For decades Black women have been perming, straightening and literally burning their hair into submission. Members of Queen City Naturals have chosen to reverse that trend. They are a group of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky women who made a decision to go “natural” and haven’t looked back. They also recognized the power of a supportive community to help keep them on task and make it fun. Queen City Naturals use social networking and good old fashioned face-to-face interaction to connect with women of the same natural mindset. They affirm their choice by coming together to “embrace, celebrate, encourage and educate…”
It was Sunday on the Square, the laid back, traveling-home day after a weekend of tourists, parties, Hip-Hop, R&B and contemporary sounds at the annual Cincinnati Music Festival. LaDonna Wallace Smith was all smiles and warmth as she took her seat near the fountain on the Square. She’s a classic example of a Queen City Naturals woman. As would be expected of the founder of a successful natural hair group, she wore her crowing glory in a soft and curly natural style. LaDonna’s confidence eased into proud excitement when she spoke about the natural group she founded. She talked about QCN’s steady growth and offered a colorful handout with a group photo of beautiful, naturally adorned women.
Wallace-Smith founded Queen City Naturals under a philosophy that calls for women to “… Embrace: the uniqueness of our individual kinks, curls and coils.” Facebook interactions and networking with other natural groups help keep the women connected with their hair and each other. A calender of natural celebrations like “Rock da Fro,” “A Summer Hair Affair,” “Curls and Cocktails,” and Loving Your Natural Hair w/ Flair” keeps them focused on their natural journey and enjoying the ride.
In a world where detergents, ice cream and organic products market themselves as natural, you may not know exactly what that means when it comes to black hair. If you ask a few black women, the answers might leave you even more confused. Women who explored the natural side of black hair several decades ago might say “a natural” when referring to their Afro hairstyle. Younger natural wearers may think of natural as dreads, wash and wear hair or simply letting your hair be free to do whatever it wants to do. Across the Internet, natural websites and blogs have their own thoughts on what natural means:
Blogger “Curly in Colorado” says natural means no chemical relaxers “..to permanently alter the texture of my hair.” Naturallycurly.com uses hair expert Andre Walker’s four categories of curly hair: “kinky, curly-kinky, curly and wavy.” Nappturality.com moved beyond natural and coined the phrase “napptural” in referring to “tightly coiled, highly textured Black hair.” This site emphasizes their idea of natural as meaning no chemicals whatsoever.
Natural Hair: It’s a Tangled Tale
If given the right encouragement, most back women have a complicated “hairstory” they might be willing to share. Older women can tell you about designations of “good” hair (straight) and “bad” hair (kinky/curly) and how their hair was a factor in what made others consider black women not quite so beautiful. They can tell you about the hot combs mothers heated on the stove then combed through their daughters natural strands for a straighter, more acceptable look.
The hot combing process was long, tedious, uncomfortable and easily reversed by a little moisture. For some teenagers straightening their hair was a ritual directly connected to the weekly anxiety of required swimming in high school gym class. No wonder that in the sixties many of those hot-combed teens decided on the Afro as a natural hair alternative. Unfortunately on choosing the Afro as a more natural style, they ran the risk of being labeled a radical. Afro was the style of choice of the Black Power movement as well.
While some may doubt stories of workplace hair discrimination, women with dreads or braids can share many such stories. Mydreadlocks.com cites recent court cases where black men did battle over their natural hair choice. In 2008 a Virginia company, Lawrence Transportation, refused to hire a man because he wouldn’t cut off his dreads. In 2006, Fedex defended its right to fire several dread-wearing New York workers for failure to comply with a “Personal Appearance Policy.” Both companies eventually settled their discrimination cases as the plaintiffs were Rastafarian and their hair was a religious choice. Fedex modified its policy, but both both employers retained the legal right to dictate an employee’s personal appearance, including hair.
Queen City Naturals: More Than Just Taking Care of Hair
Scan the Queen City Naturals Facebook wall and you will find posts with unusual remedies for maintaining a healthy head of natural hair. Fellow naturals offer olive oil, mayonnaise and other dry hair cures and post links to their favorite natural products. They also share thoughts on healthier living, workout suggestions, low cal recipes and healthy eating tips. The women suggest social activities and share photos of their unique natural styles.
Black women gathering to focus on their nappy roots (pun intended) is nothing new. The Queen City Naturals have joined a national movement of women who love their hair in its natural state. Black women across the country are forming similar online networking groups. Gatherers in Charlotte, New Orleans and Atlanta and many other cities share their enthusiasm and dedication to natural styles at regularly scheduled meet-ups.
LaDonna Wallace-Smith: Founder “Queen City Naturals”
Queen City Naturals on Facebook:
Natural Hair Meetups: Meetup.com:
“Fedex Settles Dread Discrimination Case”:
“Lawrence Transportation, Government Settle Religious Discrimination Lawsuit”: