But as God saw fit, everything fell into place this year. I went with my sister, her cousin, some friends, and some friends of friends—we had quite a large group. Now, my sister is a pro. She has been almost every year since the festival began, and we spent months planning our itinerary. I knew exactly where I wanted to eat and in what order I wanted my meals, lol. I had been to New Orleans before, but never to Essence. So, the first thing I wanted to do was get some chargrilled oysters. I don’t know what they do to them in New Orleans, but they’re just not the same anywhere else.
We got up early and hit the road to beat the traffic. I’m normally not the best road trip buddy (I’m normally asleep before we hit the highway), but I stayed up the entire ride this time around; I was too excited to sleep, lol.
One of my favorite moments was at the hair expo. Picture being surrounded by thousands of beautiful black women rocking every hairdo you can imagine…in a space where black hair is appreciated, loved, celebrated and respected. It made my heart smile.
There is a lot of criticism and even hate surrounding black hair (coming from society as well as from within the black community). So, seeing black hair celebrated in this manner was a special moment for me. My favorite booth was Shea Moisture—their display was so beautiful. I loved how they walked you through the history of black hair styles, showing the evolution and creativity of black hair. They also had a bomb photo wall with different braids hanging down and their logo in the center. It was amazing.
But it was at the Dove booth where I learned about the Crown Act. In 2019, Dove, The National Urban League, Color of Change, and the Center for Western Law and Poverty co-founded the Crown Coalition. From there, The Crown Act was born, which fights against workplace discrimination against natural hair styles. The Crown Act has been enacted in 7 states, but these companies continue to advocate for it in other states.
Knowing that people’s livelihoods have been compromised yet again because of racism and prejudice just blew my mind. I just can’t comprehend how someone can equate braids, dreads, or a fro with being unfit to perform professionally. Does the white girl with the big messy curly hair get the same reaction? Or how about the white girl with the “Boxer Braids?” No. A white girl in “Boxer Braids” would be acceptable or even trendy. And that just makes my blood boil!
The Struggle is Real
As someone who has struggled with embracing my hair as a young girl and even during my natural hair journey (which started in 2008), it reminded me that not only is there still so much progress to make with racial discrimination, but also in the changing the narrative in the black community around natural hair.
I remember when I first went natural. I was obsessed with having the perfect bouncy curls with the slicked down edges: you know, the “good hair.” Well, that takes a lot of work and manipulation with my extremely coily 4C hair. But as my sister always says (and she is very quick to correct someone): “There is no such thing as good hair, just different hair textures.” Kinky hair is not bad; it’s different! And that truly is the beauty of black hair—all the different textures and styles. Whether it’s with our natural hair, braids, weave, dreads—we can do anything with our hair. They are all beautiful and should all be embraced and loved equally.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with altering your hair. Like most black women, I’m quick to change my ‘do. Sometimes you just want something different and new. Hair is a huge part of self-expression for black women, and I love that about us!
Keep Your Hands (and Questions) To Yourself
But what annoys me to no end is coming to work with some basic braids or anything other than my fro and being swarmed with questions from my non-black coworkers. I get the, “Oh wow, your hair…how did you get it to do that? Did you do it yourself? How long did it take? Where do you get the hair from? Does it hurt? Can you wash it?” OMG! I’m like, “Damn! Do you want to know the results of my last Pap Test too?!”
And when I say basic, I mean the most basic box braids—no color, no triangle parts, no curls. I’m talkin’ simple shoulder-length box braids. Nothing exciting about them at all. But the most infuriating question of them all is, “CAN I TOUCH IT?” NOOOOOOO YOU CANNOT! I thought Solange already broke this down for y’all. I don’t want your dirty, greasy hands rubbing my hair like I’m the cute little pony at the petting zoo. Now, I understand that there are some black women who are not offended by having their hair touched; some may even encourage it. I am not one of those women. It’s just not that difficult to comprehend.
I’m proud to be a black woman, and I embrace the beauty of my kinky hair and chocolate skin. I’m thankful that I was able to experience the Essence Festival—that I was able to celebrate so many parts of black culture with so many amazing people. Sometimes we need to be reminded of how wonderfully beautiful and powerful we are, and that’s exactly what this experience was for me. It was a reminder to boldly and unapologetically love everything about myself and my culture.