It’s Just Hair by Alicia K. Harris
“Every black woman has a story about hair, yet I have not seen a film like the one I am making right now.”
Filmmaker Alicia K Harris’ MAYBE IF IT WERE A NICE ROOM screens this Friday ahead of the Opening Night Film for the Toronto True Crime Film Festival. Her team is currently crowdfunding for post-production costs for her most recent project PICK. Learn about pick via Alicia’s essay below and support their campaign here.
By Alicia K. Harris
Nappy, untidy, too extreme, unprofessional, too poofy.
A 13-year-old South African girls protest for the right to wear their natural afro, after the school banned them for being “nappy” and “untidy.”
A 9-year-old American girl goes home crying, after the school threatened to expel her for wearing her afro, because it’s “too extreme.”
A 13-year-old Toronto girl is sent home from school because her afro was “unprofessional” and “too poofy.”
The message they’re sending to young black girls is this: your hair in its natural state is NOT acceptable, let alone beautiful.
Historically, “good hair” meant straight hair, because black women who were enslaved were not allowed to wear and show their natural hair. This idea is still being reinforced today and has resulted in countless schools bans on afros and natural hairstyles. School are supposed to be a safe, welcoming place, where our young girls can grow and glow. So why are we being forced to dim our light? To conform to someone else’s idea of “professional?”
IT’S JUST HAIR. We are more than our hair. This is something I’ve had to remind myself of—constantly. IT’S JUST HAIR. This is also something that has been said to me, by people who don’t understand how it much affects our lives and why I get so passionate about the topic of black hair.
It’s NOT just hair. It’s a big part of our identity and our culture. It’s our appearance. It’s the way we see ourselves. And unfortunately, sometimes it dictates how others treat us.
Every black woman has a story about hair, yet I have not seen a film like the one I am making right now, which is called PICK. PICK is a short, fictional drama about a young girl, named Alliyah, who wears her afro to school for the first time on picture day. The film follows her as she deals with microaggressions and racism from her classmates and teachers. When it comes time to take her personal photo, Alliyah is faced with the decision of wearing her afro or tying it up, like everyone suggests.
PICK is inspired by real events and conversations in my life: ignorant comments about my hair that were said to me as a child and things that are still happening now. How many of us have had our hair touched without our permission? How many times have we answered the following:
Is that your real hair? Can I touch it? Do you wash your hair? Can I touch it? Is it weave? Can I touch it?
IT’S JUST HAIR, I tell myself every time I get asked one of these questions. So why is it all they can see? I am more than my hair. This took me 12 years to believe completely. When I was younger, I had a huge, beautiful afro. As I got older, my hair became a huge source of frustration and insecurity. All of the “pretty girls”on TV were white and had long, straight hair. The “pretty girl” never looked anything like me.
So when I was 11 years old I got my hair relaxed (chemically and permanently straightened). And I was happy, because I finally had “good hair.” 12 years later, I started making this film. I went from having this hair insecurity my whole life and never talking about it to anyone, to talking about it all the time, to everyone. It was, and still is, really difficult for me. But it forced me to begin questioning why I had decided to straighten my hair in the first place. I confronted a lot of painful memories, which I included in the film.
One night I looked in the mirror and I realized something: after 12 years of straightening and manipulation, my hair was weak, damaged, and constantly breaking — but I am none of those things. My “relaxed” hair no longer represented me. So I did the big chop and cut it all off.
Now I have my afro back. At 25, I’ve returned to my authentic self, but I still vividly remember the emotional and physical pain felt by the 11-year-old girl who inspired the lead character in this film.
The girl who’d sit in that salon chair till her scalp burned from the chemicals, because she didn’t feel pretty.
I am making this film for her.
I am making this film so other young black girls won’t need 12 years to unlearn this self/hair hate that is imposed onto us from such a young age.
I am making this film to expose prejudice that others have about our hair, and to give a voice to our pain, a pain that is often overlooked.
I am making this film to educate about the deep impact microaggressions can have, especially on youth, in hopes that people will learn to PICK empathy over apathy.
RELAX, IT’S JUST HAIR, a white guy says to me. Not everyone can handle how passionate and angry I get about the topic. Not everyone understands the significant role hair plays in our lives. I believe this film will bring people a little closer to understanding our unique experience. A little closer to a world where we are free to glow, and grow, in our light, without persecution. No matter what hair we wear.
Just like my hair, I WON’T RELAX. I’ll continue to grow, UP. Spring back out when pulled. Refuse to shrink- be big, bold, beautiful, and black, just like my hair.