This year’s Curlfest was my first time in attendance, and I am eternally grateful such a movement was created for us curly-haired women of color. After walking from the subway station off of 125th and Lexington, a sea of melanated queens appeared from every direction, as the line for the shuttle bus to Randall’s Island Park in New York City quickly filled the sidewalk. A mixture of kinks, curls and protective styles accompanied by the smell of coconut oil and shea butter filled the air. It was beautiful to see unapologetic Black women (and men) coming together to celebrate natural beauty.
Curly Girl Collective is an organization comprised of five Black women becoming ‘natural hair’ advocates while dismantling societal expectations of what is considered “acceptable hair” in society. Tracey Coleman, Melody Henderson, Charisse Higgins, Gia Lowe, and Simone Mair held their first-annual Curlfest event in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park in 2014. With each year growing stronger than the last, Curlfest has become a worldwide attraction.
“The world’s largest natural hair festival” celebrated its sixth anniversary by relocating to Randall’s Island, a new venue located between the East River and East Harlem, with over 40,000 attendees freely expressing themselves and the texture of their hair. As I walked across the field, there was an overflow of women filling their tote bags with the latest haircare samples from several vendors and sponsors for the event. Shea Moisture and Crème of Nature had deep treatment masques for strengthening and repairing damaged hair, while DevaCurl shared tips for maintaining natural curls.
DevaCurl’s Brand Marketing Manager, Erin Williams, says Curlfest is a celebration for women to feel beautiful and appreciated for their natural hair. “For so long Black women were socialized to believe their “natural” hair was not beautiful or aspirational and therefore we manipulated our hair to create tresses that could be viewed as “socially acceptable,” said Williams. “Events like Curlfest allow Women of Color to be seen for all that they are. It is a celebration of melanin, texture and all the beauty that we were once told would never be the standard.”
The natural hair movement had more than one reason to celebrate at Curlfest this year. New York City recently passed a law banning policies that discipline Black people based on the hairstyles and texture of their hair. “To see it culminate and come together and lead to something as important as a law feels empowering in itself,” Curlfest co-founder Melody Henderson told Good Morning America. “But we’re also looking forward when it doesn’t have to be a law. I think it’s still a step in the right direction and speaks to why there’s a need for what we’ve been able to build.”
Although the movement was a positive step in the right direction for women of color, the policy also protects men of color from hair discrimination as well. Santos Andres Norales, a Bronx native with Honduran ‘Garifuna’ roots, says the new bill is a celebration of expression for Black men and women. “For centuries, people of color – specifically Black women, have been mistreated because of the color of their skin or the way they choose to style their hair,” Norales told Hiplatina.“Men and women will be able to express themselves without fear of repercussions or becoming socially outcasted.”
At the Empowerment stage, Listen to Black Women by Madame Noire, held a panel discussion highlighting the effects of colorism within the African-American community. While listening to these women share their experiences, I started to reflect on my own experiences growing up as an Afro-Latina in New York. I struggled to find acceptance within the Black and Latino community. My physical appearance was different from other girls and it made me feel even more of an outsider. The Latinas would judge me based on the color of my skin. I was considered another “Black girl” or gringa. However, the Black girls questioned my “blackness” because of the way I dressed or how I wore my hair. Unfortunately, colorism is something that continues to plague both the Black and Latinx community. However, Curlfest is the ‘saving grace’ we needed to help close the gap on colorism and the lack of self-acceptance a lot of men and women struggle with on a daily basis.
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Last Saturday I had the privilege of hosting a panel on colorism at Curlfest 2019. I can’t even explain to you how surreal that was. This is and has been the type of work I want to do with my platform. I thank @curlygirlcollective for giving us the opportunity to tackle such an important topic. I thank @madamenoire and @mswrightontime for trusting me to host it . To @chrishabrown @thebees_knees92 @brescullark and @deshawn.andrea.white thank you for being so vulnerable, insightful and authentic. Still on a high ✨✨✨✨✨ #listentoblackwomen #curlfest #curlfest2019 📸: @janiewillison