Brenda's World at Trinicenter
Reclaiming My Roots  
June 8, 2001  
Recently, I broke away from the chemical plantation, releasing the thirty-year shackles that enslaved my pocketbook and consciousness---the previous thirteen years, my mother fried my hair with Dixie Peach hair grease and a straightening comb.

Many African Americans' perceptions of style and beauty manifest into self-hatred behavior against our natural state by slapping chemicals onto our hair. My natural hair was perceived as too thick, too curly, too bushy, time consuming, maintenance intensive and restricted my hair style choices. Such perceptions disguised true beauty with materialistic values. On the contrary, natural hair personifies natural beauty.

This liberating epiphany has resulted in freedom from all day sojourns to the beauty parlor and most importantly reduced health risks from chemical exposure [e.g. curling irons and burnt scalp to name a few].

During the relaxing process, the stylist puts on GLOVES, spreads protection around the hairline, and then applies the chemical into the hair. Common sense should have told me that if the chemicals were too strong for the stylist's hands, what did I think it would do to my porous scalp!

There are three types of active chemicals used in relaxers: sodium or potassium hydroxide, (AKA LYE, potash), guanidine hydroxide (less damaging than lye, but just as lethal) and thioglycolates (least damaging of the three). When chemicals are applied to the unprotected scalp, the skin absorbs their properties into the blood stream. Ingestion of lye causes severe abdominal pain, as well as serious damage to the mouth, respiratory system, throat and digestive tract.

I wonder what adverse relationship these chemicals (including the highly concentrated mixture of their fumes and other chemicals in the salons) have with various diseases effecting African American women. Ethically, this industry has shown little responsibility to the African American community. Evidence of this behavior is also demonstrated in retail store relaxer kits without child safety tops or age restricted purchases. I am unaware of any scientific studies, which have quantified the effects of the relaxing processes to vital organs of consumers. Such evidence is necessary for consumers to understand the public health risks associated with these products.

Statistics reveal that African American women visit the salons about once every three weeks, while Caucasian women visit once every 7 to 8 weeks. These statistics are not valid for me as I visited the salon religiously every two weeks. The average cost of my salon visits were about $60.00 per month for 360 months (30 years), which equals $21,600. If $60 were deposited monthly into some account at a mere 6% compounded monthly for 30 years; it would have yielded $60,000. Better still, if $60 per month had been invested in Wal-Mart Stocks (IPO occurred about 25 years ago) for the past 30 years, it would be worth millions of dollars today.

My indulgence (along with many other sisters) in chemically processed hair fueled a multi-million dollar industry. Softsheen (L'Oreal), African Pride(Revlon) and Johnson Products (Carson) are the three major manufactures of relaxers enjoying the fruits of my illusion. Gia Clinkscales, senior vice president of marketing for New Rochelle's (in NY) African Pride states that, "We (African Americans) tend to buy more beauty products and we tend to be less price-sensitive than the general market." (

I feel so liberated and free.

This change to my natural state celebrates my spirit of love and respect for my ancestors and myself. My commentary is not intended to ridicule my sisters who have chosen an unnatural chemical state for their hair; they must follow their own bliss.

Madame C. J. Walker, the first African American millionaire, entrepreneur and philanthropist, made her fortune retexturing natural hair so that it was more manageable. She developed a line of cosmetics; hair-care products and is credited with inventing the straightening comb.

I believe that we must be conscious of the signs and symbols projected by our outer appearances. Our daughters pattern their lives after us. Straightened hair sends powerful messages to their psyche.

The entities that define "beauty" are concerned with profits, not with the effects of the chemicals on our bodies and minds. This corrupt value system does not, will not and have not given African American people anything worthwhile. The more we are tuned to nature, the better and simpler our lives become. Reacquainting myself to my natural hair is like re-discovering an old, lost and dear friend---now that I've found you, I'll never let you go.


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