Is Curlism the Colorism of the 21st Century?

July 31, 2017

Slavery.  Racism.  Colorism.  Curlism.  What does one have to do with the other, and why does this still exist in the natural hair community?  Grab your tea, you’re in for a ride!

So I was browsing my Instagram feed last week and saw a reference to the infamous post by Tiffany Buttafly about mixed women and the natural hair movement.  It left me feeling some kind of way – and not in a good way.  In case you missed it, here is her mini rant:

Mixed women have completely hijacked the “natural hair movement” and have somehow become spokespersons.  I thought it was about embracing hair that wasn’t seen as acceptable.  About women who put down the relaxers.  Not women who have been “natural” their entire lives.  More like my 4 type sisters.  African textured hair sisters!  Two black parent sisters.  Since when was loose curly hair that falls down your back viewed as negative.  These are the same types of mulattos that were told they got that “good hair.” S*** had nothing to do with y’all.  Y’all can’t let the black woman be great

First of all, giiirl.  Who hurt you?!

Aside from the plethora of grammatical disappointments, this entire post is just disrespectful.  To natural women; black women; the community, in general.  It wreaks of the very racist language, the very divisive thoughts, that keep the natural hair community – the black community – at odds within itself; and therefore in a state of constant paralysis that disrupts our ability to step out of the slave mentality and into unified greatness.

Right.  Well, those were my initial thoughts, anyway.  But we should, of course, delve into the reasoning behind the words of this young woman.  Why would she take the time to write such a statement, and post it without shame or embarrassment?  I believe there is a deeper reason for her natural hair angst – or rather angsty anger.

This Thing We Call the Natural Hair Movement

Like a flood, natural hair rolled over the black community and a transitioning fad quickly turned into a teeny weeny movement.  Once it was recognized, there was an overwhelming acceptance of black hair in it’s natural state and black women everywhere turned their backs on the relaxer that, for so long, tamed our kinks and coils into slicked, straight submission.  Unlike the days of good hair, bad hair, women formed a community that was loving and accepting of all hair types and textures.

Nope.  Scratch that last part.

Division in the Natural Hair Community

With this movement came more opportunity for bias and division within the black community.  Sorry, I’m here to tell the truth, not spare your feelings.  See, my mind, after reading this post a few times, immediately thought, ‘this is colorism in a new form’; and I groaned internally at the thought that this could still be going on within the natural hair community.  Still.  Under a new(ish) name, but still the same.

Enter Curlism, the Neo-Colorism

Curlism is a term that describes the insane belief that a particular curl pattern is better than another.  That looser curls are somehow more attractive, more desirable, than tighter, kinkier, nappier curls.

Insane, right?

Because we all know that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results.

Ah, Albert.  You were wise beyond your years.

Believe it or not, curlism is passed around within our community like stereotypes on speed; and although it’s easy enough to identify, this belief is as old as slave culture, itself.  It has just remained in the minds of blacks and has taken shape as the neo-slave mentality.  Yes, even after the Civil Rights Movement.

We are better than this.

Coloring Outside the Lines

But what does this have to do with colorism?

Colorism: discrimination based solely on skin color and the social meanings or stigma attached to the shade of someone’s skin.

This is an old (tired) concept, stemming from the desire of slave owners and those who were as devoted to racism as they were their religion to divide slaves by deeming one group more desirable than another (field n****rs vs. house n****rs) based on skin color and hair texture; and the refusal inability of blacks who were no longer slaves to break free of this belief.  Because #StockholmSyndrome is a #struggle.  I believe that colorism (although it never quite dissipated from the midst of the black community) was exploited after the Civil War to keep the community controlled by division and intra-controversy.  So this belief was carried through the Civil Rights movement and survived the ages to rear its ugly head in the natural hair community.

The Neo-Colorism for the 21st Century, ladies and gents.

So an old tired concept resurrected into a new tired one.  You know… insanity.

Where Curlism Started

The new, or neo-colorism, was reincarnated in the natural hair community, specifically by Andre Walker’s hair-typing system – a reference guide created to differentiate curl patterns from the loosest curl to the tightest curl.  This took a movement that was supposed to bring strength and unity, and created further division within the natural hair community.  Why?  Because looser curl patterns were now seen as the ideal; and natural hair companies marketed their products as the solution to shrinkage and tighter curl patterns – you know, the less desirable ones.

Because History Always Repeats Itself

In the past, companies marketed perms to solve the “problem” of nappy, unmanageable, tighter-curled hair textures.  Now those companies made it seem as if having a looser curl pattern was the ultimate goal for natural hair growth.  You’ve seen the language on those product labels – promises to “elongate” your curls, “banish shrinkage”, and “create coils”.

This is not a new concept

So the hair typing system did not prove useful for helping naturals learn how to care for their hair – it simply put natural hair into categories.  As if we needed any more categories into which we could divide ourselves!

Social Curlism

From there, YouTubers and content creators competed for subscribers, likes, and views; and it became apparent that those with the more “desirable-type” natural hair (you know, type 3) flew to the top of the natural hair charts as relaxer-free women flocked to those channels and vlogs for hair care tips, advice, and inspiration.  The naturals with type 4 hair or higher would remain at the bottom of that list.  Why?  Because naturals (that’s right, the collective we) supported other naturals whose hair they wanted to emulate – the coily spirals they desired for their own hair.

That’s right, Ms. Buttafly; we did this to ourselves.

Right.  So now we have a plethora of natural hair “idols” or “superstars”, whose natural hair is looser, longer, and – by circumstance – whose skin also happens to be lighter.  And although there has been a more recent push for coarser-hair love and for naturals with this type hair to embrace their tighter kinks, we can’t seem to shake the stigma that raises some textures above others.

Enter the multitude of bitter-Betty’s within the community, like Tiffany Buttafly, who still feel that women like her can’t get any love from companies, social media, and other naturals because of the texture of her hair, and therefore because of the color of her skin.

Is Colorism Racism?

Deny it if you want, argue if you want, but this country was founded and built on principles of racism.  Therefore, like it or not, skin color will always serve as the most commonly used mechanism in determining how a person will be evaluated and judged.  Job interviews.  Job promotions.  Customer service.  Church appointments.  Educational Opportunities.  So while colorism represents how people are treated differently because of the lightness or darkness of their skin color, and influences the way black people view themselves and how society treats them; colorism is a form of racism.  And yet it is not considered racism.  One is not synonymous with the other; rather colorism is a symptom of racism.  It is that underlying doctrine that one’s skin color and hair texture makes one better (or not) than the other.  However, it is a doctrine that exists within the black ‘race’; not one that exists towards the black race.  Clear as mud, right?  You see, without racism, colorism wouldn’t exist; and because of racism, colorism is more than just an aesthetic.

Because there is no beauty in racism.

And colorism is the reason so many men and women see themselves and each other as better / or worse for being born with a certain shade of black.

Because at the end of day, we’re all a shade of black.

At the end of the day, we’re all black.

Does Colorism / Curlism Exist?

Oh yes, boo, it does.  

I am not going to use this post to pretend that having lighter skin does not give an unfair advantage to those who were born with a lighter skin tone.  I am not going to turn away from the fact that there are better opportunities, more access, higher status, and implied more attractive abilities associated most with those who have lighter skin; and that there are implicit disadvantages to being darker, socially, economically, and within the hair and beauty industry.  I live that truth.  Every. Single. Day.  #gottalovethesouth  But I’m not going to blame women with lighter skin for being born with lighter skin.  Or for how I’m treated because I have darker skin.

I will never forget that when we moved here and attended new schools with other children that looked like me, I was bullied by other children,… that looked like me.  I was abused emotionally and physically every day for speaking properly “like a white girl”, for having “good hair” that I fixed “like a white girl”, and for trying to “act white”.  And these accusations came from other black children.  And as I grew up and entered the workforce, I was told by adults who looked like me that I wasn’t “black enough”, wasn’t “really a black woman”, and that I thought I was “white”.

My point?  This deep-rooted self-hatred that was instilled into black people so long ago by someone who’s main goal was to keep black slaves divided and submissive, is one that is practiced today – post-slavery – by black people.  By us.  We hold on to colorism and curlism like some kind of badge of blackness.  #letitgo  And then we put other black people down who aren’t exactly like us.  Just like they did during times of slavery.  #slavementality

But Does She Have a Point?

Who, Tiffany Buttafly?  She definitely has a point, although her anger is misdirected and her feelings misguided.

First of all, no one has “hijacked” the natural hair community.  This implies that it is no longer a movement by and for black women.  All black women.  And the last time I typed ‘natural hair’ into my Pinterest search bar, black women popped up all over my feed.  All black women.  So the movement is still ours.  You know, black women.

Second of all, no one speaks for my natural hair but me.  If “mixed women” are spokeswomen, then they speak for themselves.  By saying this, Tiffany gives power to a group of people she doesn’t even know.  Over her natural hair journey.  Over her thoughts, her feelings, and her actions regarding her natural hair.  Hers.  This reminds me of that crazy-talk that enslaved Blacks and imprisoned Jews – ‘oh, they think they’re better than us, we’ll show them.’  No.



Natural, By Definition

Poor Tiffany has somehow lost or misinterpreted the definition of having natural hair.  Natural hair, by definition, is hair that has not been altered by chemical straighteners.  That is the simple basis for wearing natural hair.  It has nothing to do with how light or dark you are, or how your hair curls when wet.  There are various reasons that women choose to wear their hair in its natural state, and it is not up to any one of us to judge those reasons.  It is, at its core, a personal journey.  So telling fellow natural haired women that this journey has nothing to do with them maintains the same biased and separatist thoughts that Tiffany accuses “mixed naturals” of having.

Her speech has racist undertones and reeks of colorism.  She uses offensive and derogatory language (“mulatto“) to describe others that are the same as her – black.  And she does it to incite hatred towards a group of people who are more similar to her than she wants to believe.

What IS the world, Tiffany?!

A Deeper Curly-Root Cause

The sad part is that her rant reveals a deeper issue of self-hate that makes me feel sorry for her.  If she loved her own skin tone and curl pattern unconditionally, then it wouldn’t bother her to see a different skin tone and curl pattern being recognized.  She would, instead, recognize the similarities in all curl patterns and would appreciate that natural hair is now being acknowledged and accepted, when, for so long it was not. #loveyournaturalhair #loveyourself

I can’t even fathom her reason for posting this, except from a deep-rooted frustration that maybe her images or videos aren’t getting the attention she thinks they should.  So she blames those whose content seems to be more popular.  But I do know that by posting this, she is not helping the natural hair community.  At all.  She is, instead, causing further division.

::slow clap::

Good job, Tiffany.  You just took us back 20 years.  Again.

I Blame Us – the Black Natural Hair Community

“That’s right, I said it.” ~Kelis, from Kelis Was Here.

We are the ones clicking like and subscribing to the channels and images that climb to the tops of the natural hair vlogs and blogs.  We support those who we think are ‘better’, more attractive, whose hair we like more; and we are the ones who give more authority to certain naturals over others.  Other cultures are not “studdin” the natural hair movement, neither are they studdin which natural is more natural than the other natural.  That nonsense is all us, and until we put a stop to it, it will always be a thorn in the side of the natural hair community.

So How Do We Move Past This?

Just move.  Stop this.  It starts with me, it starts with you, it starts with a desire to change the way we think about each other, and ends the competitive nature that has plagued our community for way too long.  We should end up with more cooperation, less competition, and less division as a result; so it means that we stop seeing color, stop seeing curl pattern, and start seeing sisters and partners who walk the same path and follow the same journey as we do.  We build instead of tear down; click like on all channels that have positive things to say and teach – no matter how dark or light the skin tone, and no matter how curly or coily the hair texture.  We listen to the words and see less of the outside appearance – see more of ourselves in each other and less of a threat.

I know it seems easier said than done, but it really isn’t.  In order for other cultures to see us the way we want to be seen, we have to first see ourselves the way we want to be seen.  We have to see each other the way we want others to see us.     And we have to treat each other the way we want them to treat us.

Black lives have to matter to black lives, too.

Tiffany’s post does neither of these things.

You Can Make A Difference

Tiffany Buttafly, you are your own natural hair spokesperson.  Speak for yourself and be you.  Don’t buy into a new Colorism.  Don’t cosign for Curlism.  Instead, be an example of inclusive cooperation and the equality of all naturals.  #nocurlleftbehind  If you don’t think you see enough representation of your hair texture or skin tone out there, then put it out there.  Get your pictures out there.  Representation matters, so represent.  Get pictures and videos of your family and friends out there.  The only difference between you and those you think about more represented is the amount of inter-space they are taking up.  Don’t rely on these wishy-washy product companies to represent you – YOU represent YOU.  Let your children and coworkers and roommates see people that look like them, that look like you.  You may not be the most popular, or the most-liked; but you’ll be out there, and you will make a difference to someone who follows you and is touched by your authenticity and your realness.

Oh, and Tiffany, whose channels, images, and blogs are you watching and liking most often?  Remember that by watching, you support.  You subscribe.  How’s that beam in your eye?

So after all that, what do you think?  Weigh in below – but remember, this is a no-judgment zone.  Even if you disagree with me or someone else, I believe in your right to do so… respectfully, of course!

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