I just got back to the United States after spending a week in Haiti. While suitable drinking water may be in short supply there, hair salons are abundant. When I think about it, I shouldn’t be so surprised. After all, Haiti is populated by black women and as a black woman, there have been times when I’ve spent my last dime to get my hair done.
In Haiti, I saw a lot of braids and twists. And believe it or not, relaxers. Driving through the city, I was surprised to see hair salons with boxes of relaxers piled high in the front window. What I did not see was afros and natural hair. I had to look no further than the campus on which I stayed with my fellow missionaries to see that embracing one’s kinky hair in Haiti is no easier than it is here in the United States. One of the kids on the property is in the process of being adopted and was being watched by her future older sister. While most of the girls wore their hair plaited, twisted, or corn rowed, this one child wore hers up in a bun or straight and held down with a bandana.
When asked about her hair, we were informed that she claimed it hurt when people tried to braid it and that she will not wear it in a little afro or other natural hair because the other kids make fun of her when she does. Sound familiar? You probably know kids in your family, church, or neighborhood who feel the same way. And why shouldn’t they? They are probably (like this little girl) surrounded by older women who are also not comfortable with forsaking the relaxer.
To me it was truly amazing that even in the midst of such poverty and chaos, black women still adhered to a Western idea of beauty. I also saw one woman getting a sew-in. No joke. It all just re-raises the question of how we can go about getting women everywhere to embrace and love every inch of themselves, head to toe, beginning with hair.
The more younger girls see their older sisters, aunts, and mothers embrace their natural hair, the more willing they will be to do so as well.
The Haitian people have such pride in their country and their appearance as well. The plethora of hair salons and barber shops are just an extension of that ideal. It was good to see their love of hair, as it proved that while black people around the world may be separated by miles, language, and culture, we are forever united by our need to fit into a world dominated by whites and their idea of beauty and our own unique hair.