Should We Believe That Black Women Will Get Cancer From Dyes and Relaxers?
The viral fare that dominated this polluted decade was centered around the false narrative of how Black women are the least likely to attract a worthy husband, compared to their more appealing non-White counterparts, who seem to have no issue in that department.
Thankfully the demand for those packaged lies dwindled enough to dissuade lazy editors from the annual circulation.
But that hasn’t halted the continued practice of ceremoniously attacking the already fragile disposition of Black women with the composition of frightening statistics that are accompanied by the steadfast gloomy forecast.
There’s’ no doubt that we are particularly vulnerable to specific threats that are beyond our control, as members of a tribe that still fights for the right to be afforded basic privileges that can be a matter of life and death.
It’s true that we are at major disadvantage when it comes to access to premium outlets of healthcare, overseen by respectful and unbiased medical professionals, who don’t rely on damaging stereotypes about the uncanny threshold for pain or the criminality around the disposability of our unborn and existing Black children.
We are also greeted with cruel reminders of how our thriving elite still can’t overcome the exact same challenges at the workplace that plague hardworking, dependable and honest women of color, who refuse to remain silent in the midst of turmoil and outright harassment by negligent employers.
Back in the day, it was so much easier to just conform to the inflexible standards that dictated how our uniqueness needed to be minimized, and even erased in order to assuage the concerns of White folks who write the modest checks that we cash with caution.
As an impressionable twenty-something in the late nineties and early aughts, it was understood that you couldn’t walk into corporate spaces with chemical-free tresses because of the fear that you’re job application would be rejected.
In a sea of well-suited women with sleek high pony-tails or shoulder-length curls, it wasn’t advisable to break up the energy with the bold rebelliousness that had to wait for the opportune time to be unleashed.
Braids and twists were cool, but even that was dangerously close to the edge when faced with settings that mostly housed curious and touchy White women, who demanded an explanation for the overnight makeover.
As a Black girl, who was born in the Bay Area, and grew up in Lagos, I have had the displeasure of having my hair nefariously regulated by empowered adults who used that accessory to freely weaponize my self-worth.
In boarding school, we were forced to keep our hair in plaits, and even that was mandated to the non-negotiable patterns that couldn’t be self-interpreted.
And during morning assembly, as we stood in our polished shoes and ironed uniforms, after singing and reciting from the hymnals that White missionaries taught, we had to periodically endure the physical abuse from cruel teachers, armed with the scissors that would slice through the manes of students who failed to follow the rules.
I got my first relaxer at sixteen, and while the end result of shiny, flowing, jet-black hair that moved with the breeze was the ultimate dream come true, the process of taming the unruly strands to a more manageable grade proved to be exceptionally brutal.
Lye was the harsh ingredient that provided the aftermath of scabs from burns resulting from the insistence that my hair type couldn’t be sedated without the heavy application of the strongest possible formula.
It’s generally assumed that coarser hair equals the recklessness of waiting for these potentially harmful chemicals to do extensive damage for as long as it takes to reap the rewards of that extra-straight, and magically bouncy version of perfection.
It’s been awhile, but you can’t ever forget the torture of feeling the BURN, even after you refrained from itching your scalp, and allowed the dirt and oil to provide the coating that’s no match for the potency of creams that get the job done at too high a price.
Looking back, it’s absolutely crazy that such risks were taken to give little Black girls the crown of glory that supposedly upgrades their attractiveness for the comparable assessment alongside their more valued classmates.
My desire to give up on relaxers, even after their transition to the safer, more diluted versions happened in the mid-2000s. It was simply a matter of not being able to afford the luxury of frequent touch-ups, and the verbal abuse of “stylists” who never wavered in the habitual need to loudly condemn my terrifically bad grade of hair.
But my hair appointments for deep conditioners and the natural hairstyles that included twist outs and two-strand twists turned out to be costlier than the relaxers.
The craze for all-things natural hadn’t arrived yet, and the handful of reputable salons that were able to sufficiently cater to our needs, were hell-bent on capitalizing on the growing movement that was still very much an underground endeavor.
And so I got sucked into the machine of “hair privilege” that targeted professional Black women like me, who were bullied into shelling out a lot of cash for the peace of mind of sporting well-groomed, ethnic hairstyles.
We knew we couldn’t achieve the impossible without skilled hands that are accustomed to expertly manipulating the coarse and coarser.
When you’re continuously shamed for being the unfortunate recipient of a texture that nobody in their right mind would readily carry with pride, you tend to believe the lies that hit at the heart of your femininity, as a blossoming Black girl, who unknowingly carries that burden into her Black womanhood.
I eventually experimented with the aggressively-touted “Keratin treatment” that gained traction in the mid-2010s. I bought the misleading selling points of how it effortlessly breaks down unyielding hair patterns with the exclusion of burns from the harshness of relaxers, and the boost of waiting six months for a touchup as opposed to every other month.
But the unbearably offensive smell of formaldehyde was no joke!
And while I sat there hiding my nose and eyes from the stench, it was hard not to be suspicious of the lasting effects of such exposure. But the nonchalant stylists would assure me that we weren’t being dangerously naive.
Of course some years later, news spread of how the main ingredient that’s used to disinfect stations that are used in funeral homes to prepare dead bodies for viewing, formaldehyde, is actually a carcinogen, which is a cancer-causing substance also found in tobacco.
So it’s no shocker to read the recent reports about how Black women who are reliant on hair straighteners, and even permanent color treatments, will have to prepare for the worst.
These researchers are convinced that Black women are more susceptible than White or non-Black women based on the findings that permanent hair dyes only caused a 7% higher risk for White women to develop breast cancer, after extended use.
But for Black woman, who dye their hair with permanent color, that number increases to 45 percent, which is bad news for me since my premature gray hair means I am code red!
The more troubling aspect of this crisis is how researchers admit to not being able to identify the toxins in these brands, that are mixed in to produce the ample results at the expense of our lives.
Chemical straighteners are also a life-threatening treatment for both White and Black women, but since women of color tend to indulge more for obvious reasons, we are again, faced with a less optimistic outlook.
The moral of the story is to settle for hair dyes that wash out with shampooing like semi-permanents or temporary hair color and maybe consider rocking your natural texture with pride and urgent necessity.
And I guess the rest of us, who’ve spent most of our years depleting our savings account for the thrill of life-threatening procedures, will have to just wait and see, by hoping for the best and expecting the worst.
I will never forget the one and only time that I complained about the burn of the relaxer and how the person responsible for my agony casually noted that “beauty is pain.”
Well, now we are aware of the hovering deadliness of our pursuits.
When it comes to Black women and our controversial features, the long journey to self-fulfillment can be a fruitfully complicated ride.
It’s the tragic tale of how White supremacy left the legacy of self-hate. That residue orders us to bleach our skin and make the alterations that we thought would refine the brutishness of our Blackness.
We need to believe the truth and discard the falsehoods that aren’t worth dying for, and it’s not for the benefit of alarming articles that are debatable, based on the lack of tangibles that refute any doubts.
As a collective, we have earned the right to reclaim the dignity of our preferred appearance with the supreme audacity that White women shamelessly poach and exhibit with zero credit to the originators.
Studies are great, but life lessons are learned from the highs and lows, that are risky enough to inspire the self-love that eventually saves us.
Those are the findings that only Black women who’ve done the research, can publish.