Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Saturday, February 24

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

« Tony Karman on Expo Chicago Finding Nemo 3D, Arbitrage, Beloved & Side by Side »

Performance Mon Sep 10 2012

LaNita Joseph on The Monologues of My Nappy Hair

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.

Dance92.jpgThis work was created as a result of your personal experiences -- was there one particular incident or a series of incidents that led to the idea for this show?

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.

GB store

ChelleSpoon / September 12, 2012 11:17 AM

Great article! I think as a kid, natural hair just wasn't "pretty'. All the pressing combs and the process of washing and braiding before the pressing was a pain in the neck for me and the person burning me! I think many women wanted relaxers because it made our hair more manageable. But since going natural I now know and appreciate healthy hair. My hair was so thin I should have never had creamy crack in my hair. My kids' hair is natural and I know how to make their natural hair look "pretty".

Donya / September 29, 2012 12:24 AM

This article was very insightful. I guess I could read it knowing I was on the 'right' side of the debate since I have 2 ft long locs! I am glad for the education about hair that allows readers to make informed choices, but I beseech us all to understand that nappy or straight, it is STILL a CHOICE.

GB store

Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


An Angry White Guy
AREA Chicago
ArchitectureChicago Plus
Arts Engagement Exchange
The Art Letter
Art or Idiocy?
Art Slant Chicago
Art Talk Chicago
Bad at Sports
Bite and Smile
Brian Dickie of COT
Bridgeport International
Carrie Secrist Gallery
Chainsaw Calligraphy
Chicago Art Blog
Chicago Art Department
Chicago Art Examiner
Chicago Art Journal
Chicago Artists Resource
Chicago Art Map
Chicago Art Review
Chicago Classical Music
Chicago Comedy Examiner
Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Daily Views
Chicago Film Examiner
Chicago Film Archives
Chicago Gallery News
Chicago Uncommon
Contemporary Art Space
Co-op Image Group
Co-Prosperity Sphere
Chicago Urban Art Society
Creative Control
Devening Projects
DIY Film
The Exhibition Agency
The Flatiron Project
F newsmagazine
The Gallery Crawl...
Galerie F
The Gaudy God
Happy Dog Gallery
Homeroom Chicago
I, Homunculus
Hyde Park Artcenter Blog
Joyce Owens: Artist on Art
Julius Caesar
Kasia Kay Gallery
Kavi Gupta Gallery
Rob Kozlowski
Lookingglass Theatre Blog
Lumpen Blog
Mess Hall
Neoteric Art
Not If But When
Noun and Verb
On Film
On the Make
Peanut Gallery
Peregrine Program
The Poor Choices Show
Pop Up Art Loop
The Post Family
The Recycled Film
Reversible Eye
Rhona Hoffman Gallery
Roots & Culture Gallery
The Seen
Sisterman Vintage
Site of Big Shoulders
Sixty Inches From Center
Soleil's To-Do's
Sometimes Store
Stop Go Stop
Storefront Rebellion
TOC Blog
Theater for the Future
Theatre in Chicago
The Franklin
The Mission
The Theater Loop
Thomas Robertello Gallery
Time Tells Tony Wight Gallery
Uncommon Photographers
The Unscene Chicago
The Visualist
Western Exhibitions
What's Going On?
What to Wear During an Orange Alert?
You, Me, Them, Everybody
Zg Gallery

GB store



A/C on Flickr

Join the A/C Flickr Pool.

About A/C

A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Nancy Bishop,
A/C staff inbox:



A/C Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15