Hairitage: The Black Hair Conference

Shani Paul ’16 and Ida Kassa ’16

Last week I got the chance to participate in the 3rd annual Black Hair Conference here at Pomona College. The event, sponsored by the Pan African Student Association (PASA), started as a space to start dialogue about the politics of Black hair amongst the Black community from the Claremont Colleges and beyond. This year, the dinner/conference was at full capacity as hosts Chinasa Okolo ’18 and OBSA Staff member Jamaal Tolbert (CGU ’14) guided several discussions about the natural hair movement, the conclusions drawn by society about black people who have natural vs. relaxed hair or weaves, and the overall importance of black hair to the black identity.

To kick things off, there was a presentation and Q&A session by Joyce M. Nimocks, a senior and Environmental Analysis major at Pomona College. For her senior thesis, she conducted research on the political implications of natural hair for Black women living in the south side of Chicago and in Brazil. By studying the public health effects of commercial cosmetic products, such as hair relaxers, that have been marketed towards African-American women, she has been able to investigate the political, public health, and environmental impacts the Natural Hair Movementhas had on Black women across the globe. She has concluded that the distribution of these specific products is a public health issue. As a recipient of the 2015 Napier Award, a $12,000 prize that recognizes creative leadership and funds projects that advance endeavors for peace, social justice and environmental sustainability, she will be providing a series of workshops for low-income African-American women in Chicago to inform them of the toxicity of commercial cosmetics and teach them how to make beauty products with natural ingredients.

Senior Joyce Nimocks giving her natural hair presentation.

Afterward, there were many conversations about Black hair and how it is represented in society. Opinions and ideas were shared about conflicts in the Black community over the true meaning of what natural hair is and  how “Black” natural hair makes a person; about how many discriminatory initiatives there are against Black hair (like how women in the army are only permitted to have certain hair types); and even about how Black hair is perceived at The Claremont Colleges and in our society as a whole, sometimes being too criticized or too exoticized. No matter the varying opinions, I think that by the end, everyone in the room shared the same sentiment: everyone, including Black people, have the right to do whatever they want with their hair and should not have to endure judgment for it.

Overall, the conference was a big hit. Even among the people who attended,  it was clear how diverse the Black hair spectrum really  is, since the conference was attended by people with all different textures, lengths, curl patterns, and styles represented. Everyone who attended the conference got to enjoy a nice dinner catered by Bucca di Beppo, and got to take home a bag full of Black hair care products from all types of vendors. I feel the event created a more open space at The Colleges to speak about Black hair, and I think that everyone who attended the conference agreed that all Black hair is beautiful!!!

Some of the organizers of the event from left to right: Brittany Hughes ’16, Joyce Nimocks ’15, Marieh Scales ’15, Chinasa Okolo ’18 and Jamaal Tolbert (CGU ’14).