Assata Shakur On Natural Hair

Written By: Elsie Law - Feb• 11•16

Assata “One day a friend asked me why I didn’t wear my hair in an Afro, natural. The thought had honestly never occurred to me. In those days, there weren’t too many Afros on the set. But the more I thought about it, the better it sounded. I had always hated frying my hair- burnt ears, a smoking straightening, and the stink of your own hair burning. How many nights had I sentiment trying to sleep on curlers, bound with scarves that cut into my head like a tourniquet. Afraid to go to the beach, afraid to walk in the rain, afraid to make passionate love on hot summer nights if I had to get up and go to work in the morning. Afraid my hair would ‘go back.’ Back to where? Back to the bevel or Africa. The permit was even worse: Trying to sit calmly while lye was eating its way into my brain. Clumps of hair falling out. The hair on your head feeling like someone else’s.

And then I became aware of a whole new generation of Black women hiding under wigs. Ashamed of their hair- if they had any left. It was sad and disgusting. At the time, my hair was conked, but the hairdresser said it was ‘relaxed.’ To make it natural, I literally had to cut the conk off. I cut it myself and then stood under the shower for hours melting the conk out. At last, my hair was free. On the subway the next day, people stared at me, but my friends at school were supportive and encouraging. People are right when they say it’s not what you have on your head but what you have in it. You can be a revolutionary-thinking person and had have your hair fried up. And you can have an Afro and be a traitor to Black people. But for me, how you dress and how you look have always reflected what you have to say about yourself. When you wear your hair a certain way or when you wear a certain type of clothes, you are making a statement about yourself. When you go through all your life processing and abusing your hair so it will look like the hair of another race of people, then you are making a statement and the statement is clear. I don’t care if it’s the curly conk, latex locks, or whatever, you’re making a statement.

It was a matter of simple statement for me. This is who I am and this is how I like to look. This is what I think it beautiful. You can spend a lifetime discovering African-style hairdresses, there are so many of them, and so many creative, natural styles yet to be invented. For me, it was important not just because of how good it made me feel but because of the world in which I lived. In a country that is trying to completely negate the image of Black people, that constantly tells us we are nothing, our culture is nothing, I felt and still feel that we have got to constantly make positive statements about ourselves. Our desire to be free has got to manifest itself in everything we are and do. We have accepted too much of a negative lifestyle and a negative culture and have to consciously act to rid ourselves of that negative influence. Maybe in another time, when everybody is equal and free, it with only matter how anybody wears their hair and dresses or looks. Then there won’t be any oppressors to mimic or avoid mimicking. But right now I think it’s important for us to look and feel like strong, proud Black men and women who are looking toward Africa for guidance.”

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