Texas Liberal

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Here Is What Malcolm X Wrote About Making His Hair Something Other Than Natural

Here is some of what Malcolm X wrote in his Autobiography about changing his hair to make it more like the hair of a white person—

“Shorty soon decided that my hair was finally long enough to be conked. He had promised to school me in how to beat the barbershops’ three- and four-dollar price by making up congolene and then conking ourselves…I took the little list of ingredients he had printed out for me and went to a grocery store, where I got a can of Red Devil lye, two eggs, and two medium-sized white potatoes. Then at a drugstore near the poolroom, I asked for a large jar of Vaseline, a large bar of soap, a large-toothed comb and a fine-toothed comb, one of those rubber hoses with a metal sprayhead, a rubber apron, and a pair of gloves…

….A jellylike, starchy-looking glop resulted from the lye and potatoes, and Shorty broke in the two eggs, stirring real fast—his own conk and dark face bent down close. The congolene turned pale yellowish. “Feel the jar,” Shorty said. I cupped my hand against the outside and snatched it away. “Damn right, it’s hot, that’s the lye,” he said. “So you know it’s going to burn when I comb it in—it burns bad. But the longer you can stand it, the straighter the hair.”…He made me sit down, and he tied the string of the new rubber apron tightly around my neck and combed up my bush of hair. Then, from the big Vaseline jar, he took a handful and massaged it hard all through my hair and into the scalp. He also thickly Vaselined my neck, ears, and forehead. “When I get to washing out your head, be sure to tell me anywhere you feel any little stinging,” Shorty warned me, washing his hands, then pulling on the rubber gloves and tying on his own rubber apron. “You always got to remember that any congolene left in burns a sore into your head.”The  pre=”The “>congolene just felt warm when Shorty started combing it in. But then my head caught fire….I gritted my teeth and tried to pull the sides of the kitchen table together. The comb felt as if it was raking my skin off….My eyes watered, my nose was running. I couldn’t stand it any longer; I bolted to the washbasin. I was cursing Shorty with every name I could think of when he got the spray going and started soap-lathering my head…

….My first view in the mirror blotted out the hurting. I’d seen some pretty conks, but when it’s the first time, on your own head, the transformation, after the lifetime of kinks, is staggering…The mirror reflected Shorty behind me. We both were grinning and sweating. And on top of my head was this thick, smooth sheen of shining red hair—real red—as straight as any white man’s…How ridiculous I was! Stupid enough to stand there simply lost in admiration of my hair now looking “white,” reflected in the mirror in Shorty’s room. I vowed that I’d never again be without a conk, and I never was for many years…This was my first really big step toward self-degradation: when I endured all of that pain, literally burning my flesh to have it look like a white man’s hair. I had joined that multitude of Negro men and women in America who are brainwashed into believing that the black people are “inferior”—and white people “superior”—that they will even violate and mutilate their God-created bodies to try to look “pretty” by white standards.”

(Here is a link to a more complete view of this passage)

People are free to look anyway they want in life. I’ve no notion of what it is like to be black. People of all colors dye their hair and wear wigs and toupees.

And yet with all that said, I’ve never understood the desire to match a style of beauty or appearance that at core does not respect what some people are, and that’s never going to be consistent with the perfectly good way folks are born into the world.

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October 22, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , ,

4 Comments »

  1. interesting post.

    Comment by bill brady | October 22, 2009

  2. This is too much! The tears that stream down my face after reading this…its too much.

    Comment by pam | February 1, 2011

  3. I think when the transformation is fuelled by naked hatred of what you look like, when society tells you hundreds of little ways that you are ugly, and you feel the need to take on the appearance of the very people who are oppressing you, that is a problem. Perming your hair is not a true preference. At no time has society affirmed black beauty as it is. It’s one thing to feel good about how you look but want to switch it up. It’s another thing when you feel inferior and think switching it up will give you some form of worth or when you must suppress or deny how you look to keep a job. This is the situation for black people. Many black women for instance have NEVER worn their natural hair and have no idea how to take care of it. Many beauty salons do not cater to women who want to wear their hair naturally. So I believe as Minister X that perming the hair, wearing weaves and wigs at its root is a form of self-hatred. Blacks who perm their hair are not consciously self-hating, the hatred has been internalized. As a black woman, you may feel you’re not really feminine and pretty unless you have long, flowing hair because this is what you grew up seeing and hearing all your life. Don’t all the pretty ladies on TV, the princesses, the pop stars, the Barbies have long hair? They don’t have Afros, twists, or cornrows – that’s for damn sure.

    Comment by The Shytrovert | February 1, 2011

  4. wow

    Comment by Ashley | February 1, 2013


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