It Gets Hairy. Then It Gets Better

Judy Sirota Rosenthal PhotoSalwa Abdussabur couldn’t breathe. For months on end, she had been straightening her hair almost daily. Inch by inch met the fiery mouth of the straightener, curl by curl flattened. Now, brittle ends were breaking off and crumbling in her hands.

With each straightened-out morning, a painful history was invoked: Garret A. Morgan’s 1913 concoction, cooked up to knock the texture and curl clear out of a natural follicle. Lye relaxers. No-lye relaxers that still caused fibroids. Hot straighteners, like the one Salwa (pictured) was using, which fried her curls as they flattened them. A history of white hair, pushed on a beautiful girl who felt pressured to give in to it. 

It was time, she realized, for a radical change in self-understanding and self-acceptance.

The New Haven teen wrote a poem about it:

I can’t breathe

I can’t


Sorry it’s just
I just can’t breathe
Through the thick black aroma
This chalky pungent taste of
Worst than second hand smoking
A smell that won’t affect your health but effect your self confidence
Make you addicted
” I can’t look pretty with out my cooked hair”
But you be saying that when you hair becomes air

I can’t breath
The Garnier Fructis sleek and shine hair spray
The highly concentrate Viva la Juicy
And Calvin Klein
And it makes my nose flare
And all I want to do is
*pause* breath

I can’t see you
I can’t see you through
Your fine polished hair dangling over your shoulders
Limp and lifeless
Through you 100% Indian weave
Plastic press on nails
And caked over make up
Maybe she’s born with it
Maybe it’s maybilne
Why does it matter
Making it seem like looking pretty
Is being white with just the right touch if black
Because black features look better on white
Than it does on it true owner
Plastic surgery
and silicone chest
You must be off the cover of cover girl magazine
Cuz these cover girls cover there face like there too ugly to be seen

And pains mean to see
Girls making there face
Wearing there mask like there insecurities
They never walk out the house without them
It’s consuming yourself confidence
Hindering your common sense
Boxing it away your beautifully crafted treasure box
To be ship off to a see of stolen boxes
Full of every girls who though there selves away
Only to be left with there mask

Salwa read the poem on “Mornings with Mubarakah,” the weekly WNHH program hosted by her mother, Mubarakah Ibrahim.

The episode focused on black women and natural hair. Salwa, Ibrahim, and guest Hanan Hemeen told stories and mined the deeper issues behind fashion choices. To hear the full episode, click on the audio above or find the show in iTunes or any podcast app under “WNHH Community Radio.

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