Articles By Linda Jones

This column is dedicated to permaholics who are in recovery. Also known as recovering permies, these women are addicted to chemical relaxers but are ready to kick the habit.

First, let me congratulate you for your decision to make the transition to a more natural lifestyle for your hair. You have taken a major step toward setting your follicles free.

While I hope your transition will be a smooth one, you will likely face challenges along the way. Brace yourself for criticism from those who will question your sanity and don’t be surprised if there are times when you second-guess yourself. Post-Perm Guilt is common among recovering permies. You blame yourself for taking your hair off drugs. You need to be reminded that those feelings of guilt are only "natural" and you have done nothing wrong.

As recovering permies, you should not take this journey alone. I strongly urge you to find a support group—particularly one that hold regular "hairepy" sessions where you can get help managing your chemical relaxer addiction. I also encourage you to build a network of supportive, nappy-headed friends who you can call on whenever you feel a relapse coming on.

For those of you who need spiritual support, I offer my 12-Strand Program for Permaholics. Please note that any similarity to other recovery programs is purely parody.

The 12 Strands

  1. We admitted we were powerless over perms and that our lives had become un-mane-geable.
  2. Came to believe that a Hair Power greater than ourselves could restore us to nappiness.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our follicles over to the care of a Higher Hair Power as we understood Her.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of our follicles.
  5. Admitted to a Higher Hair Power, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our follicle failures.
  6. Were entirely ready to have our Higher Hair Power remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked our Higher Hair Power to remove our short-combings.
  8. Made a list of all nappy-headed people we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to nappy-headed people wherever possible.
  10. Continued to take personal hair inventory, and when we snuck out to get a touch-up, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through meditation to improve our conscious contact with nappiness as we understand it to be, meditating only for more knowledge of that state of being and the power to maintain it.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to permaholics and to practice these principles in all our hair affairs.

It is my sincere hope that these guiding principles, dear permies, will help you stay the "coarse" and take your recovery one nap at a time.

A few months ago my friend Louise sent me an article with good news about the appointment of Ursula Burns as chief executive officer of Xerox. The appointment makes her the first African American female to head a Fortune 500 company.

The article had a photo of Burns wearing a very short natural hairstyle with a sophisticated streak of gray.

“She has natural hair,” Louise wrote in a note accompanying the article that she sent. “Way to go!”

I sent a message back to Louise, who is a communications consultant and psychologist, asking her to explain why she was so excited over Ms. Burns’ hairstyle choice.

She had plenty to say.

“She’s changing the standard of what’s considered professional,” she replied. “I remember when natural hair was just something that artists, students, and activists wore.

“When I did presentations at historically black college and university journalism programs around the country wearing my braids and dreadlocks, many women would ask me whether having natural hair would hurt them in the job market.

Ursula Burns

I remember when the former founder and dean of FAMU’s (Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University) School of Business wouldn't let students wear braids or dreadlocks.

"I believe that if you're excellent at your job, your hairstyle is inconsequential. I assume that the sister CEO of the Fortune 500 company must be a supernova.

Supernova might be too strong a description for Burns, but she does have an impressive background and stellar professional career.

She was raised in the housing projects of Manhattan’s Lower East Side by a single mother who worked hard at several jobs to send her to Catholic school and college. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from New York University and her Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia. In the summer of 1980 she joined Xerox as an intern and was named president in 2007. Now as the CEO, Burns leads a corporation that has a reported market value of nearly $6 billion and revenues of $17 billion.

Burns may be wearing her hair naturally simply as a matter of personal preference. But whether she intends to or not her image is making a positive and powerful statement.

She is showing that if you have confidence you can claim your own standard of beauty, and if you have substance, a mere hairstyle cannot hold you back.

Whenever Elvis Presley’s name is mentioned, I send my mind back to the image of him during the famous dance sequence in the 1957 film “Jailhouse Rock.” That was a time when he was at his best and looked it.

Back then Elvis was sexy and slim. He wielded power in his pelvis and the curl of his upper lip. The alleged King of Rock 'n' Roll sealed his appeal with shiny black hair styled in a modified pompadour with a spit curl in front.

The image of Elvis that I refuse to let my mind dwell on is how he looked just before he died. I don’t want to remember him struggling through his performances bloated, overweight and dressed in jumpsuits that were hideously ornate. I particularly don’t want to remember the sight of him with those awful mutton chop sideburns and sporting a towering pompadour that seemed to reach as high as the headwraps once worn by Erykah Badu.

Now that Michael Jackson has died, my mind will have to make similar detours to images more pleasant and befitting of another legendary performer who would be King.

Michael Jackson

Linda hopes to remember Michael Jackson the way he used to be.

To get to the more pleasant images of the Michael Jackson that I knew and adored, my mind will have to reach way back. It will have to reach back to the time when the so-called King of Pop was beautiful and brown, relatively happy and indisputably nappy.

The image of Michael that I choose to remember performed without props or pyrotechnics.

Back in 1969, as lead singer of The Jackson Five, it was Michael's pure voice and the harmonious backup of his brothers that charmed millions of viewers during their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. His soul-stirring rendition of "Who’s Loving You" was magnificent.

I choose to remember the Michael whose young voice had an old soul, but was sweet and innocent enough to garner a Golden Globe Award for crooning a love song to a rat.

The image of Michael that I want to remember does not have skin that looked bleached by Nadinola, a nose that was neutralized, and a face that looked like it was repeatedly bounced “Off the Wall.”

The Michael that I choose to remember did not have activated hair. He did not have hair so laden with flammable products that it once caught fire during filming of a Pepsi TV commercial.

Elvis’ spit curl was natural, Michael’s “S curl” wasn’t.

My memories of Michael Jackson will be selective. Whenever I think of him I will direct my mind to see the image of a man-child who was bright-eyed and extremely talented. I will see a Michael who had a face that was untainted, unviolated and protectively framed by a natural halo called an Afro.

Michael, I want you back.

I want you before you became confused and consumed by demons. The Michael I want back is the Michael who was black.

That is the Michael that I see resting in peace.

Contact Linda or read her bio.

I have a friend who has the looks, the locks and the lungs of the folk-rock singer Tracy Chapman. My friend so strongly resembles Tracy that she has a hard time convincing people that she isn't. She decided to write a musical disclaimer and sang it at many of her gigs. She named the tune, "I'm Not Tracy."

Since I am also often mistaken for someone I am not, I have also decided to issue a similar disclaimer. But since I can't sing a lick, my statement will be delivered acapella.

It will say: "I'm not Whoopi."

Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg

I have worn my hair in locks for more than a decade and in that time I have attracted critical and complimentary reactions. Thanks to Whoopi Goldberg, the straight-talking co-host of The View, my locks have also attracted attention that usually reserved for celebrities.

I get the double takes and the stares. Fingers point in my direction and I overhear excited whispers from people who think they recognize who I am. I've grown accustomed to hearing Whoopi's name shouted at me by passersby. Some do it in jest. Others really believe they have witnessed a celebrity sighting.

I feel like a snob when I ignore their friendly overtures and feel like an imposter when I respond. No one has approached me for an autograph yet but if these incidents of mistaken identity continue to occur, I fear that it won't be long.

I suppose there are a few commonalities between Whoopi and me that might lend support to the resemblance argument. Unfortunately it has nothing to do with me having similar talent, money and fame.

My similarities to Whoopi has more to do with appearance and style.

We both have relatively round faces and deep mahogany skin. We both wear eyeglasses and have a habit of peering over the rims more than we peer through the lens. And when it comes to fashion preferences, our mutual style of dress could best be described as casual — bordering on casualty —chic.

But the hands-down reason people are quick to cast me as a Whoopi lookalike is the fact that like her, I wear my hair in locks.

Locks have been Whoopi's signature hairstyle during her more than 30 years as an entertainer. She rocked them in her early days as a standup comedienne, and through her Oscar-winning acting career. She kept them intact during her stint as a regular on Hollywood Squares and is still representing while holding court on The View.

So make no mistake. Whoopi and her locks are the real celebrities.

But for the record, my locks and I stand ready and able to serve as stand-ins if we're ever needed and if the price is right.

Contact Linda or read her bio.

It’s time for my occasional “Whatever Nappened to . . .” column, where I provide updates on people who made headlines for daring to deal with nappiness and things related.

My last update was about Ruth Sherman McCloskey, the white school teacher in Brooklyn who got African-American parents all worked up back in 1998 when she read the children’s book Nappy Hair to her class of predominately African-American and Latino third graders. McCloskey’s intent was to teach her students about diversity, but the parents, most of who had never even read the book, accused her of racism. Their threats drove her away from the school. While McCloskey is still teaching, she is no longer teaching from that book.

To satisfy the curiosity of readers who want to know the whereabouts of the person who wrote that critically-acclaimed and highly controversial picture book, I am devoting this “Whatever Nappened to . . .” column to the author, Carolivia Herron.

Carolivia Herron

Carolivia Herron

I am pleased to report that Herron is alive and well and living in D.C.

“I still love my nappy hair and I love my book,” she tells me in no uncertain terms.

Herron, an educator who specializes in African-American studies, comparative literature and epic storytelling, recently completed writing the libretto for the opera “Let Freedom Sing: The Story of Marian Anderson,” which opened in D.C. in March.

She is still teaching and writing and is also busy developing a neighborhood EpicCenter, which will have programs that will teach youth the art of epic storytelling and will also include nappy hair-themed cultural enrichment workshops.

Last year, Herron formed a “Nappy Advisory Board,” of educators, writers and other kinky kindred spirits who share the same “twisted” purpose of dispelling negative stereotypes in creative and sometimes unconventional ways.

Guess who was among those tapped to serve on her esteemed board? Yours truly, yes, indeed. My nappy-minded colleagues on the board are McCloskey (the Brooklyn schoolteacher); Neal Lester, professor of English at Arizona State University who has written and lectured extensively on black hair issues; Andrea Wilder, a literacy professional affiliated with the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and D.C- area educators Georgia Herron, Louise Kelley and Jessica Weissman, who specialize in digital education.

Herron took her dream to another level in March when she purchased property where she plans to house EpicCenter. It will be located in the residential community of Kenilworth in northeast D.C.

“It’s going to happen eventually,” she says.

What many readers of Nappy Hair don’t know is that although Herron’s book was packaged for children, it was actually written when she was teaching at Harvard to show her graduate students how African-Americans use call and response to create narrative and poetic stories.

“This cultural form of art is not only an expression of great joy, but it’s also a way of giving back talk to misconceptions,” she told me by way of explaining what motivated her to write her book in call-and-response style.

When asked why she chose the subject of nappy hair, she said, “Nappy hair talks back. It won’t accept the status quo and it won’t press itself out in order to fit in.”

It’s good to hear that Herron is still keeping it kinky!

Contact Linda or read her bio.

A few years ago, the library at Williams College in New England acquired several dozen pieces of sheet music that was from the mid-19th century to World War II.

Many of them showed images of African-Americans on the covers.

The special collections librarian whose task it was to organize the sheet music said the images were highly uncomplimentary and stereotypical. She grappled with how to describe them.

One sheet she sent me that was dated 1904 had a drawing of a matronly, dark-skinned woman dressed in Aunt Jemima garb. On the upper right side was a drawing of a little girl peeking over a fence with her hair sticking up all over her head.

Once I managed to get through the blatantly racist title on the cover I addressed the librarian’s request about the little girl’s hair.

She asked me to suggest an appropriate description for the child’s “hairstyle.”

I appreciate the librarian for being sensitive enough to ask. But her first mistake was to think that what that little girl on the sheet music cover was wearing on her head was a hairstyle. What that child was wearing on her head was a mess.

I told the librarian that the appropriate description of the child’s hair was “disheveled” or “unkempt.”
What I wanted the librarian to avoid was to resort to calling the child’s hair nappy. It would be an inaccurate and unfair description of the casualty that was on top of that child’s head.

When black girls and black women with natural hair have a bad hair day, nappy is often the word reached for by the unenlightened.

My readers have heard this from me many times, but it bears repeating.

Nappy describes a hair texture, not a bad appearance or a grooming deficiency. It should not be used in a negative context. There is nothing negative about having a strong, resilient and versatile texture of hair.

The sole intent of the artist who drew those caricatures on that piece of sheet music was to show unflattering images of black women and little black girls. Unfortunately, the artist was successful.

The librarian got my point and took my advice. She would not be using the nappy word in describing the little girl’s hair.

“ 'Disheveled' it is,” she responded appreciatively.

I hope that there will be more people like the librarian who will take the extra step to avoid making bad matters worse. I also hope that the music that comes from that sheet won’t sound as offensive as the images on the cover look.

Contact Linda or read her bio.

When civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton made his semi-serious bid for president in 2004, there weren’t many who felt that he had an actual chance of winning.

Aside from concerns about his controversial political activism and accusations of anti-Semitism, the nation just wasn’t ready to be governed by a preacher with a perm.

For Sharpton to have a hairstyle distracting enough to affect his chances of occupying the White House is pretty ironic since his very first visit to the White House was one of the reasons that he got a perm in the first place. The other reason was because James Brown, the late soul singer, wanted him to.

I’ll give you a few seconds to “process” this madness.

It was 1981 when Sharpton received his calling from the Godfather of Soul who set
him on the path of the press and curl, just before taking him on a visit to the White House.

Al Sharpton

Al Sharpton

Sharpton met James Brown during his days as a street preacher in Harlem and leader of a civil rights organization for youths. He became friends with Teddy Brown, who was James Brown's son. When Teddy was killed in a car accident in 1973, James Brown flew in to attend the funeral and asked to meet the young minister who had befriended his son. Brown eventually assumed the role of mentor and father figure to Sharpton, who was raised in the projects by his single mother and whose own father abandoned him.

Sharpton idolized Brown, who was a world celebrity and happened to wear perms that could rival any woman’s hairdo. When Brown decided that he wanted Sharpton to abandon his Afro and get a hairdo that resembled his own, there were no questions asked.

Brown received an invitation by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 to discuss making Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday. Brown invited Sharpton to accompany him but wanted him to get his hair done for the occasion. He took Sharpton to his hairdresser who permed his hair.

It has been that way ever since.

"He said, `I want [Reagan] to see a younger version of me when he sees you,'" Sharpton recalled in an interview with Ebony Magazine last year. "After I did it, he said he wanted me to keep my hair like that until he died, as our bond. So that's how I ended up with this hairstyle.”

Sharpton’s permed hairstyle has become his trademark and he has flaunted it for more than three decades. He wears it as a tribute to Brown and an expression of a style that has become his own.

Even when Sharpton was warned that his flamboyant tresses could be a liability during his presidential bid, he didn’t deviate.

Sharpton’s hair is not as big and sissified looking as it was in earlier years, and streaks of grey have added to the toned-down look. But he still needs to get rid of it.

I admire Sharpton for keeping his promise to Brown by continuing to get touch-ups as long as his mentor was alive. But it has been more than two years since Brown died of congestive heart failure on Christmas Day in 2006.

Even though our highly talented soul singing icon has long taken his act to a higher stage, Sharpton shows no signs of putting his perm to rest.

If there are any petitions circulating in support of such a move, I’d gladly rush to sign. But it might take more dramatic measures.

There is a very popular ballad that James Brown often performed where he asks the woman whom he loves not to leave. During those heartfelt performances Brown would dramatically drop to his knees and cry, “Please, please, please, please,” as he desperately begs her to stay.

Maybe that same approach would persuade Sharpton to pay tribute to us and make his perm go away.

Contact Linda or read her bio.

My contribution for African-American History Month is to set the record straight about the straightening comb.

As many of you already know, I am no fan of the daunting steel-tooth instrument brandished by my mother whenever it was time to tame my ever-defiant head of hair.

But my hot comb hang up hasn’t tainted my preference for fact over fiction. Even though many people still want to believe that the straightening comb was invented by Madame C.J. Walker, the black entrepreneur, it was not.

I repeat, it was not.

Madame C.J. Walker

Madame C.J. Walker

Madame Walker, who invented popular hair products, popularized the straightening comb when she started using it with the products as part of a hair care regimen that she practiced and advised.

I asked my friend and colleague A’Leila Bundles to weigh in on this. A’Leila is author of "On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker." She also happens to be Madame Walker’s great-great granddaughter.

A’Leila says that Madame Walker was still a washerwoman in St. Louis named Sarah Breedlove when ads for straightening combs also known as hot combs, appeared in Bloomingdales and Sears catalogues in the 1890s. She didn’t start using the hot comb herself until around 1906.

“The fact that Madam Walker developed an international enterprise, that she provided jobs to help thousands of women become financially independent, that she was a political activist and that she was a philanthropist is much more interesting than a connection to the hot comb,” A’Leila said.

A’Leila, who gives countless speeches and interviews, still runs into people who would rather believe the hype.

“I feel like I’m playing whack-a-mole,” she says. “Some people want to believe this myth because it fits into their notion of finding a ‘villain’ for why black women straighten their hair and some people want to believe it because they're really glad someone invented an implement to help straighten hair. I just try to be as gracious as I can and let them know accurate information.”

So who is the real inventor of the straightening comb?

I cannot find a source that knows exactly who, but a Parisian named Marcel Grateau (aka Francois Marcel) comes close to being a likely suspect. In the late 1800s, Grateau started using heated rods or tongs to straighten hair. In 1872 he created a wavy style that became known as the Marcel Wave. Just like Madame Walker made millions selling her hair products used in combination with the hot comb, Grateau made a fortune using heated instruments that created his popular wave.

Now that I’ve done my part in placing the straightening comb in the right hairstorical light, I will resume my position as one who still despises the bloody thing for burning my scalp without cause!

Contact Linda or read her bio.

I received an email a few years ago from a young Pakistani woman named Anam who was distressed about the state of her hair. She said that she had bleached and straightened her hair so many times that it had become a lifeless mass that felt like hay.

Anan’s hair wasn’t always that way. Before she subjected her hair to an extreme makeover she had what she described as African hair. I understood that to mean that her hair was thick and very nappy.

Anam, who lives in a small town in East Malaysia, was taunted and teased for being born with hair texture that was not the acceptable norm in her culture.

“People look upon me as a freak of nature . . . " Anam wrote. “The reaction I got from people when I was a kid with an Afro was just horrible. It totally destroyed my confidence.”

When Anam tried to avoid further ridicule by getting her hair straightened, her hairdressers gave her scornful looks.

“They looked totally horrified and lost upon seeing my hair,” she said. “I have discovered that it’s useless asking anyone here for help because they just don’t know what to do with my hair.

Anan asked me for help and advice, and I was too angry and frustrated over what I read to offer just the right words of support. All I could do at the time was extend to her a long distance hug. I told her that if she were within reach, I would wrap my arms around her.

When I found what I felt were the right words I wrote her back. I told her that since I wasn’t a hairdresser, I could not give her professional advice on the type of treatments to “heal” her hair. What I offered her were words about appreciating self. I told Anam to be true to who she is. I told her that it was no mistake when she was created with hair in all its “African” beauty.

Anam responded to my email and thanked me for my words. She is now studying at the University of Melbourne in Australia, and she tells me that her hair is on the mend. She has stopped straightening and is allowing it to grow out. The best part of Anam’s letter was that since she has been in college, she has regained her confidence.

“One reason may be that in Australia, people are a lot more open to different textures and types of hair and were very fascinated by my hair," she writes.

Those words from Anam confirm what I also wrote in my letter to her. I told her that sometimes all it takes is leaving home to really appreciate how good home is. Anam went away to college but came back “home” to her “roots.” When that happened, she discovered that there was nothing wrong with her hair the way it was — strong, willful, “African,” and free.

Contact Linda or read her bio.

Nappy-headed people are no strangers to the disapproving remarks they often receive from people who seem downright offended over their choice to wear nappy or African-inspired hairstyles.

But they also get affirming comments from people like them who have also chosen to be true to their natural ‘do. Their comments express support and encouragement. They are words that say, “It’s all good.”

I call such positive comments “napfirmations.”

I give them every chance I get.

When I meet someone who is in the beginning stages of growing locks, I pay them a napfirmation by telling them how “happy” their young “nubbies” look.

My napfirmation for those who are offended when someone calls them “nappy-headed” in a derogatory tone is: “Nappy is simply a natural state of hair and an open state of mind.”

I have also been the recipient of napfirmations from friends and strangers.

The most special ones have come from my friends who know of my struggle with alopecia and have complimented me on the way I wear my “custom-made” hair. They offer praise for my choice to represent my hairitage “symbolically” when I could no longer do it naturally.

Even influential and well-respected personalities have uttered napfirmations that inspire and take us higher. I have compiled a list of several and will share a few with you:

District of Columbia Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton: “Nothing is more liberating than letting your hair be naturally what your hair is.”

Singer Abbey Lincoln: "I discovered at the time that my hair was my crown. So I wore it naturally."

Universal Negro Improvement Association founder and leader of Back to Africa Movement, Marcus Mosiah Garvey: "God made us in his most perfect creation. He made no mistake when he made us black, with kinky hair!"

Poet Nikki Giovanni from her poem “Ego Tripping:” "The hair from my head thinned and gold was laid across three continents . . .”

Reggae musician and Rastafarian Bob Marley: "Trust the universe and respect your hair."

Nothing like a napfirmation to make a bad hair day better.

Contact Linda or read her bio.

Total 3 results.

EClark6 Shares Her Secret to Natural Hair Growth

EClark6 explains why steam therapy is essential for natural hair growth.
April 18, 2014 Read more »

Avoid a Curly Haircut Disaster

This step will make or break your next curly haircut.
April 18, 2014 Read more »

Lush Henna Hair Dye Tutorial

Shannon from Curly Deviants shows us how she uses the Lush Caca Brun Henna to add luster to her 4c coils.
April 18, 2014 Read more »