The daily struggle for natural hair is not the wash routine, which can be a stressful event. It’s not our wash routine that has become frustrating and annoying. Although comments and questions may appear harmless in some cases, they can be microaggressions when considered in context. We compiled nine potentially offensive phrases that you should avoid using with people who have natural hair. The one thing you should say instead.
1. “How often do your hair get cleaned?”
This is one of the most common questions regarding natural hair. You should not ask anyone about their hair care habits, natural or otherwise. This question is frequently directed at Black and Brown communities, and feeds into stereotypes about these groups’ poor hygiene. Natural hair gal, we will answer the question for you. There are many wash routines that can be used. It all depends upon hair type, hair texture, and buildup (aka porosity). On average, curly and coily gals wash their hair one to two times per week.
2. “Can I touch it?”
Alexa, listen to “Don’t Touch My Hair” from Solange. Natural hair can make people feel like animals in a zoo. This is the million-dollar question. We are not your doggo, or a velvet couch. You can only look, but you must not touch the museum’s signs.
3. “Wow, that is so soft!”
You’ve failed #2, and you now are giving a backhanded compliment. Ugh. Why the phrase is offensive? “I don’t know how to respond to this half of the time. Do I take it as compliment, because it’s not rough? Or should I be offended?” This is another negative misconception about natural hair.
4. “Your hair looks better straight.”
People can be so bold. This phrase can be used in many ways. It may imply that straight hair is better than wavy, curly, or coily hair. Time and again, history has proven that hair should not be straightened or twisted. Many people still experience hair discrimination at work, school, and within their own circle. These comments, which include ours, are why it took so long for me to join the natural hair movement. You can compliment someone’s hairstyles by saying “Love the haircut!”
5. “I love you better because you have natural hair.”
It doesn’t make it a nice compliment if you have “better” compliments. This comment was frequent from Sengwe when she went on dates. This is a common comment we get from men. She explains that natural hair can give the impression of being low-maintenance. “But one trip at the beauty supply shop and one wash day usually shave all that down.” Take “better” out your vocabulary. You don’t have to compliment or flirt with someone just because they like one style.
6. “How can you achieve it like this?”
Natural hair seems like a new style or concept for the 21st century, based on this question. Hair comes in many sizes and shapes. It all depends on genetics and a regular wash routine. Magdaline Hurtado founder of Hello Updo says, “I reply with ‘water’.” “My hair is curly. It is amazing how many people believe there is only one texture. They expect me to tell them it’s permed, but half of the time they don’t believe it is real.”
7. “Are you mixed up with anything?”
Red flag. This one is filed under microaggressions 101. Some believe that Black and Brown communities cannot have healthy, long hair. These “good” qualities are often exclusionary of these communities, and they believe that only white people can have such hair characteristics. “Because my hair is so long, people assume that I am part Indian or Spanish…because that seems to be the only plausible explanation for why I have retained that length. This is not true. Black people can grow natural, long hair even if they aren’t mixed.”
8. “Does your hair grow?”
Natural hair is often thought to be very difficult to grow. Natural hair suffers from hair loss and growth problems just like everyone else. This question can cause someone to be defensive, or insecure, about a situation that is beyond their control. Chabreah Alston a licensed creative arts therapist, said that this question is very insensitive, especially when it concerns shrinkage. “It makes me feel like a person who has to explain and prove my self,” she added.
9. “Is this your real hair?”
This question, along with “Is it all your hair?” is extremely problematic. This is another example of stereotyping that Black and Brown people cannot have “real hair”. These communities are often associated with using extensions and wigs only. These protective looks and styles have been a common feature for many, but we also have the option to wear our hair natural. Both options are 100 percent acceptable and your choice. “Every time that I do my hair, people ask me if it is mine. They then proceed to tell me how lucky they are or if I wish they could grow my hair like that.”
Some honorable mentions ….
These quick-fire questions don’t need context, as they speak for them selves. These questions can come across as rude and dangerous, no matter what you say. These are not necessarily bad things. However, they do call for more discussion.
- “Your hair is so big!”
- “You are so brave to wear your hair this way.”
- “Does a brush/comb ever get stuck in there?”
- “Your hair is not professional/cute/etc.”
What to say instead?
First, don’t comment on anyone’s appearance. This is especially true if you don’t have the same energy for other hair textures and types. Admire other styles from afar. If you really want to compliment your, “I love yours!” It’s easy to say “Your hair looks amazing today,” without implying that your natural hair is exotic or out-of-place. You might also be interested in how someone makes their hair soft, long or clean.
One more thing: Never touch the hair of a woman. Ever.