Trauma, Tresses, & Truth: Untangling Our Hair Through Personal Narrative

TT&T is an anthology of African American & Afro Latina authors relating their true, often shocking encounters while wearing natural hair (forthcoming in 2022 from Chicago Review Press). It was turned into a virtual conference in August 2021 featuring 36 speakers over two days.

  1. Literary Arts
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  3. Social Justice
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  5. Arts & Culture
  • People…write books about baseball, and people can intellectualize the discussion around baseball. So if you can do that, why not Black women’s hair, which has a history, which has political meaning, which is so deeply layered, and which I think the world doesn’t know enough about?  – novelist Chimananda Ngozi Adichie is axiomatic that if we do not define ourselves for ourselves, we will be defined by others—for their use and to our detriment. — writer and civil rights activist Audre Lorde In her essay “Is Your Hair Still Political?” Audre Lorde explains how an immigration officer’s objections to her dreadlocks nearly cost her a vacation in the British Virgin Islands. Natural hair, whether in the form of braids, afros, dreadlocks, or other natural styles, has always been political. Unfortunately, despite being well into the 21st century, the response to Lorde’s question is a most disheartening, definitive Yes. Black women’s natural hair remains political and persecuted. Writing—which, in this instance, I also conceive as narrative healing—about disquieting, mystifying, sometimes droll experiences vis-à-vis black women’s hair illuminates two conundrums: first, the absurdity of trying to enforce white haircare grooming standards on African American women; and second, the muted but invasive means by which society shames our natural hair from infancy through adulthood. From grammar and high schools to corporate boardrooms and military squadrons, Black and Afro-Latina natural hair continues to confound, transfix, and enrage members of White American society. Why, in 2021, is this still the case? Why have we not moved beyond that perennial racist emblem? And why are women so disproportionately affected? Why does our hair become most palatable when it capitulates—and has been subjugated— to resemble Caucasian features as closely as possible? Who in our society gets to author the prevailing constitution of professional appearance? This book, TRAUMA, TRESSES, & TRUTH: UNTANGLING OUR HAIR THROUGH PERSONAL NARRATIVE, grows out of one of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ (colloquially known as AWP) renowned conferences; in this particular instance, the 2020 conference that convened in San Antonio, TX. I had proposed a panel on this topic and was delighted when it received an invitation, especially because I had only attended AWP once before, in 2019. At my panel’s presentation, we enjoyed a standing-room-only crowd of highly diverse attendees, overwhelmingly women, though several brave men made their way in. Contributors in this collection are African American and Afro Latina authors relating their often shocking real-life experiences through personal essays. Particularly relevant during this time of emboldened white supremacy, racism, and provocative othering, our work explores how writing about one of the still-remaining systemic biases in schools, academia, and corporate America might lead to greater understanding and respect. The book will include an appendix consisting of a resource reading list and a study guide appropriate for senior high school and college students.