Keeping it Natural
You remember Chicago native T’Keyah Crystal Keymah from her roles in the trend-setting show “In Living Color” or “Cosby.” Well, the outspoken actress has just released a new book, “Natural Woman/Natural Hair: A Hair Journey–Hairstyles and Hair Stories from the Front” and stars in the new live sitcom for the Disney Channel “That’s So Raven” with the former “Cosby Show” star Raven Symone, which premiers Jan. 17, 2003. She recently spoke with Final Call editor James G. Muhammad about her book.
JGM: Why did you, as an actress, want to write a book about hair?
TCK: When I first got to Los Angeles 12 years ago, no one seemed to know how to comb my hair. I didn’t think about it in terms of me being a unique problem for Hollywood, but in truth, I can’t name any African American actress with nappy hair that was in prime time television wearing their hair naturally.
JGM: They had problems dealing with your hair because you were the only one that showed up with hair that was pretty much just natural?
Correct. And they would look at me and go, “Your hair is so pretty. So we’ll just blow dry it.” I said no. “Well, hot comb?” No, no, no. They would come out and say you need to get a perm. No. This is it. This is my hair. And then when the show (“In Living Color”) started airing, I started getting letters. A lot of my fan mail was from women saying I love your hair. How do you do that? Teach me how to do that.
JGM: Why do Black women make such a fuss about their hair and then go to an alternative in terms of straightening instead of dealing with it in a natural way?
I think the documentary “400 Years Without A Comb” said it best, that in the Middle Passage we lost the knowledge of how to comb our hair. We’re not taught how to do it. Add to that, what I think by far is the greater problem, the preponderance of straight or processed straight hair in the media that says this is what’s attractive; this is what’s acceptable. If your hair doesn’t look like this, you are ugly. And we buy into that.
JGM: What does your book say about hair? What’s in it?
My book says you are beautiful however your hair comes out of your head. If it’s straight coming out, straight’s cool. If it’s nappy coming out, nappy’s cool. If it’s something in between, that’s cool, because that’s how it is supposed to come out of your head. That’s what the Divine drew for you. They’ll see styles for natural hair that can work on anybody. They will see twist styles. They’ll see braid styles. I have a few models with locks. There are a lot of people who think that if you lock your hair, that’s it. You don’t style it; you just wear it. But you can also style locked hair. There are a lot of different ways, things to do, if your hair is not processed.
JGM: Looking at your hair, I may say, well, you can talk because your hair’s not really nappy.
Yeah, because you see it in twists.
JGM: So your hair is coarse, it’s thick, it’s all of the problems that Black women normally have with their hair?
I know people with thicker, tighter, nappier hair. I have models of all kinds in the book for that reason. If you are using products that are for straight hair, your hair is not going to work as well as if you were using products for your hair; products that don’t dry your hair because our hair tends to be drier and it won’t be as easy to style if it’s dry, if it’s breaking, if it’s cracking.
JGM: If more Black artists in Hollywood did the more natural styles, what impact would that have on their accessibility to their craft since Hollywood searches for a particular kind of look?
It is a lot harder for me to get work from people who are intimidated, threatened, confused, etc., by the fact that I don’t straighten my hair. I have been told outright, I’ll hire you if you straighten your hair. I’ve been told outright, we really like you but your hair is so, I don’t know, it’s Ã‰ and they don’t want to say militant. So, yeah, I don’t have as easy a life as I would if my hair was straightened.
I wanted to work with a filmmaker and a star of a film once, so I accepted this really horrible role as a crack head. I’m sure part of the reason they hired me was because of my wild, nappy hair. I said, I need to talk to the hair person before I come on the set. What are you planning on doing with my hair? And she said just as I thought, oh, no, it’s fine just like it is.
So I told them I had a different idea. I was thinking of wearing it straight. And I got two reactions. First was, oh, why would you do that? And I explained my logic point blank. It was “Jackie Brown” and Quenton Tarrantino was the director. Quenton said, however you want to wear your hair is fine. I thought, what if they backslide when I get there? So I said to make sure that they can’t go back on their word, I’ll straighten my hair. I’ll come with it straight and there will be nothing they can do with it. When I showed up to the set someone said, oh, so you decided to try to make her look cute.
JGM: So hair is a symbolic statement?
Absolutely. The media paints Black hair as a negative thing and I disagree with that description. I think it is a positive thing and I think that it is a divine thing. It’s part of who we are. I am as offended with that definition as I am with it whenever I perform someone says, we love your acting but you need to wear some white makeup.
JGM: Do you deal with extensions or the “hair” that is being sold in these stores in your book?
Honestly, I don’t know how I would feel if African American people were manufacturing this hair and it was some sort of recycling of Black dollars. But it nauseates me that Black women, motivated by self-hatred, are giving outsiders millions of dollars every year. I didn’t want the book to be all about not being natural so I mention perms and such briefly. I mention weaves and extensions briefly, saying that that’s not what you are going to get here.
JGM: Would you say you just don’t like us having the extensions, having the blonde Ã‰?
Whatever people do, fine, because you have to live with yourself. I don’t tell people you’re bad, but to me, question why you do everything. And if you have extensions down your back because your hair is short and you think the long hair is pretty and short is ugly, how else might that be affecting your life? What you think is that you are ugly and probably your children are ugly and probably your parents are ugly and your siblings. Get rid of that thought and you’ll find that you really don’t need to have those extensions. It’s a concern on the level that you are pouring money out of the community for something that, if nothing else, should be ours.
JGM: Thank you.