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Performance Mon Sep 10 2012
For dancer and filmmaker LaNita Joseph, when it comes to African-American women and hair, there is no room for "relaxers"; "I think all black women should go natural," she said. Here, Joseph, founder and artistic director of the Anita Davis Dance Theater, talks about The Monologues of My Nappy Hair, a "dance drama" that addresses and challenges the standards of beauty and image in today's society.
I would say a series of incidents over the years -- ever since I've been black... [Laughs]
There has always been a rich cultural history surrounding African-American hair and hairstyles -- as these discussions have evolved over the years, what kinds of things have you noticed? Do you think things are better?
I think they're a little bit better. I think our history with our hair has been a roller coaster -- but I don't think it's been the best it's ever been since before slavery or during the Civil Rights Movement, which is probably when natural hair was the best. But natural hair and loving blackness is slowly but surely coming back.
Lately, when it comes to natural hair, it's often referred to as a "trend" or a "movement" -- do you agree with those terms?
I do think that it's a little bit trendy today but whatever it takes for people to love their natural self, I'm OK with. I like the term "movement" better than I like "trend" because trends are like fads -- they go in and out -- and movements are more like a revolution. But I do think it's trendy in that people are really into the idea of going on their "hair journey" and posting pictures of themselves along the way.
Speaking of pictures, today, there are many blogs, magazines, etc., dedicated to natural hair, inciting, in some instances, "hair wars," with very heated discussions against women who chemically straighten their hair. What are your thoughts?
That's a good question. Unfortunately, to me, that's the slave mentality to go against each other or go to "war"; I mean, we're all in the same boat. It's very important that as women, especially women of color, that we affirm everyone even though we have different belief systems. However, chemically processing your hair is bad for you in a lot of different ways -- if you wanted to be healthier, you would no longer relax your hair. To wear your hair natural is a statement of loving blackness and loving self -- it's one or the other -- you're either upholding the notion of white standard of beauty or you're upholding loving blackness.
For the black women reading this who relax their hair and say, "I'm proud of my blackness" or "I love black people, too," how would you respond to them?
I would say I don't doubt that you love black people and you like black history; however, it is the notion of white supremacy that is deeply embedded into our culture. Sure they can love black people, but I think that they've been conditioned like all of us have in some sort of way. If a person was really proud of their natural hair, they would wear it -- period.
For many African-American women, intra-racial comments about black hair are usually deemed more disturbing than the interracial ones; this notion was perhaps truer than ever with the recent firestorm surrounding the comments made about Olympic gold medal winner Gabrielle Douglas and her hair. While this was going on, what ran through your head?
My head was in a lot of places -- my first thought was, "Who said that?" The first thing I did was look online to see if I could find a root statement of whoever said it, which I could not find and I wondered if it was a little bit of a conspiracy or if it was actually factual. If it's the case that someone said that, which is so ignorant, I believe that black women, when they see themselves on TV, they feel like they're being represented and they want to be represented the best way they know how. Then I thought even deeper into it and said, "Wow -- these women who are talking about her don't have much self-esteem about themselves." She's 16 -- she's a child -- but sometimes, when people see others doing well and in a better position, they try to take them down or they try to pick at something. To me, I thought her hair looked fine.
When it comes to the big screen, two popular works about black women's hair tackled the subject: In Spike Lee's School Daze, it was "good and bad hair" and more recently, Chris Rock addressed an addiction to "creamy crack" in his documentary, Good Hair. Did either of those films impact or affect you in any way?
Yes. First, I love Spike Lee -- I make films as well and I think he's just phenomenal. I saw School Daze a long time ago and I can definitely relate. And Good Hair just gave a lot of information about relaxers. [Rock] took a very neutral stance in not pushing one way or the other -- as opposed to me--I'm probably not neutral at all. But he did a really good job of letting people know, not the history behind it, but letting people know about the health concern of relaxers. One part of his movie that was interesting was when he put a can into the relaxer and it completely ate the can. I thought that was really powerful because I thought, "Wow -- all of these women are putting this on their hair -- literally breaking the bonds of their hair."
The Monologues of My Nappy Hair combines dance and drama -- what will the audience see?
It's a phenomenal meeting of modern dance and really fun stories mixed in with a really good message. People will see really beautiful, powerful, and intricate modern dance movement as well as these really funny actors and actresses talking about different hair stories. It'll be all different types of people with all different types of hair. Also, it will have several things in it I would say most black audiences have never seen before.
What do you want the audience to take away from this performance?
I want people to walk away knowing they learned a little bit more about society and life, and to ultimately know that everyone is absolutely beautiful the way they naturally are.
See The Monologues of My Nappy Hair Friday, Sep. 21 at the Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee; show time is 8pm and tickets are $10-$35. For more information, call 773-807-3546.