being natural in kentucky

natural hair MEETUPS in ky?! NO WAY!

i’ve been meaning to write this entry since a few months after i moved back to kentucky from philly, but i guess it’s better that i didn’t do it so soon.  after being natural for two years and spending one of those years in louisville, ky, i’ve had a lot more time to really examine the experience.

so.  i’m from louisville, ky, born and raised.  i moved to philadelphia, pa in 2005 for graduate school, which didn’t work out on account of me absolutely hating everything about it.  i lived in philly for four years, and while i was there, i kind of went natural by accident.  i was still perming when i moved, but i was hesitant to find a stylist in the city  because A – salons (along with everything else) are WAY more expensive up there, and B – …i didn’t really trust anyone there to do my hair.  i’d always be on the lookout for somebody with supercute, thoroughly fried, dyed, and laid to the side hair so that i could ask them where they got their hair done, but never found anybody.  i was never the type that had to have a touch-up every 6 weeks; with a good flat ironing, i could keep it up pretty well, and that’s how i ended up falling into the transitioning phase: while i waited to find a good referral, i washed and flat ironed my hair every two weeks or so.  before i knew it, a year had passed, and then i was kinda like, ‘well, i guess i might as well just see where this goes.’

my last perm, in 2007

i don’t know that this could have or would have happened had i still been living in Louisville.  once i discovered that my hair was curly at the age of 18 (i got my first perm at 12), i got curious and kind of wanted to stop perming to see what my natural hair was like, but i was very hesitant because i knew i’d stick out like a sore thumb.  and though i was fine with doing that in college where i was one of like 30 black people, the idea of standing out too much among my own people kind of shook me.  which is normal for that age, i suppose.  but in Philly, natural hair was as common as relaxed hair, and seeing it everyday in the living world (and not just on tv in McDonald’s commercials) normalized it for me.  with so many diverse black folks in Philly, no matter what i did, i wouldn’t find myself in the margins, so it felt safe to do it there, and maybe gave me the courage i needed to do it.

but in Louisville, my security blanket would be gone.  when i decided to move back home, i was very mindful of kids i’d seen teased in school–because they had short hair, nappy hair, or (worst of all back then) short AND nappy hair; because they didn’t/couldn’t keep up their relaxers.  and i can count on two hands the number of people in my life who still believe in the existence of “good hair” (some family members included).  i didn’t know how Louisville had changed since i’d been gone, if it had at all, so i kind of expected this mentality to still be as pervasive as it was when i was a kid.  when i decided to be natural in Philly, i had to fight to accept this new vision of me that i’d find in the mirror.  when i decided to be natural in Kentucky, i had to prepare for others to reject this new version, because i just knew it was going to happen.  so there i was, David, polishing her rock, etching Goliath’s name in its side; Daniel, getting ready to go tell the lions to STFU already.  the good news is that in expecting this, i found an additional , stronger later of that steely resolve to be myself no matter what, which was awesome.

the better news is that when i got here, i found that  i didn’t need it.

and now we come to the meat of the story:  just what is it like being natural in Kentucky?  for me (and this is only my personal story), it’s amazing.  i do stand out, as expected, but that’s only because the visage of a black woman walking around with a big ol’ fro is relatively new here.  i get lots of questions and comments from people who just don’t know what it means to “go natural” or to have hair that you don’t process in some sort of way; lots of women ask me what kind of rollers i use to get the curls that i have, and are surprised when i tell them that i don’t perm my hair.  but i haven’t heard a single negative word about my hair, have noticed no dirty looks.  it’s actually quite the opposite–i think i received about 5 compliments on my hair, total, in Philly, but here?  it happens at least once a day, from all types of people.

and i did wonder how certain types of people would receive/respond to me.  what would my dating experience be in Louisville?  as visually driven as men can be, would the men in Louisville be interested in and attracted to a woman with natural hair, especially when most of the women in the city are relaxed?  what about white folks?  we kind of scare them already.. will this extra layer of blackness cause a bigger brew-ha-ha?  what do i do with my hair in the workplace?  will my hair work against me in interviews?

fro'd up!

the answer to all those questions, except the first one, is no.  most of the compliments that i get are from men.  and not all of them are from men trying to sweet talk me to see what color my panniedraws are.  most of the men who do compliment my hair are older, 40+, and they often reference a certain nostalgia–“that’s from back in my day!  i love seeing this again!”  and something else i’ve noticed…older white men really love it, which actually kind of… creeps me out?  LOL.  like what is this, you tryna live out your grandfather’s dark chocolate fantasies?? does the afro remind you of the good ol’ days?  are you calling me Kizzy in your head right now?!  lol.  my racial paranoia aside, it’s still pretty cool.  i also appreciate seeing men younger than me accepting natural hair, because the younger generation will probably be the last to really embrace it, i think, because it’s so hard to go against the grain when you’re yougn and trying to fit in with everything else around you.  it’s possible though.  i think it will happen in due time.

my experience with natural hair in the workplace has been favorable; i’ve only had one eye-rolling moment, and that came from a white woman in the office i used to work in who told me that i “look so professional now!” the one day i came to work with my hair straightened.  everyone else in the office (i was the only black person there) actually told me they prefer my hair natural and curly (not that i’d asked them, but, you know).  as far as landing jobs, my initial policy was straighten for the interview, then give them the Angela Davis on the first day of work.  then sue if they fire you.  on two separate occasions, i stayed up til the butt crack of dawn the night before interviews straightening my hair only to wash it right out, not pleased with the results.  i expected that my interviewers, who were both white, would keep me at a distance, thinking my hair “unprofessional,” but i was actually complimented by them both (and one told me how creative i was after i explained that i used the leg of a pair of pantyhose to pull my hair back before offering me the job).  so, no barrier there.  …so far.

the my absolute favorite response is the one that i get from other naturals, though.  it’s not rare at all for me to be stopped by natural haired women that i don’t know (or for me to stop other naturals that i see walking around in the city) and have a 30 minute conversation about hair.  there’s just so much excitement and kindness and interest in those exchanges–‘omg i love your hair!  how long have you been natural??  what do you use?!’    and i’m not really use to that; i don’t want to generalize or make any stereotypical statements about black women, but i will say this:  that never happened when i was relaxed.  could be because since that was the norm, it wasn’t really necessary.  but i kind of think that when everybody looks the same, it’s easy to find yourself in competition with the people around you in order to stand out, so you become critical and judgemental of others in order to elevate yourself a bit.  that’s a fancy way of saying you become a hater.  ‘ugh, her hair  is busted and disgusted.  she prolly think she look cute, too.  she need to fix that kitchen on the back of her neck!  and you see her shoes?  don’t even get me started on the shitty eyeliner job she got goin’ on.’  when i was permed, i got plenty of side-eyes, eye rolls , and baseless suspicion  from women i didn’t know.  and though i know that perms aren’t to blame for such behavior, and wouldn’t be so naive to think that natural women aren’t capable of this as well (cause lord knows yall/we are!), i’ve just noticed that it doesnt happen as much anymore.  or maybe going natural has just made me more secure, secure enough for me to not notice or care when it happens now.  whatever the cause, i’m in love with the effect.

i really think there’s a certain between women inspired by the common ground we share as ppl who have chosen to live and operate in the margins of beauty.  there’s kind of an unspoken respect, one that says ‘i see you and what you’re doing; i probably know what a struggle this has been for you, and i share the story; i commend you for your bravery.’  my experience as a natural here in KY has been something i never ever expected it to, and i love it.

there is a downside, though:  i get called Jill Scott and Erykah Badu waaaay too much for my liking.  but other than that, it’s been a dope ride so far, and i look forward to seeing the natural community in this city and state grow.  i met with a group of beautiful ladies to do some planning as far as things we’d like to see happen with natural hair here in KY, and we’ve got some great ideas.  forums?  expos?  parties?!  maybe!  please keep your ears open and keep an eye on Afroglitz (facebook page here), a natural themed online magazine based in KY, and the Derby City Naturals facebook page to get in touch with other KY naturals.  also, if any KY naturals reading this are on twitter, follow me at @BrokeyMcPoverty for information about tweetups in the future!

Ladies:  Tell me about your natural experience in cities/states you live in!  What’s it like?  How does it differ compared to other places you’ve lived/visited?  KY Naturals, i’m very interested to know how your hair experience in the state differs/is similar to mine.  please share!  come on and fellowship with us!

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17 responses to “being natural in kentucky

  1. GREAT post! I went natural when I moved back to Alabama in 2008, and I expected the same things you did. Happily, I also got the same response that you did: mostly, people love it. I also agree with you that fellow naturals tend NOT to be haters–just the opposite. Yay for natural southern gals!

  2. I did the opposite of what you did—I went natural in a place where it was rare and then moved to a place where it was common. I was living in Columbus, OH, a city with a substantial black population but very few naturals. My biggest concern was not standing out (black population aside, I already did that in most of Columbus) but finding a hairdresser that could be a kind of mentor. I got my first relaxer at 8, and all I remembered of hairstyling before that was pain and impatience. I could find people to straighten it, people to lock it or braid it, but there didn’t seem to be anyone who worked on just maintaining loose, natural hair. Just when I was about to give up, I came across the blog of a Columbus woman who wrote in somewhat narcissistic detail about every moment of every trip to the salon—which was perfect for me because it told me where to go, what to expect, and how much it would cost. As the only black person at work, I got a few awkward stares; the kind people give an acquaintance that’s just gotten a bad cut. I received one compliment, but it felt more like liberal guilt than anything else.
    I am now in DC, where half the women I see have some sort of natural style and virtually any (black) salon I walk into has someone who knows how to do natural hair. On the one hand, it’s nice to not have to worry—I wouldn’t think twice about going to an interview here after a wash and go, and I more or less blend walking down the street. On the other hand, that sense of celebrating myself as myself is kind of diminished when I’m just doing the same thing as half the women on the street.

  3. OMG!! I’ve never seen you in person (I prolly jus’ twasn’t paying attention) but I LOVE YO HAIR!! You are what I may have possibly been if I hadn’t loc’d…Jamaican daddy + (black + Cherokee) mama=kinky curly! #NoProductShoutOut LOL
    When were you in Philly? I just left there…I totally UNDASTAN’ what you are talmbout with the people there…just NO.
    Be lovely hun!

  4. From one kinky girl to another…your hair is GORGEOUS!!!
    I also live in a medium-sized southern town where natural hair is still relatively rare and I must also say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the number of positive comments that I’ve gotten about my hair. I will say, though, that the majority of the positive comments that I’ve gotten have been from black women and white men/women. Black men, not so much…ah well, can’t win ’em all I guess…

  5. even though i know some of this story, it almost made me tear up. thank you for sharing!

  6. First and foremost thanks for the shout out, that was very awesome of you!

    Secondly love your blog. I have checked it out before and didn’t even know it was yours, lol 🙂

    Lastly this post was very interesting. I was raised in Cali a land where everyone does their own thing even though the rest of the world is following Hollywood, must of us are busy trying to set the new trend instead of following it, lol. I have been natural and permed as an adult and when I decided to go natural this time I never really gave it a second thought. However when I started wearing my hair curly people started asking me questions which led to me creating DCN so that there would be a support for other naturals.

  7. I LOVE THIS POST! I wish we already had that security blanket here in Louisville, as you have. Unfortunately, it didn’t when I went natural. However, I’m optimistic and I’ll know it’ll get better. Hopefully, we can build it to where it eventually does. Although I would still want to keep the sisterhood that our situation has caused to stay in tact.

    Oh, and I’ve been called Kizzy before! LOL. I don’t mind that because Kizzy was fly as heck! I take that as a compliment.

  8. I live in the South too. So glad that Youtube was invented.

  9. Great article. I’ve been natural for over ten years. I’m never going back!

  10. First of all, I live in atlanta and I’ve been natural since I was 15. My hair was breaking so my mom (a cosmetologist) and I decided to fro me. I still color it red tho. I love the experience I have had with my hair. My boyfriend has very long hair and when he permed it I asked him what he thought of me getting one too. He said that he loves my hair the way it is. I work in a hotel, and I get so many complements from the guests. When I double strand twist it they’re amazed at the patience I exert to sit there and do it.

    I do have a supervisor that jokes he’s gonna take a flat iron to my head, but I know it’s just jokes. I had a job interview recently and my mom “advised” that I should press it (after I had spent hours twisting it 2 days before) and it caused an argument between us on professionalism and modern employment politics. I got a second interview, with my twists.

    Overall, my experience has been positive. I must admit I don’t do much with my hair, and your queeries as to perm rods and roller sets inspired me to buy some rollers the other day and I’ll be tweeting you the results. Lol.

  11. It saddens me that I spent the years that I did living under relaxers and hot combs. I remember the first time (about 15 years ago or so) I decided to go it natural, a friend came at me as the roots started coming in and told me to take care of that. It took about 2 years later before I did it again and I’ve never looked back. Mostly it was about delearning/deprogramming the word “nappy” out of my vocabulary and relearning the true word of natural. While I typically don’t regret past actions, I take exception to not teaching my girls early to love their hair. It’s OK though, my oldest is natural and loooooves it. Whenever I see her (lives out of state), I’m amazed how she’s embraced herself. I was worried when she went off to school (a private small mostly white college/town) she would go back but I think it was there she really embraced it all.

    And I think it’s funny how many compliments I get when I rock the curls and twists versus when I bring it down and pull it back /up. Who knew? LOL

  12. North Carolina has been a great place to be natural, the only flack I have gotten is from my grandmother when I had my first set of locs, her exact statement “Oh, you got dem thangs in yo’ head like your cousin.” I actually found it to be hilarious. Besides, she is old. When I first went natural none of my circle was, but now I think just about my entire circle has taken the leap… awesomeness.

  13. I can relate to your post 100%! I actually lived in Fort Knox in 2002 when I went natural (the 1st time!). It was a rebellious move toward my, now ex-husband, who hated my nappy hair. I remember working in Target as a cashier, in Elizabethtown, KY, and white women staring in disgust at my afro…it just caused me to rebel even more! I also worked in the Rocker on Fort Knox and everyone who came through the line always asked, “is that real?”, “where get that weave?”, or “can i touch it?”. Lol! I was happy with my new found freedom. Then I moved back to my hometown in Texas….Abilene was so not ready!! I heard all the Erykah, Jill, India Aires…I rocked my headwraps and fro with pride! A lot of people asked why I did it or asked for tips on how and then aaaall the negativity came! Black people here had such a problem with it. I honestly really didn’t understand such hate. They felt I was doing something wrong… And yes, the older men, white & black, absolutely loved it! Older black women as well…well I returned to the creamy crack for a little while but wasn’t happy, so in 2006, I chopped it again. Fellow Abilenians assumed I was gay because I cut it all off for a baby fro (???) yeah, that’s exactly how small minded they are here…fastforward…I started my locs in 2008. I very proud of myself for this because I have wanted them since I was 11, but I knew since puberty wasn’t on my side then, AND with some nappy hair (in ’91!) I would have been super miserable dealing any and everybody!! I have been growing them for 2 1/2 years now and I love them! I wouldn’t change anything about my natural journey! I will be moving back to KY in 2 weeks, so I hope to see some you ladies in Louisville!! BE BLESSED!!

  14. ms. brokey…u & ur hair is brutiful!

    i did the big chop in 08 and went back to the creamy crack about 1 yr ago…i am fit to get me some braids and do it again….but i am starting to gray so me and ms. clairol will still be down!

  15. I
    Can you provide a place I can get my hair two strand twist in the Fort Knox, Elizabethtown, Radcliff area or is Louisville the only option.

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