April 13, 2016
Edmonton had its first ever natural hair show this past Saturday – featuring speakers like CBC’s Portia Clark and vendors like local hair care company B’n Naturale – showcasing and discussing all the ins and outs of Black hair, with poets Ahlam Sadik and Medgine Mathurin opening and closing the show respectively. The event was conceived and carried out by Osas Eweka and her team of volunteers, and it was a breath of fresh air to walk into the venue at Boyle Street Plaza and see everyone embracing all forms of natural hair from dreads, afros, braids, twist outs, and what seemed like every other combination imaginable; styles so deeply rooted in our cultures but sometimes deemed “unprofessional” until they’re finally seen as “trendy“.
I on the other hand chose to wear a head wrap that day because I simply could not be bothered that weekend…we all have those days…
I particularly enjoyed the session with natural hair expert, NiLo, who broke down the science behind Black hair. While I’ve read countless blog posts and flimsily attempted a few YouTube tutorials to help me find solutions to my ever changing hair problems, a lot of trial and error is inevitable. Some of the facts she explained were super valuable and will help me make more informed decisions in the future.
There were more discussions throughout the day including the history and public perceptions of Black hair, and general haircare tips. Portia shared her hair journey as a bi-racial woman raised in a white family, and her successes and challenges throughout her on-camera career at CBC; I was always interested to hear her side of things watching her on TV for a number of years and noticing that she was the only Black female news anchor in Canada who chose to rock her natural coils.
The session regarding Black hair in the workplace brought out a lot of opinions from audience members, sharing their stories and frustrations to the packed room; the solidarity at that moment was especially comforting, although I also couldn’t help but get worked up hearing all the stories.
When I’m in these spaces I think about my first graphic design job out of school; it was tough finding work as I graduated at the height of the recession in 2009, but after two years I finally found a job as the in-house designer for a major chain of salons and spas here in Edmonton. I created – among other things – the campaigns that would advertise their services, but simultaneously hesitated in using Black women to advertise their salons since no one there ever knew how to do our hair; I thought it would be false advertising. It’s a shitty situation to be in; needing the work but pushing your personal beliefs and morals off to the side, or even being aware enough to think of this as a problem to begin with, as I’m sure others never even considered it.
And when there was room for these conversations, it was as frustrating as you could probably imagine. When I was tasked to create a skin care booklet for that same company, I made sure to use women of colour on the majority of the pages as they were rarely showcased in their promotional materials. The president, however, made the point of wanting to showcase the right kind of diversity, stating she wanted to make sure we had a “blonde, a brunette and a red head” instead of “so many brunettes”.
You know, real diversity…
The Edmonton Natural Hair Show is among a group of independently run events in the city as of late that unapologetically celebrates Blackness in all forms – from Melanin Narratives, to Africa Unite and Brown, Black and Fierce – and I’m excited to see what else our local community comes up with in the coming years.
For more updates on similar events, check out the Edmonton Natural Hair Show on Facebook.