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#Black Hair + Books: “Dreads”

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

Beautiful book, beautiful style.

Beautiful book, beautiful style.


Did you think I’d run out of books for my “books about Black hair challenge?” Oh no, cornrow! I’m just getting started. Today’s entry is probably one of my favorite photo books, Dreads by Francesco Mastalia and Alfonse Pagano with an introduction by Alice Walker. Yes, this is a gorgeous coffee table book dedicated to the beauty and wonder of dredlocks, written and photographed by two Italian men.

I remember when this book came out in 1999 there was some shade thrown on Mastalia and Pagano, seeing as how they weren’t Black yet they were writing about Black hair. But here’s the thing, while many of the simple but lush black and white photos in this book do feature Black people and their dredlocks, there are also Japanese people, White people and Indian people among others, who also sport this ancient style. For some people their locs represent their cultural heritage, for others their dreds have religious meaning, for some it’s just a funky style. This book still makes me marvel at the beauty and versatility of hair left in its natural state. I still think dreds are kind of magical. And now I also want to do something exciting with my own locs. Maybe dip them in gold? Hmmm…

Peace + Hair Grease!

#WomensLives: 50 Years of Nigerian Hairstyles

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

Ojeikere's stunning hair photos are captured in a book.

Ojeikere’s stunning hair photos are captured in a book.

Not so long ago I shared with you that I would be highlighting some great stories about women around the world in partnership with PRI’s #WomensLives initiative. Well, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share this story, posted today, about the work of the late Nigerian photographer J.D. Okhai Ojeikere, who captured over 50 years of Nigerian hairstyles in stunning black and white photographs.

The hairstyles are amazing and each one is imbued with meaning. Many of them harken back to the styles my co-author and I wrote about in Hair Story, in the chapter about pre-colonial hair practices. In general, one’s hairstyle said something about one’s identity. So, a person with a lot of status in the community, for example, would have a very elaborate hairstyle, man or woman. On the other hand, a woman in mourning, would wear a very subdued style. Each family also had their own style that served as an identity marker. Viewing these pictures of Ojeikere’s makes me believe that the significance of the hairstyle has not changed much over the years. They are still clearly a source of identity as well as style.

Of course Black people aren’t the only ones who use the hair as a medium for identity messages. What about you dear readers? What does your hair say about you?

I’m listening.

Peace

Death in the World of Curls: RIP Titi Branch

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Miko (L) and Titi (R) Branch make curls look good.

Miko (L) and Titi (R) Branch make curls look good.

Many of you know that in my other life, I am obsessed with Black hair. I’ve written books, articles and essays about the Black hair experience in the United States. Many times I write about the business angle of Black hair because it is such a lucrative industry with some truly exceptional characters. One company I’ve been following for years is Miss Jessie’s, the makers of delicious-sounding hair products like Curly Pudding and Baby Buttercreme. I loved the two sisters behind the brand, Miko and Titi Branch, because they were turning their meltingpot upbringing into a positive force for change. The daughters of Black and Japanese parents, they always had trouble finding products for their hair growing up, so they created their own and international domination ensued. Well not exactly, but their popularity and products truly touched kinky, curly girls all over the world.

Well, I just found out that Titi Branch, has died. She was 45 years old. The reports are all over the internets and the newspapers. I wrote about her passing on HairStoryOnline. Feel free to check out the details over there. And feel free to tell me if any of you have a favorite Miss Jessie’s product? I’m listening.

Rest in Peace, Titi Cree Branch.

Peace!

Ms. Meltingpot Meets “The Bald Mermaid:” Sheila Bridges

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

That's me in the middle with panelists, Bridges(l) and Lise Funderburg(r)

That’s me in the middle with panelists, Bridges(l) and Lise Funderburg(r)

Last Thursday I had the wonderful opportunity to do a reading here in Philadelphia with the amazing Sheila Bridges. She is a well-known interior designer, TV personality and author. We were on a panel together where she spoke about her memoir The Bald Mermaid and I was reading from Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. The irony wasn’t lost on anyone that I was pontificating on the deep-seeded cultural and historical significance of our hair while Sheila was sharing her journey with alopecia, a journey that she ultimately conquered when she realized “it was just hair” and she decided to go proudly bald.

Even though I was on the panel with Bridges, I spent the evening enraptured by her style and story. I think she made everyone in the audience feel a little bit empowered to face our greatest fears and quite possibly find the courage to shrug them off. As one woman in the audience said during the Q&A, “You’re going to make going bald a cool trend.” I’m not sure about that, but I think she gave everyone a new and exciting version of what beauty looks like.

Even though I did write the book, at the end of the day, when it comes to our true essence, I have to believe that it is “just hair.”

What do you think? I’m listening and taking notes.

Peace!

Arise Media: News for the World

The show you should be watching on AriseTV

The show you should be watching on AriseTV

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Earlier this week, my co-author and I had the privilege of appearing on Arise360 to talk about Hair Story. What? You’ve never heard of Arise360? Well, then you heard it here first but don’t think it will be the last time. Arise360 is a daily entertainment and culture show on the new Arise Network which launched in early 2013. In Europe and Africa, the channel is available on cable. Here in the United States, you have to watch online. Yes, people, an entire new network was launched and sadly not a lot of people are aware of it. But I’ve been told by a little birdie that that’s about to change.

So, let me give you the 411 so you can be in the know, before the rest of the world. So, Arise is the brainchild of Nigerian media mogul, Nduka Obaigbena. He believed the world was more than ready for a media outlet that covered the world and not just the White and powerful. His products are gorgeous, informative, smart and multi-ethnic. The TV network is just the latest of many initiatives. Every time I page through Arise magazine or watch Arise TV, I am so thrilled that Mr. Obaigbena had the balls, brains and initiative to bring the world what it needs when it comes to fresh voices and colorful perspectives in the public sphere. We need that diversity in our news today more than ever.

Wouldn’t you agree? So, how many of you have heard of Arise? What do you think so far?

I’m listening.

Peace!

Happy Pub Day for Hair Story!

My baby gets a re-do!

My baby gets a re-do!

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

So, first, thank you all for your kind comments regarding my last post. It really warmed my heart to hear from so many of you.

Thankfully, many things are going well in my life, including everyone’s health. But what I’m really excited about is that today is the pub day for my new book! And when I say “new” I mean the updated version of my first book, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. (St. Martin’s). We added two new chapters covering the years 2001-2013 in the world of Black hair, an author’s note and a foreword by Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC fame. We were thrilled to see Slate.com run that foreword yesterday in its entirety. Not so thrilled by the ignorant comments written by a lot of people on the story. *sigh* But that ignorance is exactly why this book is needed. So, we carry on! Jump on over to my Hairstoryonline website to see some pics from the launch party in NYC last night.

Peace & Hair Grease!

Hair Story Gets a New Look!

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

I’m sure you all don’t want to hear all of the backstage drama that goes into getting a book published. Once the book is written and sold to a publisher it should be all smooth sailing, but no. There’s so much more minutiae that can make you wonder why you got into this business in the first place. Especially the perennial fight over the cover. Please ask any author you know if they had to fight to get the cover they wanted on their book and I guarantee you a large majority will say yes.

Well, there’s no reason to dwell on the negative, especially when there’s a happy ending to this Hair Story. Yes, we had a long drawn out fight with the publisher on what we wanted the new cover for the updated Hair Story to look like, but check it out on Amazon. You can see the new cover and pre-order if you’re so inclined.

We love the new cover and we hope our old fans and new readers will too. What do you think, dear readers? Would you pick this book off the shelf? What does this cover say to you? And please be honest. It’s better I hear honest critiques now so I can be prepared on January 28 when the book actually comes out. So, okay, I’m listening.

Peace!

Black Girl Hair Is Still “Unacceptable”

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Clearly you know I keep watch on all things Black hair related for all of my research for my book, Hair Story. But even if I wasn’t a certified hairstorian, I’d still be completely engrossed in all of the Black hair news being made this week.

First of all, one of the Black co-hosts on The Talk, Sheryl Underwood -who is also a comedian – thought she was being funny (I think) when she derided Heidi Klum for keeping her kid’s Afro hair as a keepsake. Not only did she say that Afro hair was nasty, she suggested that if a White person kept their children’s hair, that would be okay because White hair is silky and nice. What?!?! Poor Sheryl was called all kinds of names and publicly shamed all over social media for saying these things and taking the race backwards some 200 years. Here’s the clip:

Sigh.Clearly, I don’t know Sheryl Underwood and haven’t spent too much time watching The Talk, but the little bit of time I have seen her and based on her comments, the emotion I’m feeling right now is a deep sense of pity. Here’s a woman who wears a wig every day and clearly felt okay saying on national television that White hair is better than Black hair. What kind of person says that except one who has a deep sense of racial and personal inferiority? I don’t want to psychoanalyze someone I don’t know, but from where I’m sitting, her comments point to a little Black girl who never felt pretty and who internalized whatever negative comments she heard as a child. It’s just sad all around.

And speaking of sad, the attacks on Black hair just kept coming this week. Yesterday I read about a little seven-year-old girl in Tulsa, Oklahoma who was sent home from her charter school – a charter school run by Black people – because dreadlocks, Afros and Mohawks and other ‘faddish styles’ are unacceptable for a positive learning environment.   First of all, Afros and dreadlocks are not ‘faddish,’ they’re historic, culturally relevant styles, thank you very much. And second of all, what makes dreadlocks or Afros antithetical to a serious learning environment? Maybe if this was a dress code for White kids, because seriously, White people with dreadlocks always makes me do a double take, I’d see their point, but that’s not it. Once again, you have Black people so out of touch with their own history and culture that they want to demonize that which is our own and prize the imitation of European beauty/grooming standards. Dear Lord, how much damage was done during those 400 years?

So, I’m not saying this because I wrote the book, but will somebody please send Sheryl Underwood and the administrators at the charter school in Tulsa a copy of Hair Story:Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America? Education, it’s a good place to start.

That is all.

Peace!