is your next step? Will there be a follow-up on your research?
Right now I don’t plan to have a follow up research, but I hope to do more work in the future.

Do you have a last word or a message for our readers?
Love yourself and who you are.

 

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