We’re doing this ‘fro the culture! In our last episode of the semester Brendane and Alyssa talk featurism, texturism, the politics of Black hair, and are joined by biological anthropologist Tina Lasisi.
We’ll be back in 2023 with new episodes. In the meantime, don’t forget to submit your listener letters and voice notes to firstname.lastname@example.org and we might read or play it and respond in our next episode. Happy Holidays!
What’s the Word? Featurism and Texturism. These are colorism’s insidious cousins: prejudicial or preferential treatment based on the proximity of their features and hair texture to Eurocentric standards of beauty.
What We’re Reading. ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’: Problematizing Representations of Black Women in Canada by Shaunasea Brown. We share our hair journeys, chat about using the term dreadlocks vs locs, examine Canadian contributions to the Natural Hair Movement and infamous cases of workplace hair discrimination in Canada, and demonstrate that we use our hair—or lack thereof—to claim space and exercise our right to be.
What In The World?! We chat with Dr. Tina Lasisi, a biological anthropologist who specializes in the science of hair, skin, and human biological variation. We answer your burning scalp questions in a rapid fire, discuss scientific racism, the dangers of DNA phenotyping pseudoscience, and whether we really need to buy “Black” hair products.
Follow Dr. Lasisi on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, and check out her PBS series Why Am I Like this?
Season 3, Episode 8: The Crown Chronicles
Co-Hosts: Alyssa A. James (AJ) Brendane A. Tynes (BT)
Guest: Dr. Tina Lasisi (TL)
Total Length: 01:57:16
[0:00:00] Alyssa (AJ) Hello, Hello. In our excitement to get talking with our guest, we completely forgot to make two very important announcements about the season. First, this is our last episode of the semester. So, we will be taking a little break, but we will be back in the new year with new content.
Some that is very exciting, and we are getting organized and set up right now as we speak. And two, the first episode back in the new year will be a Q and A with Brendane and myself. This is Alyssa. Send us your questions. Ask us anything that you want about relationships, about graduate school, about getting through that shit job that you’re just going to for a paycheck. You can send us an email at email@example.com with your questions, or you can send us a voice note either via email or through Instagram. Happy Holidays and Happy Listening!
Let’s get into the episode.
[0:01:09] Music begins
[0:01:36] Music Ends
[0:01:37] Brendane (BT): Hey y’all. Welcome back to Zora’s Daughters, the podcast where we share Black feminist perspectives and close-read pop culture and other social topics that affect Black folks. I’m Brendane, and I use she/her/hers pronouns.
[0:01:50] AJ: Hi, everyone, I’m Alyssa, and I use she/ her/hers pronouns. I have traded in the cicadas and crickets for sirens again. – Today, we are talking about featurism, texturism, Black hair politics, and we have a guest. We hinted at it in the last episode. It is as some of you guessed correctly, Dr. Tina Lasisi, your favorite biological anthropologist.
[0:02:20] BT: Wooo! (excitement)– We are just ecstatic, excited, just all the words to have her on the episode. We consider her one of our OG listeners, and she is actually one of our friends. So happy to have you on the podcast today, and we watched your platform and reach explode over the last couple of years. Like I remember, Teenie Tina back in the back day. Tear, tear
[0:02:57] AJ: Yes, it is a true honor and pleasure to have her here to join us. But before we get carried away, let’s just say thank you to our supporters new and OG creating these episodes would not be possible without you. So, the best way to support us is by becoming a patron where you can access the ZD community, speak to us personally and see exclusive video and audio from our episodes. We sent out our book of the semester, which I hope our wonderful patrons, novelists, and above will enjoy over the holidays. Head to patreon.com/zorasdaughters to learn more. But with the holidays being around the corner we know that the wallet might be looking a little thin, a little flat (laughter). I know mine is.
[0:03:41] BT: Look, I need that stipend. Where’s my stipend at?
[0:03:44] AJ: That’s what I’m saying when I am getting that first check. So other ways you can support us include leaving a rating and a review on Spotify or Apple Podcasts, following us on social media, and sharing our episodes with your friends, families, students, neighbors, side pieces, sugar guardians. Just give everyone the gift of ZD.
[0:04:05] BT: Please. Sugar guardians will especially appreciate it, I’m sure. Speaking of the gift of ZD, there is merch available on our website. We have mugs, notebooks, T-shirts, stickers, and more. And you can also give the gift of a workshop curated by yours truly. We have done workshops for international companies, universities, and local organizations. And we could do one for you. We create custom interactive workshops and talks that address the needs of your group, and people love them—five stars all around. So, if that is something that you might be into for 2023 and beyond, head to zorasdaughters.com to email us for details.
[0:04:53] AJ: Definitely, without further ado, let’s start the episode Brendane, What’s the Word?
[0:04:59] BT: You know we are doing something extra special for y’all today. Especially since we are about to head off to the holidays, another gift we are offering is two words of the day. Today we are going to talk about featurism and texturism – which are the cousins of colorism. We talk about-
[0:05:25] AJ: Play cousins or real cousins?
[0:05:27] BT: Play cousins, real cousins. I mean, are they cousin siblings? Hmm—We talked about colorism in season 1, episode 9, which is named Color Struck! And colorism was coined by Alice Walker, and she defined it as “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.” So, featurism and texturism are related, but they address more than just color.
Featurism, to build on Walker’s definition, is a prejudicial or preferential treatment of people based on the proximity of their features to Eurocentric standards of beauty. And texturism is the preference for what’s been called “good hair,” That hair that has a smoother or looser texture. The discrimination against people with kinkier hair within the same race
[0:06:20] AJ: Skin complexion, hair texture, facial features, and body type all play a role in defining someone as beautiful. But they also contribute to the way we are racialized. The combination of these things is why Zendaya gets perceived as Black, while Rashida Jones is perceived as white. Despite both being biracial. But these are examples of biracial women. So, what about those who are not and receive the question, are you mixed? What are you mixed with? This question this very insidious question, implies that Black can only be beautiful when mixed with white features or those of other ethnic groups. Which definitely speaks to some people’s obsession with having mixed babies, but that we might have to save for another episode when we can have a psychologist on.
[0:07:07] BT: Look, cause people need help, honey. I’m just kidding. Featurism does not just affect Black people. So, the double eyelid surgery that is common in Asia is a prime example of how Eurocentric beauty standards permeate societies around the world. When it comes to texturism, we often think about the hair typing system developed by celebrity hairstylist Andre Walker, where hair type is divided into distinct categories from 1A to 4C. One being straight, two being wavy, three being curly, and four being kinky or coily. However, hair typing was actually used in the early 20th century by Eugen Fischer, a Nazi German eugenicist. So the hair gauge, a tin box that was filled with 30 samples of different hair and textures, was used to judge the relative whiteness according to your hair color and your texture of mixed-race people in what is now Namibia. It was also there where the Germans carried out a systemic genocide of three-quarters of these people.
So just an aside when folks bring up the Holocaust and the atrocities that happened there. The technology and practices to exterminate Jewish and other people in Germany was actually perfected in what happened in Namibia. – We are going to have another talk another day about the Anti-Semitism vs. the Anti- Blackness talk that people like to have, but that is just something to note there.
So, we also know that the pencil test which was something that was used in apartheid, South Africa. That was something used to determine whether or not someone could be categorized as white. And so these two kind of systems show how featurism and texturism can have deadly consequences.
[0:09:11] AJ: Yes, and these prejudices all emerge out of a fundamental Anti-Blackness. And I think they have more powerful effects than we realize. In our colorism episode, I talked about what my friends and I call, “loophole” women, If you want to go back to that conversation, I’m covering my face. But one that I didn’t talk about were the kinds of loophole women, if that’s what you want to call them, are the brown and darker skin women with thin noses, wavy hair, or other Eurocentric features that get centered as beautiful. And I think we don’t often acknowledge that. I think if you call someone out on their preferences for light skin women, they’ll say oh but I think Kelly Rowland is prettier than Beyoncé. Even you know that was something Kevin Samuels used to say a lot as well. He would be like Beyoncé is 8, Rihanna is a 9, and Kelly Rowland is a 10. That is how he would have his very disgusting ranking system of attractiveness.
[0:10:12] BT: Interesting
[0:10:16] AJ: Yes, So it’s always Kelly Rowland and Tika Sumter, it’s never Danielle Brooks and Viola Davis. So, it speaks to how insidious featurism is that most people can’t even recognize it. They think oh well, that’s a dark skin person, so you know, obviously I do like black, Black women. But they always choose the ones with the most Eurocentric features, and I don’t want anyone to get me wrong –there are many ways to look and to be Black even when you’re genetically 99.99…% African. But the question is, which of those combinations of features and hair textures get uplifted? So, when people think of beautiful Black women, it should include dark skin, wide nose, dark-eyed, full lip, kinky hair women too.
[0:11:04] BT: Absolutely, and one question to ask is: when we think about these things, is how do we even know when it’s featurism? And so, ask yourself if this characteristic was present on a non-Black face or non-Black body, would it still be considered attractive? So, we can think about the Kardashian “body,” which we all know, Black trans women, my good sis, Amiyah Scott was the original OG IG baddie; that the Kardashian body developed from, the J-Lo booty, and people trying to get Kylie Jenner’s lips. That whole –circus is a prime example of how Black features are positively received on non-Black people as long as it’s not too much. And so, I’ve been saying that now; for a while now that the race war is coming actually and that more people are trying to reclaim their whiteness or proximity to whiteness because they want people to make sure they know where they stand. And because race is a social construction that we developed as a quick kind of visual way to understand who’s enslaved, and who’s not. Right if you got a Black woman’s body, how do they not know if you’re just not you know– that you’re not just someone that has African ancestry?
[0:12:37] AJ: That you’re passing.
[0:12:38] BT: Yeah, that you’re trying to pass. So, in any case, right, this is literally where featurism intersects with colorism, and the Afrocentric features criticized when they are on Black women are praised when they are on white women. And so I think that darkest.hue on IG summed it up really well: “One, colorists are almost always texturists and featurists. Two, texturists are almost always colorists and featurists. Three, featurists are almost always colorists and texturists.” So, if you have that Venn diagram, I would say a lot of niggas sitting right there in the middle, doing all three.
[0:13:27] AJ: The Venn diagram is a circle Brendane.
[0:13:28] BT: A diagram is a circle – and as you said, these are about Anti-Blackness and desire to achieve whiteness or to be accepted into white society. So even within movements that we think are about our liberation, like the Natural Hair Movement, which we’ll talk about a little bit today, or even the locs community, which as a member of – we see hierarchies develop where looser hair textures are deemed more desirable or beautiful. And people with locs are relaxing their edges which is-, and also combing out the end of their locs so that their locs are curly at the ends. Which I think actually brings us nicely to our next section which is what we’re reading. So, Alyssa, what are we reading today?
[0:14:19] AJ: Today, we are reading an essay entitled “Don’t Touch My Hair’: Problematizing Representations of Black Women in Canada” by Shaunasea Brown. Dr. Brown is assistant professor of communication studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada. She self-identifies as a Jamaican Canadian woman of African descent. A Pan-African womanist and is passionate about all things capital B Black.
[0:14:46] BT: Heard you.
[0:14:46] AJ: She earned her Ph.D. in humanities from York University in Toronto. She has conducted research on Canadian beauty standards and the politics of natural Black hair. Her current research collaborates with artists in Toronto to delineate a specifically second-generation understanding of Black women’s art practices. She is interested in how Black Canadian women artists of Caribbean offer blueprints for living relationally and suggests methods for radical community care. Future projects will explore how sound can be used to re-articulate Black life in ways that directly refuse the Anti-Black logics facilitating disproportionate rates of Black death worldwide. She also sings and plays piano and guitar. Her current playlist includes Chronixx, Bob Marley, Koffee, Shenseea, and Mustafa the Poet. I would also like to add that I was her frosh leader way back in the day. That’s first-year orientation for the Americans, I don’t know if you call it frosh week but that’s what it was; at least I think it was frosh leader; we were at the same college. She started after I did at the University of Toronto, and she was starting her Ph.D. at York while I was finishing up my master’s. So as soon as we said that we were going to talk about Black hair, I thought her work would be perfect to read.
[0:16:09] BT: Yeah, I am, like, yes! Cause at first, I was like, okay, two Canadians, I see the Canadian link up. But it is more than that, and it’s actually really beautiful. We call it frosh. I think we call it frosh at Duke. At least we did. We were like P frosh —Honestly, my brain, just whenever I try to go back to college, my brain says Black hole. We’re not going back to hell. We are not going back to the home of the Blue Devils, but I do remember having a p frosh, that’s really cool.
But back to this essay, so this essay was published in 2018 in Africology: The Journal of Pan African Studies. It was interesting to read the Canadian perspective on this experience and the way that it insects with the American experience because honey if you didn’t know Anti-Blackness is Mr. Worldwide.
[0:17:11] AJ: Yea, it’s not Pitbull or whoever says that.
[0:17:16] BT: And it’s not like this professor I know who tried me on it, honey. Anti-Blackness is around the world. And so the essay opens with two epigraphs from Solange’s song Don’t Touch My Hair and a quote from playwright Trey Anthony’s play The Kink in my Hair. The latter of which says,” If you want to know about a woman, a Black woman that is touch her hair, cause our hair carries our journey. Cause that is where we carry all our hopes, all our dreams, our hurt, our disappointments; they’re all in our hair. “But honesty, that is exactly why we don’t want y’all fingers in. We don’t want y’all touching it!
[0:17:57] AJ: Exactly, our hair has power. That’s why people be chopping it off. But anyway, I just wanted to say again, going back to the wonderful Canadian connection, I just want to say that I had the pleasure of seeing that play when I was 15 or 16 and it was just incredibly moving. It was a series of monologues. The main character who is played by Trey Anthony, Novelette she is a hairdresser in Eglinton West which is one of the centers of the Caribbean community in Toronto and when she touches peoples’ hair she knows what’s happening in their lives. So, the monologues are basically the telling of their experiences of what’s going on, and I still, to this day, I didn’t even have to look this up, the name of the actress. I think she is also dub poet and things like that. But D’bi. Young she did this powerful monologue about surviving sexual abuse. She plays either a young girl or someone who doesn’t quite have full mental maturity, and it was so moving, and I’m still affected by it. Whenever I think about that play, and that time in my life, it was truly beautiful. So yeah, it was a game-changer that play. In any case, y’all having me reminiscing about the old days. Oh, my goodness.
[0:19:22] BT: Aww, we got to read more Canadian stuff.
[0:19:25] AJ: I know, and that’s another reason we wanted to read something that was like outside of the USian experience. In any case, this paper expands on Althea Prince’s 2009 monograph, the Politics of Black Women’s Hair, by centering the experiences of Black and mixed-race Canadian women and the personal intentions of their hair choices they make. While Prince argues that hair choices are connected to convenience and ease, Brown examines Canadian contributions to the Natural Hair Movement and infamous instances of workplace hair discrimination in Canada. To show that we use our hair, or lack thereof, to claim space and exercise our right to be.
[0:20:08] BT: Right, and agency and self-determination sits squarely in the center of this article. Brown asks us to consider the agency of Black women when we assign political forms of expression to their hairstyles. That they themselves might not even have. And so, in this paper, she explores how the promotion and the acceptance of Black women’s identities through their hairstyle choices might promote resistance against colonial violence and create social and political alliances. And so she situates the Natural Hair Movement as a site of virtual homeplace “recreates and rehumanizes Black women while asserting and restoring their dignity.” And so homeplace in which we have discussed on the podcast before, bell hooks has a very short chapter about homeplace that is really beautiful, and she describes homeplace as “essential for Black people and Black women in particular since our bodies and our knowledges are always already constructed as inappropriate and excess in a larger world.” And so, I’m not sure when Brown penned this article, but this is definitely not how the Natural Hair Movement has evolved today. So, if you are plugged into natural hair YouTube. I used to be on it when I had loose natural hair. You’ll see that there has been a recent movement back to relaxers found on a lot of popular natural hair folks. And there also been this general discourse around the kind of failure of the Natural Hair Movement because of its texturism, featurism. And Brown does not explore this in the context of this paper because it was published in 2018. And she sets up, actually, the Natural Hair movement, which maybe then, was a place where Black Canadian women could affirm one another. But it is really honestly fascinating to see how things have shifted over the last four years.
[0:22:19] AJ: And so quickly, four years, that’s fast.
[0:22:24] BT: People said Alright, we done with this.
[0:22:27] AJ: She was finishing up her MA when I was starting. My guess is that her research was done around 2015/2016. I think that’s when the focus groups were done as well. – Yeah, things have shifted immensely in the Natural Hair Movement. Definitely, there’s this going back to relaxers. Which is really funny, and there’s a whole, healthy relaxed community.
[0:22:50] BT: Which just means long hair, and relaxed, but yeah.
[0:22:52] AJ: Yeah, that’s another thing, that’s another issue with the natural hair community in general it was all about length length length, how are you retaining length? So, in any case, Brown’s claim that the Natural Hair Movement and other hybrid spaces existing as resistance to white normative beauty standards is true. For me, I used to relax my hair. I think I started when I was quite young. I remember I relaxed it when I was really young when I was a kid and then my mom was like, no, I’m not going to do this anymore because I was taking swimming lessons, and so I went natural. Then I think around grade seven or eight I wanted straight hair again, back to relaxer. Did that up until university when Good Hair came out the documentary by Chris Rock. And I was like, wow, that’s all the stuff that’s being put on my scalp and in body. So, I stopped relaxing, and started doing silk presses which, of course has its own little politics within the Natural Hair Movement, and then once I moved to London, I was like, I moved to Martinique and couldn’t get my silk presses. Moved to London, wasn’t getting my silk presses. My hair was- basically I had one large loc; I was just having one large freeform loc because I was just like I would wash my hair, I probably didn’t even detangle it. I was so lazy putting it in a ponytail that I used that I would tie it up with a stocking. My Toronto women know about using stockings to tie their hair back. Good times.
[0:24:29] BT: They just discovered that you could use stockings on TikTok now. All the young folks discovered.
[0:24:35] AJ: I just saw some two white women; oh no, it was a girl. It was a woman and her daughter using leggings to curl their hair. I was like you know you didn’t come up with that, right? Like the way, you put it on, like a bonnet, you really think—Anyways, getting off topic. So, once I moved to London, I had this single free-form loc. I was like I don’t know what the hell I’m doing (laughs), so I just cut my hair off. I had super short hair and I really only discovered the “Natural Hair Movement” around the time that I realized people were penciling in their eyebrows. This was a shock to me. So, it was around 2017. And I started growing and caring for my hair myself. And my Grandma always told me that my hair was my crown. It’s your crown, it’s your beauty, and I just really wanted to reject that as I am an iconoclast. So for me, my hair is natural now is expression and I wanted to ask you, Brendane what was behind your decision to get sister locks.
[0:25:42]BT: yeah, I would say that your iconoclassist, I don’t know, I just made that word up, is very Aquarian.
[0:25:50] AJ: Iconoclasm.
[0:25:54] BT: Iconoclasm.
[0:25:55] AJ: I knew you were going to say it’s very Aquarian.
[0:25:57] BT: Oh, let’s see the decision behind getting my Sister locs. I was going to talk about this a little later, but I guess I can talk about my hair journey here. I got relaxers on and off since I was about five years old. But I got my first boxed relaxer, Just for Me! from Walmart. I got my first relaxer at a salon when I was like ten. My father took me. He said that he wanted me to look like somebody loved me, and that was—
[0:26:30] AJ: Wow.
[0:26:32] BT: That was definitely something, but I think also speaks to how relaxers functioned in the South, in particular, South Carolina during that time. I didn’t know anybody who had natural hair unless they were multi-racial or bi-racial. So I remember that after that, I got consistent relaxers until I went natural in college. And I went natural because of the National Hair Movement; I got on to Youtube and was like, oh, there’s people out here during all these different things to their hair, and I really didn’t know what my natural hair texture was, and I grew it out. I first went natural in 2013, and –I transitioned, which Brown talks about a little bit in the article, but I grew out my hair for about a year, and then I asked my Aunt to chop it off for me. To do my big chop, and my mother did not speak to me when I chopped my hair off.
[0:27:46] AJ: Wow
[0:27:47] BT: She gave me the silent treatment, and then later, when she was ready to talk to me, she asked me a series of questions which gets to this kind of political reading of Black hair that is found in the article, but she asks me if I still believed in Jesus, and do I still eat meat, will I eat pork, am I going to convert to Islam?
[0:28:20] AJ: Yeah, y’all have to remember, Brendane was in a cult.
[0:28:23] BT: laughter, you know, and my mother also just has her own things going on mentally and emotionally. So, yeah, it was a very strange and shocking moment. Because for me, it was like, I was just tired of having a burning scalp all the time and all this hair breakage. And I really wanted to embrace something new. So, yeah, I got my hair cut, and I wore a little tiny afro until it grew out.
[0:28:54] AJ: Had your T.W.A (Tweeny Weeny Afro)
[0:28:56] BT: Had my little TWA. I was in Spain with a TWA it was very cute. And then I did the whole loose natural thing for the last seven, eight years until 2020. And I decided to get locs because I was just tired of doing my own fucking hair. I was tired of spending eight hours every weekend detangling and styling, and drying and washing, and deep conditioning and all of these things and it just got harder for me to do my hair. So I was just like, let me just get locs. So now I have sister locs best decision. I wish I had gotten them earlier. Someone else is responsible for maintaining my hair now, and all I have to do is go to sleep and wake up and bow; here I am.
[0:29:48] AJ: Bow, Bow, there’s the hair.
[0:29:50] BT: Until I get tired of them. I’ll probably do something; or get larger locs will probably be my next move and
[0:29:58] AJ: Okay
[0:29:58] BT: I think I want to have a bald phase. I want that to be when I’m in my 40s or something.
[0:30:03] AJ: Got it.
[0:30:03] BT: Maybe 40s, 50s bald daddy.
[0:30:07] AJ: I like it. I liked having really short hair. I was looking back at some of my pictures and I was like this was my definite looking very queer phase.
[0:30:16] BT: It’s cute. And see, and also the short hair definitely signals something which Brown didn’t-
[0:30:22] AJ: It was the fits too. Some of the fits I was like wow, I was really living queer in those days.
[0:30:29] BT: You know what, TBT.
[0:30:34] AJ: But the fact is hair really highlights how Black women experience space and place globally, and in this paper, in Canada, I think that is definitely demonstrated by the experiences that we had. Your dad said—they wanted you to look like someone loved you. My grandma said that my hair was my crown, my beauty, and she wanted people to look at me a certain way. And for us to be received in the world in a certain way.
So I think with going back to what Brown’s essay, studying Black women’s experiences with their hair is not just about understanding how Anti-Blackness, white supremacy, ableism, and classism shape Black women’s self-esteem, but it also helps us understand how these oppressive forces limit Black women’s ability to find jobs. That was a major through line in the paper. At the end of the day, each of the participants in the study have stories about how their hair choices impacted how and where they found work. Black skin and wooly hair has historically signaled someone’s inferiority. Some of the focus study participants discussed how wearing their natural hair shaped people’s perception of their intelligence and their political affiliations. Brown names the practices of gathering meaning of Black women’s hair as reading, and she names “inability for people to understand how representations of Black women’s hair are perceived and how these representations are experienced as misreading.”
[0:32:08] BT: And so, we misread Black women’s hair often when we assign political or other meanings to their hair that do match the intent of the hair wear. So, in other words right, sometimes Black women wear their hair in a certain style or a certain way simply just because they want to. And it doesn’t necessarily have any political meaning to them. So relaxers may not mean that someone wants to be white or desires to be white. In the same way that locs may not mean that someone is especially radical.
[0:32:43] AJ: Grand rising, sister girl
[0:32:44] BT: Grand rising queen, I’m going to start greeting people like that ironically. That’s really what I want to do, is just start trolling people in these end days but anyway. But the reality is, even when it comes to our intentions as Black women with our hair because Blackness has been made a marker of proximity to death right, misreading of our lives, of ourselves, of our hair is actually inescapable.
And Brown actually claims in the article that Black women’s hair is trapped in a state of performance. So our hair can actually never just be. Our hair actually determines whether we are wearing our race right, which is like, wow, yes absolutely, whether we exhibit our authentic or appropriate kind of Blackness.
Brown actually explores this through two Black hairstyles that are seen as authentically Black and politized as such which are afros and dread locs. I prefer to call them locs because I heard someone say you know, there is nothing dreadful about my hair, so I was like, okay, I call them locs. But historically, these styles have been seen as symbols of Black self-redefinition and Black Nationalism. And locs have been associated with Rastafarianism and Black pride. The Black Power Movement cemented an image of the afro as a symbol of deviance, and it was criminalized. And we talked about the afro and Angela Davis in a previous episode, so that is something we will add to the show notes, because I didn’t have it here in my notes. But in Canada, Brown writes that the afro is linked to a culture of rebellion during the 1960s and 70s. So some of the women interviewed actually talked about how they did not want to wear an afro to job interviews because they were afraid of being seen negatively.
[0:35:00] AJ: Okay, this is an another question I don’t quite have the answer to, but I wonder if this is now new; I guess denial resistance to the dread part of dreadlocs is because of its like decoupling from its cultural context? And I want to hear more– reasonings from people because I have noticed that people don’t say dreadlocs the way that they used to. People will say locs, mostly. And maybe it’s a USian thing, but I know that dreadlocs wasn’t something that was pejorative or something like that. That’s what Rastafaris in Jamaica call it, as far as call themselves. –They call themselves dreads, you know. So I wonder if there’s been this steep disconnection from its historical and cultural context that people are now like making this semantic association that never—that’s being imposed on the word. People are making this a semantic association being imposed on the word that doesn’t have anything to with its original cultural context. But more of a question for someone who is an expert, not quite me.
[0:36:26] BT: Yeah. I would say that I did not know that. I just literally heard some older Black woman say there is nothing dreadful about my hair.
And was like okay locs–
[0:36:37] AJ: I am not opposed to people saying locs, but I think that the logic behind it might be a misinterpretation of where it comes from. But yeah, I mean, Bob Marley talks about being a natty dread. That’s just the word, but maybe we can get Dr. Brown to answer the question. Brown also discusses the role of respectability politics and maybe the dread has something to do with that too. Dread lacks respectability. Take it out, locs, hmm, sister locs? That sounds very approachable. Dreadlocks sounds like something that people should be scared of, okay.
[0:37:24] BT: Well, I mean, I will say sister locs definitely comes from a kind of respectable because the whole idea is that you have these small styleable “locs” that you can even flat iron or curl, and honestly, if you didn’t— if you saw me on zoom and my hair wasn’t, — obvious that my hair was loc’d. It just looks my hair is down. And so, I definitely think sister locs stem from that, and it was invented by a professor or something like that, — so definitely some respectability politics there for sure.
[0:37:58] AJ: Alright, well, there you go; we’ve given people at least two different paths to take on to build on Dr. Brown’s work if they’re so inclined. Alright, so Brown also discusses the role of respectability politics in misreading Black women’s hair. Hair is central to how Black women navigate society’s respectability. Brown states, “Black Canadian women engage with respectability politics that inherently promote the invisibility of Blackness as shown through the styles they use to fit in at work. They attempt to contain their Blackness by muting the racialized markers attached to their hair as a way to make their race less visible.” The unfortunate side to all of this is that Black women sit at the nexus of different oppressions that make us simultaneously hyper visible and invisible. In some ways, there is nothing we can do to make ourselves less Black, but straightening or relaxing our hair might be one way we attempt to do that. But let us be clear Black women changing their hair for better opportunities in society is not a reflection of Black women’s inferiority. It is entirely due to white supremacist and Anti-Black beauty standards that require Black women to seek authorization from the dominant culture in order to achieve.
[0:39:18] BT: And in order to survive honestly, hair is, and what it looks, like is literally a matter of survival, and I’ll talk about it later, but there was one story I read on Twitter that really made me think about that a lot. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how a Black woman wears her hair. What matters is how people misread her. And throughout the rest of the paper, Brown takes us through several case studies that illustrate how Black Canadian women experience discrimination due to wearing their natural hair and how the natural hair movement and other virtual homeplaces provide support for them.
And one of these places is on Instagram, through the account @CanadianNaturalistas, where Black women’s selfies with their natural hair challenge oppressive systems that dictated what was “beautiful” and acceptable. And through social media, Black women can establish their own forms of recognition and challenge negative stereotypes about them.
And this is what Brown stands ten toes down on in the paper. And we know that this is true, but we have to hold this truth with the texturism and featurism that social media can also promote, especially with the rise of Instagram and the rise of selfies and pictures. Whose picture gets circulated as beautiful natural hair, and whose doesn’t? Whose edges are laid, and whose are we asking for them to take a toothbrush or an edge brush to? So, the main takeaway from this work is that hair is a fundamental aspect of Black Canadian women’s subjectivity, and it is deeply embedded in political discourse. Regardless whether Black women want it that way or not.
[0:41:13] AJ: Our hair, like our bodies and other aspects of existence, condition how we understand race. As we stated before on the podcast, Black women are the blueprint.
[0:41:23] BT: Period
[0:41:24] AJ: We literally define the world. That’s why we still have these back and forth on social media about Black women’s hair. Like, hmm, every other week. Accepting our hair in all its forms would require a deconstruction of normative standards of beauty. Problematizing how we see Black women’s hair will help us to problematize other aspects of our existence and unsettle the world as it is. We can make the world that it needs to be.
[0:41:50] BT: Period. And so, I guess the only thing left to really say is why isn’t the world ready to let Black hair be?
[0:41:58] AJ: Let it be.
[0:42:00] BT: Let it be. It don’t got to be, it could just be, you know? (laughter) And speaking of the world. I think it’s a good time for us to move to our next section. What
[0:42:14] AJ: What?
[0:42:15] BT: What in the world?
[0:42:18] AJ: What in the world is going on?
[0:42:21] BT: What is going on y’all. What the fuck is going on?
[0:42:24] AJ: We are so excited about today’s episode because, as Columbia graduate students, we are not four fields trained. We are cultural anthropologists through and through. But today, we are joined in the zoom studio by Dr. Tina Lasisi, your friendly neighborhood biological anthropologist and your favorite source on the science of hair, skin, and human biological variation in general. Dr. Lasisi is a biological anthropologist with an interest in studying the evolution and genetics of human hair and skin. Her work focuses on developing rigorous methods to understand the landscape of biological variation and a critical lens to investigate how that overlaps with various social concepts. She aims to provide people with the knowledge and tools to understand how we can study human variation and how it matters in everything from cosmetics to technology and medicine. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southern California in the department of Quantitative & Computational Biology and is gearing up to open her lab, that’s right, her lab, in Fall 2023 when she officially starts as an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. Welcome to the Zoom studio, Dr. Lasisi!
[0:43:42] AJ and BT: Aye! Pop. Pop. (celebration noise) Aye!
[0:43:46] Dr. Lasisi: I made it y’all! I made it! This is the endpoint. This is what I’ve been working towards! I’m on Zora’s Daughters! I can quit, I can retire, I got tenure. – (laughter)
[0:43:56] BT: I wish, oh my gosh. –
[0:44:00] AJ: We say it all the time, but yes, we are absolutely thrilled that you are finally here! I feel like your work in academia and beyond epitomizes what professors, what academics should be, what they should strive for getting their work outside of the ivory tower. Your research is rigorous. It is critical, and yet you make it accessible to those who can benefit from that knowledge. You’re in journals, and you’re on NPR. So I definitely want to know, and I think others do too, how did you create such an dynamic academic career for yourself?
[0:44:38] TL: Whew! How did I do it? Well, like most things in my life, I stumbled into it by doing a lot of things that seemed entertaining at the moment and going against other people’s advice.
[0:44:52] BT: True Pisces life
[0:44:59] TL: But y’all also certainly got pushback in grad school for doing, you know, public outreach communication because it’s something that is not considered to be a currency for us as academics. So, I remember when I first started out, I had a Twitter, and a little blog, where I talk about my research, and you know I had my adviser and other faculty be like, you know you could wait until your whatever a professor, tenured and then you can write a book and go on tour. Whatever is they think happens, and then that is a correct sequence of events. But that doesn’t take into consideration that we have gained all these new platforms and tools that offer different modes of communication. Then what is traditionally considered to be valuable public outreach by academics? And so, I just started talking about it, and a lot of that has to do with when I was in undergrad. I did my undergrad at the University of Cambridge in England, and I was trying to get Black people in my participant pool. I wanted to study hair, and that meant that I had to leave Cambridge because it’s not a very colorful town. So I went to London, and I started working with Afro-Caribbean student groups to tell them about my research. Now you can’t just walk up to Black people and take their hair for science.
Surprise. You got to explain what’s going on. And you got to answer a lot of what kind of juju is this. Are you going to clone me? And that means you have to establish trust. Which you both, as cultural anthropologists, are of course, so aware of. There’s nothing more fundamental than establishing that relationship first and explaining why you are here. What are you trying to do? And so I was trained by myself to bake that into my research from day one. To explain what it was that I was doing in a way that was accessible, why it mattered to us. And not just why does it matter to whoever you are reporting to, why does it matter to your institution, to whatever colonial body that is sponsoring you. No, why does it matter to us, that I am able to do this research? Like how that is going to be able to move us forward. How is that answering questions for us?
And so that already got me on this track of, you know, being on social media and explaining to people what I’m doing and demonstrating what it looks like, showing I’m not –going to mess up your hair. I am not going to shave you bald, just going to take a couple of strands. And so, a lot of that continued through grad school. It actually opened the door for me to do academic talks. So, I remember the first time I was invited by a friend in Cambridge to go do a talk there. And then I was invited to another talk in Pittsburgh, and it just went on. I was doing this little basically speaking tours in different anthropology departments, and that became incredibly helpful for my academic career.
So all these things I was being discouraged to do by academics ended up helping my academic career. All of this public outreach that I did, a lot of the people who consumed that, are people in our field because lol our field. You touched on it when you said four fields. Who has seen the fourth field, this alleged linguistic anthropology? I met my first linguistic anthropologist recently at the University of Michigan.
[0:48:34] AJ: We read a linguistic anthropologist, okay. We proudly say that we did that.
[0:48:38] TL: Yes, one of the four fields that we know. Even within biological anthropology, the breadth of things that are covered, methods that are used, you don’t understand everyone. I don’t understand what primatologists are doing. When I started out, I didn’t understand what geneticists – there’s people who do fossil work. So you have to make your work understandable to your colleagues. That’s one of the nice things about the way anthropology is set up, even though it fails in a lot of places, you know the thought is nice, and when it works, it’s great. So, yeah, that’s pretty much it. And then, when I started doing my first “postdoc,” because long story, but my first post doc at Penn State was sponsored by the Howard Hughes medical institute. It was specifically to create educational content, and that’s what got me on TikTok. Now once I was on TikTok, things really took off, and– people found me; now I have a PBS digital studio show.
[0:49:39] BT: PBS (celebrating) you made it.
[0:49:42] AJ: I was like, I have to make sure we drop this in there because I didn’t put it in the bio; there’s so much to put in the bio that I was like, this can’t. I have to take some stuff out, and we’re talk about it later, but we—Our girl is on PBS got her own series NPR, doing all of this public outreach stuff, which is so cool. And your TikToks were just hilarious. You were crushing TikTok. You had your whole vibe on there, you’re answering people’s questions like about Darwin and about our hair and debunking all these myths and stuff. People are loving it.
[0:50:26] TL: Yeah, it’s so much fun. It’s a lot of work. I mean I’m preaching to the choir here, y’all know. It’s fun, it’s a lot of work, and I think it’s severely undervalued for the good that it does.
We can’t assume that whoever we’re forcing to take our class as a gen ed requirement it is going to change the world. We need to be more vocal and public about not only the work that we do but the lens through which we see the world, which is what I love so much about this podcast. That is something you explicitly do, you help people see the world in another way.
I feel like in lowercase anthropology, as Brendane would say, that is the value. That is what you can do with it, and that is what we’re trying to do and give to people because, at the end of the day, most people aren’t going to be anthropologists, and that’s fine. But a lot of people are going to be having influence on the world in a way that an absence of anthropological perspective can be incredibly dangerous, and we’re talking here about AI. I especially started getting into AI facial recognition recently, and even forensics and medicine, anything. Pick whatever people will benefit from understanding human variation both in terms of culture and biology, and there’s a lot of underestimation going on where people think, oh, I know humans; what do I need to ask –
[00:51:55] AJ: I’m a human.
[00:51:56] TL: What do I need to ask–I myself am a human.
[0:52:02] BT: Yeah, so we are going to ask you some questions from our Instagram followers. Before we get to it, though. You all, this is how we know we are talking to a Black community. We say what questions do y’all niggas have about hair? (laughter)—and y’all said here we go, here is a 100 questions. So, we want to be clear Tina is not a cosmetologist neither are we. Some of your questions can only be addressed by someone who studies styling hair, and per this episode, we know how important that is for Black women and other Black folx to know, but we will not be able to answer those questions. But we do have a few questions that we are just going to ask Tina real quick, to answer so that y’all can get some – calm some of your anxieties about it so the first one is, what exactly is heat trained hair?
[0:53:05] TL: Whew, okay, heat trained hair is basically damaged hair, is what it is. So people will engage in whatever it is, rather it is blow drying or straightening their hair with a flat iron to make their curl pattern looser, and I think what is especially toxic is calling it heat training instead of what it really is which is the controlled damage of your hair, because you do not like your hair texture. So, that’s really all I have to say on that font. I would say be aware that you are damaging your hair no matter how pretty the label is.
[0:53:40] BT: There you go.
[0:53:42] AJ: Alright, next question, porosity explained.
[0:53:43] BT: That’s it (laughter)
[0:53:49] TL: Discuss! (laughter)—Loving this essay prompt. So, your hair fiber can be thought of as having three possible layers, the outer layer is the cuticle, then you have the cortex, that is the main part, and sometimes you have a hollow part in the middle that is called the medulla. Now the outer part the cuticle is, imagine the titles on a roof, and the more open they are, the more porous your hair is. The more closed and tight they are, the less porous it is, like literally the less can go through the cuticle to the cortex; so there’s things that you can do to make your hair more porous, in general heat will open up the cuticles, water I think more basic substances can open up the cuticles and then cold will close them up again. So that is porosity, in general, its not different levels of actual holes in your hair, but its like how open or closed your cuticles are, and if they’re damaged, you can also be missing cuticles, and your hair can be very porous because of that.
[0:54:55] AJ: What difference does it make knowing your hair porosity? Sorry, we aren’t supposed to do follow-ups, but I think people might want to know.
[0:55:01] TL: That is a completely fair question, so the difference that it makes is how quickly your hair gets wet. So, when I didn’t do anything with my hair, like didn’t straighten it, it would take forever to get my hair wet. – when I had a lot of hair, I would stand under the shower, and it would be like, okay, is it wet yet? It’s not wet. I have to stay under the water for a minute, and on the flip side, when I go out, how long does it take to dry my hair? When I had a full head of hair, it would sometimes take a whole day. And actually, it still wouldn’t be dry. Its really annoying. So that is very low porosity, like those cuticles are holding on to whatever, nothing is coming in or out. If you especially have very damaged hair, although there is natural variation, it will be very quick to get wet and very quick to dry.
[0:55:45] AJ: Got it. Also, just wanted to add wanted clarify or specify when Tina said Dr. Lasisi said basic substances, she was talking about the acid-neutral base, basic. Like baking soda would be a base or a basic substance. Not something like Starbucks pumpkin spice latte (laughter).
[0:56:08] BT: Yo, the pumpkin spice drinkers, are hurt – I have low porosity hair. It takes a very long time for my hair to get wet; it takes a very long time for it to dry; the struggle.
[0:56:25] TL: Wash Day is a struggle. It’s really wash week.
[0:56:27] BT: Yes, that is why it took me so long to wash my hair because I’m like – Now I got to figure out am I sitting under the hair dryer and possibly damage hair or going to let it air dry and not be able to leave and go anywhere. So, the next question is, what is the relationship between curl patterns and geography, and how did our hair evolve to be so curly? The second question I know from watching your dissertation defense.
[0:56:56] TL: So, thank you for asking that question. That question is literally my entire dissertation, aka the last decade of my life. When we talk about human variation and geography, actually what’s really important to understand is that we use geography as a proxy. What matters in biology and human variation mostly, is how closely related we are to each other, and so people who live closer tend to be more closely related. But, there isn’t necessarily a direct link with the environment, and when we’re talking about natural selection, so the process through which people’s traits can change because some trait gives you an advantage in a particular kind of environment that is something that happens over many generations, like hundreds, sometimes thousands of generations.
In general, if I were to give you a brief tour of the world in terms of hair. Across Africa you have different levels of tightly coiled hair, so different level of tight to loose curls all over the continent, and you leave the continent. You go to Melanesia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands kind of towards Australia. The Indigenous people there also have very tightly coiled hair to slightly looser curls and waves. And you go to East Asia, the Americas, you have a lot of thick straight hair, and then if you go towards western Asia, South Asia, and Europe, you have a range from very thin hair to thick hair, can be curly, wavy, and kind of looser curl patterns. So that’s like your little tour of the world.
And why we think this distribution exists is because when humans first evolved became bipedal, they lost their body hair but was really beneficial to have to scalp hair. So, if you are standing in the sun, the thing that is getting beat down by the sun the most is your head. That is the closest thing to the sun. So, having it covered is very handy because your head is not protected by anything. If you ever had a head wound, you know that stuff bleeds is because your head is really vassalized and that means it’s also really easy for it to overheat and for your brain to overheat. So imagine if we had something to cover it naturally, like a head of hair. That’s where it comes in, and curly hair especially, and as I found out through experiments that I did in my Ph.D., is this incredible structure that is able to minimize how much heat gets through a by radiation of your head to your scalp while maximizing how much heat you can use and the reason I’m waving my hand. It’s amazing because it’s usually a tradeoff.
We have a lot of other mammals in hot environments. They have fur because it minimizes how much heat they gain, so they don’t overheat, but it also traps heat, and that’s because that is what straight hair does, but if you have tightly coiled hair, it forms this incredible voluminous structure with all these intricate air pockets that means that you are not overheating. There are a lot of misnomers out there. Like people will call Black hair woolly, and they’ll be like aren’t you hot? I’ve had that when I grew up in Europe, aren’t you hot with all that hair? And I’m like, no (laughter). Because that’s just not how hair works, it’s nothing like wool, but that is basically the cliff notes. I think I answered everything there, right?
[01:00:23] AJ: Yes, how did our hair evolve to be so curly?
[01:00:25] TL: How? Well, we don’t know exactly. So, what I’ve done so far is test a hypothesis that says I think this is the function of hair. What we have to do next is, have a more elaborate hypothesis that states where in your life or where in ancient human lives would this have been making a difference. At the end of the day, evolution is about who has more children. So, when it comes to skin color, we know that a selective pressure for having less melanin is the ability to produce vitamin D., So that is one thing that we photosynthesize which I think is pretty cool. But, the thing about melanin is because it’s so protective, it limits the amount of that radiation that gets through, which is also the amount of radiation that can create vitamin D. And so, there’s all of these physical health issues you can have with vitamin D deficiency. Where you can think, like, okay makes sense that somebody might be chronically fatigued, chronically ill, and then over the span of their life would have few children than somebody who was marginally more able to produce vitamin D.
Now on the flip side with folate, it’s the same thing. People who are pregnant take folate, it’s really important for a healthy pregnancy for that baby to survive, and so we can immediately say, okay, makes sense, so the more protected you are, the more healthy children you would have had. We can’t do the same thing with hair yet. Like we don’t know where exactly it would have been making a difference, but as we are learning more, we are going to be able to answer that question. We are also going to be able to answer questions about exactly when in time and how many times natural selection was affecting it. In order to do that, we really need to know more about the genetics of hair. Because hair doesn’t fossilize so, unlike you know any skeletal traits the only way we can reconstruct that history is if we can reconstruct this family tree basically of how these different genes evolved and dispersed.
[01:02:27] AJ: That’s so interesting. This reminded me of one of my favorite or your TikTok’s, which was someone asking if our hair is genetic and comes from evolution and natural selection, why the hell did I evolve to have booty hole hair (laughter).
[01:02:44] TL: I’m screaming! Yo, that question.
[01:02:48] AJ: That was the best. You were like it’s a hitchhiker, and I was like oh, this is a trait that has stuck on to other things; it’s related to something else. It has nothing to do
[01:02:57] TL: Yep. Booty-hole hair be like that.
[01:02:59] AJ: If you were wondering why, what evolutional purpose booty hair has, it doesn’t have one. Okay, so next question why did my hair get straighter after children?
[01:03:15] TL: That is a great question. So, I have historically done most of my research on things that are related to race and ancestry, which is a particular dimension of human variation. Now another dimension that is really fascinating is sex. So, sex you can see as another dimension of human variation, and I think it’s so exciting because sex is what you can see over the course of someone’s lifetime. So we go through multiple puberties, actually. We go through puberty in utero I recently learned, and then there is the regular puberty that we know about. But throughout our lives, we have this — endocrine system that communicates with all these different structures in our body and says, start making this, make more of that, make less of that, and whatever combination of different hormones and hormone receptors you have that can produce that many different traits.
So we know that hormones affect hair because what happens when you go through classical puberty, you start getting what we call secondary sex characteristics. So, pubic hair — armpit hair, other types of body hair. Some people get facial hair. When we say you get these hairs, you are not suddenly growing hair where there was none. You are transforming what were tiny vellus hair, transparent hairs, into these larger terminal hairs. If you look at beards, especially, there is such a different texture from a lot of other hair. That also is a like this fascinating hint that we know hormones and hormone receptors can affect hair texture and so what a lot of people have said is. That you know hair has changed through puberty or after pregnancy. Pregnancy is another moment where you know hormones are doing different things throughout your body, and different things can change, including your hair. So, hair color, I’ve heard hair texture has changed, and I’m trying to think what else I’ve heard- chemotherapy. And these are things where we can suspect that the affect is hormonal and because hair follicles are constantly cycling through these different growth stages. They can change throughout your life multiple times. People don’t realize your hair follicle is this mini organ that goes through cycles of life and death. It’s constantly changing, and that means, you know; you could be a whole new person every whatever seven years when it comes to your scalp and every month when it comes to your eyelashes and eyebrows.
[01:06:07] BT: You know, I wish my eyebrows would come back. (laughter)
[01:06:12] AJ: Jamaican Black Castor Oil.
[01:06:16] BT: Because I’ve had a little too many times, the threader the salon and they took too many hairs out
[01:06:20] AJ: Look, Jamaican Black Castor Oil (laughter)!
[01:06:26] TL: I can’t support that statement; I can’t deny that statement, but whatever helps your hair follicles, that’s really what you need to do. Because once they’re damaged, that’s it. Game over. Until okay, till I figure out what genes are involved with hair growth because then we can start gene editing things. And once we can start gene editing things, we can like make little topical creams that are going to stimulate hair growth in places or stop hair growth in other places. That’s the future.
[01:06:57] BT: You’re a multi-billionaire–
[01:06:59] AJ: If you could solve male-pattern baldness or something.
[01:07:03] TL: If I could solve not only male pattern baldness but get men to be able to grow beards when they want, I will be the richest person that has ever been in this galaxy. That’s it. Game over. No one will ever touch me again. – World leaders will bow at my feet okay –
[01:07:18] BT: And you could put something in the cream to make them better, okay (laughter).
[01:07:24] AJ: You know if we are going to be gene editing (laughter), whew! —Help some sisters out, okay.
[01:07:32] TL: If only they were genetic –Men, derogatory sorry
[01:07:40] BT: So, what are some myths about Black hair that need to be debunked? For example, is hair typing, whether you’re 3A or 4c hair, is that actually something that’s useful?
[01:07:53] TL: That is a great question. Also I need to stop answering every question with that is a great question because that is an annoying academic thing to do.
[01:08:01] AJ: No, you are so enthusiastic about your work, and we love it.
[01:08:06] TL: I’m enthusiastic about all y’all questions as well. When it comes to hair typing, to me, that is fascinating because that’s the intersection between perception and what people subjectively consider important salient and biological variation. So, before the hair typing system that we’re familiar with, 3b, 4c, all that really you have a lot of verbal descriptions. In English and other languages where you categorically describe hair as straight, wavy, curly. In a way that is very Eurocentric. And I say that as a side note, if there are any cultural anthropologists listening to this who want to study hair and the biology of hair, I am looking for cultural anthropologists who can help me look at how we talk about hair in other languages. Because surely, other people thought about hair before English and French people decided to characterize them in a particular way.
But what Black women have done is they have taken Oprah Winfrey’s hairstylist Andre Walker’s system – took it ran with it, evolved it, made it more sophisticated, and this happened along side the growth of the Natural Hair Movement. Now I was passively involved with that, you know when I was 16, growing up I stopped straightening my hair. It was this incredibility empowering tool for Black women to have the language to describe the variation in our hair because we have very different hair from each other—yet, growing up, in a lot of white places having a lot of products that are created for white people or at the very least by white people, that kind of group us together didn’t address the needs that we had. So what Black women then do, is they become the scientist in ways that were not rewarded, that were not paid. It really irritates me because so much of the stuff that I read in scientific journals from, like, the early 2000s about hair, is barely thought out. You have these women who wrote these blogs, had YouTube videos, who really did studies but not in a setting considered to be academic or scientific and developed this language.
Now the issue that we find with this hair typing is, again it is subjective even if we have the language for this. It ends up being a discussion of who is the ultimate arbitrator of whether you or a 4b or a 4c. And what’s interesting also is I see this drift occurring where Black women start something and then that something becomes diluted both within Black communities by mixed light skin loose curled Black women and then sometimes non-Black women coming in and then what was initially for Black women by Black women becomes no longer recognizable. So what happens we try to find new language. I actually recently found this Instagram called 4c only. And to me, that clearly says it’s a clear attempt at Black women with tightly coiled hair. Again, this clumsy language that we have to describe it—being like, okay, no, not you with the 3a loose curls that you know, whatever tie it up.
[01:11:56] BT: Curly girl, ride out you waves
[01:12:01] TL: Girl, you know how it is people who say I have a fro kind of when I wake up—But you don’t though…
[01:12:10] BT: You just got frizz
[01:12:11] AJ: The way that I’ve seen white women talking about how it’s wash day and they are reclaiming their curly hair and-
[01:12:22] TL: Bruh! It gets me heated –
[01:12:23] AJ: And they know that their curly hair. And they had curly hair because they have been straightening their hair their whole lives all of this stuff. I am just like how–
[01:12:34] TL: Bro, what is this—
[01:12:34] AJ: You are already appropriating the features, how are you appropriating the struggle?
[01:12:43] BT: I mean, Rachel Dolezal really showed us how it’s possible
[01:12:50] AJ: She opened up the doors and the windows
[01:12:53] TL: Sigh
[01:12:53]BT: Actually, I’m going to let the cameras in on this one –
[01:12:57] TL: Oh my God
[01:12:57] BT: That part doesn’t really surprise me. The surprising thing, not necessarily surprising, but what has been interesting is observing the drift that you talked about Tina with lighter skin and mixed race Black women who are all of a sudden like, oh yeah, I have type four hair, I have tightly coiled hair. Then you have the resurgence of 4c only. If you have 4c hair, then I have 4z hair.
[01:13:28] TL: Exactly.
[01:13:31] BT: –It’s not the same thing. You cannot continue to—it’s this remapping of desirability where damn, even the spaces that were created for those of us who don’t fit mainstream beauty standards, is being taken over by women who would already be considered beautiful no matter the fuck what right. So its-
[0:13:55] TL: It’s really interesting because what Fenty beauty has done for skin color, which ironically this is a whole separate story, but we have ways of objectively measuring skin color. Yet, even though Sephora says that they have this tool where they can measure your skin color, it’s never worked at a single Sephora where I’ve been. I’ve always asked for it. They probably think I’m kind of an insider and don’t let Tina Lasisi see our tool because she is going – I don’t know what they think I’m going to do anyway.
[01:14:23] AJ: I remember the group chat, you being like, guys, is this the right color for me? I’m trying to do this color match. You were sending us pictures and stuff, and we were just like, try this one; what about this one? Oh, man.
[01:14:35] TL: Exactly, but at least we have some language, right? What’s been fascinating, again from an anthropological perspective, is how now this scale that Fenty Beauty has given us now is the language to be. Oh, if you are not in the 300s, are you even Black? Or no, no, I’m not talking about your Black whatever 350. I’m talking about I’m in the 400s. That’s my experience. That can be a very empowering thing, but what’s interesting about race.
One of the many interesting things that’s interesting is this idea that features go together. The thing is, there are very, very light skin people or relatively light skin people who have tighter curls than any dark skin person. Khoisan people in South Africa, Indigenous people in South Africa have the tightest curls I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen their curl samples. They win, hands down. But they are relatively light skin, but even if you’re talking about mixed people. There are some people, because of how the genetics of this trait works, who are really, really light skin, have freckles, have really, really, tightly curled hair. Also, vice versa, people who are dark skin have relatively loose curls. However, because of this, I guess the process of which we racialize people. There is something about skin color that has –I want to say some kind of primacy in how we read someone.
Where people will read you or read someone as dark skin as having more tight curls than they actually do, I want to do some experiments on this and actually show people things, but I’ve seen this happen with me, for example, where white people who see me as Black in places where there’s only really white people they think I’m a lot darker than I actually am. So, it’s this filter that goes through a stage of okay well, these are the categories that exist in my head, and you’re over there, so whether you are all the way over there or slightly over there, this is the same to me. The same can happen in any other direction. When we’re like, okay, I’m sorry you’re like dark blonde, not light brunette, it’s literally the same. (laughter) But it’s important to you.
[01:16:57] AJ: Yeah, I think this is something we were trying to get at –this intersection between texturism and colorism you have someone like Tatyana Ali, for example, who is a dark skin woman but has I what will I know what you all will call it, but Caribbean people would say cooly hair. So she has very silky texture, loose curls kind of hair, but people will be okay she’s a dark skin woman. But then there categorize her as being more acceptable of a dark skin Black person because of her hair texture and things like that. We were trying to get at this in our what’s the word section. Yeah, this not quite my wheelhouse but there is something. There is a way that all these ism’s interact with each other colorism, the featurism, and the texturism, particularly in Black communities.
[01:17:59] TL: Absolutely. If you think about also things that are supposed to be empowering but actually, I don’t think are-. One thing that I see a lot on social media Black people showing various tribes in Africa out of context with long hair, being like look, our hair is long, right.
[01:18:22] AJ: The blonde hair too.
[01:18:24] TL: The blonde hair, look, we can be blonde too. I see where you’re going with that, but I don’t think it’s actually empowering. Why is it that such an achievement? Why is it that’s the pinnacle of humanity there’s actually a series of letters in evolutionary anthropology that I always refer back to where a bunch of white people, literally medical doctors who love to do- let me not insult anybody. But, anyway, there was a lot of armchair evolutionary theory where they basically said what is special about humans is that humans grow long hair that needs to be cut. That is what it means to be human. And somebody had to come in and be like I think you are forgetting some humans. I think you are forgetting some humans who are very much human but don’t have the kind of hair that grows so long where it needs to be cut because, otherwise, it would be unwieldy. It’s really interesting.
[01:19:14] BT: I think, honestly, it’s a literacy issue. You know me, the educator, from an educator, because schools are so bad now that people don’t understand actually, like biology 101, which is that genetic variation could only come from people that have like from Africa, right? Africa is where life started, so you can’t just make a new. How do I explain this in a way the way that my science teacher explained it to me. But basically, she was saying that the genes of the first human beings had to have the capacity for whatever genetic variation that we see. If life started in Africa – you have to have that genetic variation. There is some way. So it’s not that being blonde as European is something that is extraordinary; the capacity for that was already in human genes.
It just became more expressed in Europe in certain ways. It’s basically how I was explained. But I think people really have a lot of internalized Anti-Blackness in the sense that they think they are doing something empowering. When they are actually doing, what you said, which is actually putting forth a Eurocentric view. And being like it was African first and it’s like but—
[01:20:38] TL: Yeah.
[01:20:39] BT: Does that matter?
[01:20:40] TL: Does it matter, does it help you. What’s interesting also is there’s like a certain branch of Pan Africanism or brand of Pan Africanism that’s happening there where like– what’s interesting is I see this in Black American’s especially were looking back on the continent of Africa because it has been presented as such,a place. No, no, no, you aren’t as closely related to everybody there. And there’s a lot of reasons why people aren’t able to make those links. But this homogenization of Africa as one place, and it even still happens, especially in genetics. Even when talking about there’s the most genetic diversity in Africa, we’re not really taught what that means because some traits, for example, the blonde hair, we don’t have those specific genetic variants in known African populations. It only occurs in Melanesians who are just as non-African as East Asians as Europeans, but at the same time, there’s a lot of African populations where you have albinism. Albinism is a form of blondism. It is because it is the lost of pigmentation, and so blonde hair has been elevated in some places; kind of like you were saying this super special thing where it’s not really that complex, it’s just like the loss of function. It’s a loss function mutation, as is blue eyes. You can’t make pigment anymore.
[01:22:15] AJ: Yes, I remember your TikTok about that
[01:22:18] BT: It was like, what power. I don’t know I’m going to sound like a Black Nationalist (laughter)
[01:22:25] TL: Bring in the hotepry!
[01:22:27] BT: You know the hotepress in me is like—Do you and I had to have this conversations with Black people about this, especially people who are like, I hate my hair, I hate my skin, and it’s like, do you understand that white people had to make themselves beautiful? And I think most people that doesn’t – when we talk about beauty standards, we kind of naturalize it, but that’s literally the process of white people making themselves beautiful. Because they looked around and said, damn, we don’t look like none of y’all. We got to figure out how to oppress y’all some way. So we are going to make ourselves superior.
[01:23:04] AJ: And also… At the same time, making certain things unnatural or ugly. And this brings me to one of the things that I wanted us to talk about today which I sent to the group chat way back in February a People article, and the headline was “Toddler Diagnosed with Rare Uncombable Hair Syndrome”. And I was like, this feels racist, and so according to Healthline, it’s a condition that is characterized by dry, frizzy hair that cannot be combed flat. So, in one of your articles that we read today, you addressed woolly hair syndrome, which is, and I’m taking this straight out of the International Journal of Trichology, which sounds great trichology. It’s not about turning tricks. It’s about hair. So wooly hair syndrome is a “rare congenital abnormality of the structure of the scalp hair characterized by tightly coiled hair involving part or the entire scalp occurring in an individual of non-negroid origin.”
[01:24:17] TL: Y’all
[01:24:18] AJ: My question is how can we parse youthful categorization of human variation and scientific racism? That article, mind y’all article, I think was from 2018 that I took that quote from.
[01:24:33] TL: I am spiritually exhausted because we did an episode on the PBS show that I’m on, and I was like, hair, I got you and I am going to get my little soap box and talk about woolly hair syndrome and how I think it’s BS, and somebody in the comments and they wouldn’t let me clap back; this is my opportunity so somebody in the comments had the audacity —
[01:24:59] AJ: Caucasity
[01:24:59] TL: Exactly, to say that I was deliberately misrepresenting woolly hair syndrome. That the article I was referring to was talking about how woolly hair was associated with some kind of neurological condition. Now, as you saw in that definition. The definition of the condition is by the hair by the fact that a type of hair is present that is not appropriate for your race. That is the definition of the condition. They have tried for decades to link it to something else because the idea is surely there has to be something wrong with you; you have this negriod hair. Like on my God like, it got to be something with your brain like maybe you have something. That’s not to say that some of the people who show up with “woolly hair” don’t have some kind of other condition but as do people with other types of hair. So I’m like, why are you literally distracting from helping this person with a thing that is actually maybe a health problem, focusing on something that is an aesthetic issue because you think it’s inappropriate for that person’s race. When you pair that with the fetishization of silky hair among Black people. I remember reading in this article where there were these kids who were diagnosed with some kind of malnutrition where their hair was silky, and so, there was this incredibly positive tone that was taken. Where these kids are suffering from xyz, but they have silky hair. And these were Nigerian nurses and Nigerian researchers, so like the level of internalization there. Where you see something where the primary presentation is, there is malnutrition. This person is sick, but then they display this trait that you associate with superiority.
[01:26:51] AJ: Health and beauty. Health, wealth, and beauty.
[01:26:53]TL: Exactly, and you know, just the way that contrasts with woolly hair syndrome and uncombable hair syndrome, it’s very interesting to me. Really what we need to explore here is medicine. But that loophole, think about it right, we are seeing– this a pathology because it is being presented in the wrong race.
[01:27:26] AJ: So, it seems like it’s one of those cases where people are seeing potentially a symptom and wanting to treat the symptom rather than actually treating the disease.
[01:27:40] BT: It’s naming it a disease.
[01:27:40] TL: Naming it a symptom even.
[01:27:43] AJ: But you’re saying there’s possibly some underlying condition that’s not being addressed that might need to be helped in this person–
[01:27:53] TL: And not even necessarily. There are some cases, like a lot of the medical, scientific literature is, case studies case reports. Where doctors will be like oop, this is what we saw, and in one individual there can be so many things going on. Like you don’t know what’s relevant but a lot of people. People who get diagnosed with woolly hair syndrome. It’s the hair that comes in. One of the, they will go to a demonologist and that. let me not say that in some cases especially the European cases that I’ve seen, there’s one Italian case that I remember where literally this girl it wasn’t even kinky, it wasn’t even coily bro, it was just curly white people’s hair. I was like
[01:28:40] AJ: And they said that was woolly hair syndrome
[01:28:43]TL: And somebody pointed out to me, Yamar is amazing; please have her on at some point. Her research is incredible. You know, studying dermatologists. How are they seeing the world? How are they diagnosing people? What she pointed out is the fact that I see kids in these case reports. It’s telling me that it was the parent that saw the child’s hair and said this is wrong. And that I was like, damn.
As you know, the parents said there is something wrong with this child, brings them to a doctor. Is like probably like my hair isn’t like this, or maybe their hair is in some cases; why is my child like this? So, that in and of itself is like a whole interesting situation. And there are other cases where a lot of medical reports are cases where individuals come from consanguineous marriages, so the inappropriate way to say that is inbred families but very close relatives having kids. There can be a lot of things that happen in that case, but sometimes, one of the traits that changes, is hair. So there’s been cases where people who have trace families and have been like, we see woolly hair here. And it could be any number of things that’s going on. But, that’s the thing that we are looking at. So many traits can be affected, but it’s what we chose to look at and what we choose to label as pathological
[01:30:14] BT: And that’s. And the connection to Blackness is something that is Blackness is pathological, right. You know you pathologize Blackness; anything that approaches that then becomes a disease. So,
[01:30:34] TL: Yep.
[01:30:34] BT: Brings you in closer proximity to death. That is where just where the world is. And one day, it won’t be there no more, but I’m like, damn, this is exhausting. I’m over it
[01:30:50] TL: It truly is. I’m over it. And even uncombable hair syndrome to me is very interesting. Its made distinct because the way they define it is always silvery hair that sticks out, and it has interesting cross-section that I’ve seen in normal hairs as well. But they’re trying to figure out what it is, but this is kind of where you see what it means to be human is, to be in community, and be compared to others in your community. And so, putting aside the global context of Anti-Blackness, uncombable hair syndrome I have seen like described only in white people really. In white Europeans, in a lot of English cases, I’ve seen. Correct me if I’m wrong. There may be some East Asian cases, but if you think about what they’re talking about uncombable. Why is combing so important to you? I think in my article; I wrote why don’t we have unbraidable hair syndrome. I know plenty of people where you can’t hold a braid. They try on TikTok, but why, your edges are dead, your hair can’t hold a braid? But we don’t consider that a syndrome. But the fact that it’s uncombable is you now can’t adhere to the standard of your group. Whatever it means to do that, and so part of me also wonders, like, what would that have looked like in cases where humans were doing our kinds of things to their hair. I think it’s pretty recent in European history that people just been like, okay, we’re just going to leave it and do nothing.
Like doing nothing to your hair is like a waste of human talent. If you think about it just, historically, Humans have always done stuff with their hair. It’s a medium that we use to express ourselves. And so, if you look at recent history, that’s also where I think a lot of this toxicity is. Right, this idea that you need to wake up in the morning, get out of the shower and have your hair fall in a particular way is also very odd for humans. Because if you look throughout so many cultures throughout their histories, they have these intricate hairstyles. The fact that we have to be in community, spend hours doing each other’s hair. That is a testament to being human. Like it says, I have somebody who is on my head for 14 times, three days, three nights to get my hair done. To me, that is much more interesting of a human story than this weird eugenic concept of which one of us was born correctly?
[01:33:32] AJ: Interesting
[01:33:34] BT: I love that. It took 40 hours to install my locs.
[01:33:40] AJ: I remember we were texting, and I was, wow, still there? You were like oh, it’s supposed to be done in a day or something, and you were like nope, still here.
[01:33:54] BT: Oh, she told me the density of hair and the length of my hair because I didn’t have no real conception of how long my hair was.
I told her it was like eight inches, and she measured it, and in some places, my hair was like 16 inches long–. 14 to 16 inches long, so she was like, it’s going to take at least three days, it was four days. 40 hours and we just stayed up all night, and she would go home and come back the next afternoon, and we would just thug it out, me, my loctician, and Hoarders. We were there.
[01:34:34]LT: But, you’re really a testament to humanity because, think about it. I have this, my little conspiracy theory, hypothesis, is that humans evolved dexterity so we that we could braid and loc our hair. Prove me wrong; who has the strongest hands that you know? I always tell people I might be weak in my upper body but thumb if I grip you, if I pinch your cheeks, it’s over. It’s because of all the stuff I’ve been doing with my hair. I’m convinced the dexterity that you need to braid hair to me that is peak human okay. Show me something else that can hold something that small and do such intricate movements with their fingers.
I’m like, and people haven’t studied this because there is not enough Black women in evolutionary anthropology because otherwise, why would I be? Why is my ass, this clown the first one to do this. It is not because you know I am able to comprehend things that no one else can. It is because I am the only one in these spaces. And so many of us are pushed out of them. And I have gone on my little rant about this. I am the first Black woman to finish a Ph.D. in anthropology at Penn State. I’m not the first Black woman to start.
[01:35:42] BT: This is me hanging my head.
[01:35:43] AJ: Let that sink in y’all.
[01:35:44] BT: Will I finish?
[01:35:47] AJ: Let that sink in, Let’s just switch gears a little bit because—just so everyone knows, most of our conversations is based on conversations we had in our group chat. So-
[01:36:02] TL: There’s a group chat y’all. You can be jealous; I have exclusive access okay. They love me.
[01:36:11] AJ: So, a while back, I sent, I think it was a tweet because Edmonton police had tweeted this folder of pretty generic-looking Black male. And they were like this was developed from DNA phenotyping. Essentially they used DNA from a crime scene to determine what their physical characteristics were in order to create the image of their suspect. So, this sounds problematic and dangerous as hell. Is this for real? Can you really get my DNA and figure out what I look like? Is this pseudoscience? What are the risks?
[01:36:56] TL: Let me get adjusted in my chair. We should be scared that people use fraudulent science fiction, yes. There’s DNA phenotyping, and then there’s Parabon Labs. I’m pretty sure that this is the company that created that DNA phenotype mug shot because they’re usually behind all of this BS. I don’t care. I’m going to start a fight. Everyone, that I know in genetics, in academia, it’s the what are y’all doing? This is not how it works. There is like huge issues with what they do and I’m going to try to break it down.
So there’s this idea that you can predict someone’s traits from their DNA. So, if we’re able to study all kinds of traits and genetic variations and understand what genes influences what traits it stands to reason, okay. If we know what genes someone has, can we know what traits they have? Now the issue is that predicting things is difficult and predicting something as complex as the face, is extra difficult. What ends up happening is, for people of European ancestry, because they are so well studied genetically, it’s slightly more useful, slightly more individuating cause we know, we have so much data that we’re able to talk about different hair color and eye color may be, Now for non-Europeans because there is so little data and because the kinds of variation are different what ends up happening is you have like a racial profile. That’s it. That is all that you get.
[01:38:54] BT: A Black man between 5’7 and 6’2.
[01:38:58] TL: But we did it with 3D art this time, okay. So, it’s special okay (laughter), And this is really important for us to understand. I’m going more into facial recognition and AI now because, whether we like it or not, our faces are on the internet. I use Apple products, some of you may or may not as well. Even in other technologies, that facial recognition that opens your phone, whether you’re talking about going through customs and them looking at those things. That information, whether you like it or not. It is out there. And the people who are processing that information don’t understand human variation.
And so, what they do is, they do these analyses and create these algorithms that are biased in particular ways, surprise a disadvantage non-Europeans. So when it comes to DNA phenotyping, when you try to predict a face, what you end up doing is giving what is called a consensus face. A consensus ancestry face. So, if you think about it this way, if we look most similar to our siblings, we kind of look like our parents, and so on and so forth. What you’re seeing is the more closely related you are to someone, the more similar you look. And that’s because in a trait as complex as the face, there are so many genes that are involved with it.
In some ways, they parallel how genetically similar you are to someone. Now, If we think about genetic similarity and ancestry, who are you most genetically similar to, well people you share a lot of ancestors with. That has correlations with race. So, what ends up happening is you do all of these associations and analyses, and you can create what is called a consensus face. So you can be like okay, if we look on this axis that describes the difference between someone who of is this ancestry and this ancestry. Most people who are of this ancestry, this is the average face. This is the average face for that ancestry, and we can do the same with sex. We think this is like, you know this, like the average face for the sex, –No one has that face. Not a single person has that face, so what you end up doing is—you have this, and I read this somewhere, Charwick did some great work on DNA, phenotyping, and forensics. You don’t have a suspect individual; you have a suspect population.
You have a suspect race is what ends up happening, so now you’ve put this image out there that people can’t ever. You will never—especially when we don’t have the data like we do in Europeans, it’s not going to look anything like the person. You see of the things on their website that’s company website, and it’s a private company. And they don’t share their algorithm. So, none of us can figure out what the hell they are actually doing. Fraud.
[01:42:01] BT: Fraud.
[01:42:03] TL: And when you look at there, oh these are cases we help solve. This is the person they found, and this is the image we generated, and in some cases, I’m like, I guess, if squint, this white person kind of looks like that picture that you sent. But then, for people who are not European, this is a generic Asian man. You made a generic East Asia man, and you’re trying to—Yeah, we should be scared because the way that law enforcement takes this stuff up, that’s one of the biggest issues here. Things that are masquerading as science are weaponized to do what law enforcement wants to do anyway a lot of the times. Sometimes they don’t have a suspect whatsoever. Sometimes they know who they are looking for, and they are looking for evidence confirming that. And that can help that happen. And you know, even if no intentions are present, it can lead people in the wrong direction. And again, criminalizing an entire population is dangerous. So, yeah, that’s my little soap box. I want to stop now.
[01:43:14] AJ: And we know that those technologies are –they get are weaponized against Black people the most. So, yeah, we should be. One thing that we did also talk about, and personally I’ve done Ancestry DNA. So, I want to know where did they get these DNA samples. Should I be worried that the government has my DNA? Can they get it? Can I feel safe getting genetic tested for diseases, can I feel safe participating in clinical research?
[01:43:47] TL: Yep Yep. These are such important questions, and if I ever get around to doing all the work I plan to do during my post-doc one of the things I am working on with my advisor is forensic genetics genealogy. So some of you may have heard of the golden state killer case and how the person, who is actually a former police officer, I found out, shocker neither here nor there was found through a second, third cousin. Now a lot of the concerns that popped up about generic privacy is, it is one thing to consent yourself to be in a genetic data base. Let’s say that you, Alyssa are like okay, I know the risks; I agree to be there. From the perspective of genetic genealogy , you have just consented all your immediate relatives and all of your cousins up to probably your 2nd cousins, like your DNA is not your own. It is shared, and so that is one of the credibly powerful things about DNA that we are starting to (we knew), but its implications weren’t clear until just now. And if law enforcement actually has access to 23 & Me, and ancestry.com, it would be over. They can find everyone in the US.
Because that is how especially like you know European Americans, that’s it. You can find all of them. You have this unknown sample you will find a relative in those databases, and we’re working on some stimulation and calculations to see how that applies to Black people. But the thing is, there are other databases. A database called Codis which is, I want to say combined database index for people whose DNA have been taken either during an arrest or because they are incarcerated. They are already in a database. It’s different genetic markers they look at, but Black people are overrepresented in that database. And so, if we have this database where consent is not involved like if you are by law forced to give up a DNA sample, there is no choice there. So, I’m saying all this to say that there is no way to protect yourself individually, there is no way for us to protect ourselves individually, and that is something that a lot of Black and Indigenous genomicists and geneticists are trying to drive home.
We share DNA, so for us as individuals to say no and for anyone to go behind our backs and find someone in our community exposes all of us. And so that’s why it’s so critical for us to be involved in this research, to push forward agendas and laws that say even if this data exists, you can’t use it in such a way. That is the only thing that we can do now to keep ourselves safe because that information is already going to be out there; we need to make sure that the knowledge is around so people know how it can be used and abused and that the laws are there to give us a tool to maybe try and protect ourselves with. So you good, Alyssa, you fine I’m in the database too, but regardless. (laughter) You and me are foreign, like they know everything we give up our social media handles when we come to this country.
[01:47:13] AJ: I don’t remember giving my social media handles, but yes, all the bio metric data, of course, having your fingerprint scanned, and all those things.
I have a friend who is a lawyer, and she works a lot on privacy, intellectual property, and stuff like that and while she was doing one, Ash does the other. And she said one of the things that she always refused to give up was biometric data, but now that she is living abroad, she had to have her fingerprints scanned.
[01:47:40] TL: Yep.
[01:47:41] AJ: And those are things that really contribute to you being identified. My worry is, can they use data to frame me or some shit.
[01:47:51] TL: That’s a lot of people’s worries.
[01:47:52] AJ: The reason that I ask that question is that I don’t want to discourage people from getting tested for genetic diseases, or I don’t want to discourage people from participating in clinical research because we need to participate in these.
[01:48:06] TL: Yes!
[01:48:06] AJ: In these projects so that we are represented when it comes to vaccines. When it comes to
[01:48:17] TL: Any medical development
[01:48:17] AJ: medications. Exactly any kind of medical development or device. Like we need to be represented in these so that we know that it’s safe for populations like us. For people who you know are similar to us in terms of human variation. I’m trying to use your language. (laughter)
[01:48:37] TL: But you are getting it absolutely right.
[01:48:39] AJ: That’s why I ask the question because I don’t want people to hear this and be like, oh my God, I’m never giving anyone any of my anything that would lead to a DNA sample.
[01:48:50] TL: Yeah, exactly, so the thing is, the best thing we can do to protect ourselves is to be in positions of power when it comes to this research to negotiate these positions of power to broker for power because we can’t successfully like extract ourselves from these societies.
That’s just at the end of the day. That’s the issue. If we could somehow completely separate ourselves be on another planet, maybe there would be some hope but because we can’t do that. That information is going to be used on us regardless of whether we participated or not.
So whether it is about facial recognition technology, whether it’s about genetic information, or medical data, whether you did or did not participate, whoever they did, however small that sample is that is the information that is going be used to develop medical treatments that are going to be offered to you because that’s what they had. Welp, the closest thing we have is what we’re giving you here, and that’s why I’m so passionate about science communication and involving people in this process. And not doing any of this, you know, STEM only bs or get people in STEM when they are like three years old. Whatever.
I got into STEM when I was like, whatever 23/ 22 whenever I started doing this research and the way that information is just not being spread to people who need this information to make decisions is terrifying to me because this power. It’s power that people are withholding from us and we have to community safe by keeping them informed, and if we inform enough people, there’s going be lawyers among us. There is going to be activists who are like okay, you said that, okay understand that; can we do this? It might be something that I never thought of, and then maybe we can protect ourselves in a particular way or do something else. It’s so like crucial to have these conversations to generate new ideas.
[01:50:54] AJ: Wonderful. We are coming up on two hours of recording, not with you.
[01:50:58] TL: Oh my God
[01:51:00] AJ: Alight, let’s ask on a lighter note, let’s ask the question that everyone wants to the answer to. Every Black person who has hair, do I really need specialty formulated quadruple the price hair products for my negroid type hair?
[01:51:01] TL: I scream (laughter) So, this is where I’m going to be like give an annoying scholarly answer. If you wish to cleanse your hair, there is nothing that you need that isn’t–You could use soap, it could cleanse your hair, however many of us do not wish to just cleanse our hair. We have all these desires from it. We want it to hydrate the hair; we want it to make the curls pop. We want the curls to be clumping in a particular way. Now it’s the desire for a product to do particular things that decides the extent to which you might want to use one thing over the other. If products are being developed for people with super thin stick straight hair that has massive porosity, and all they want is for each individual stand to separate, if you do that, and then your curls aren’t clumping, you’re not going to be happy.
So there are people who spend years, including a lot of Black women developing products and testing it with Black women for Black women to see if its doing what they want it to do. In which case, like you know, you have that trial that has occurred, and people who have said I tried to make it do this thing. This is what I’ve gotten after years of trying it to do this, trying to get it to do this thing, and it will be more expensive, so if anybody really wants to learn more about cosmetology and this side of the research, there is Sister Scientist Erica Douglass, love her.
She is on Instagram (@sisterscientist), a chemical engineer by training, and spent her entire career developing hair products. Like you know, with Black women for Black women, amazing stuff.
And there’s a lot of money that goes into that research. So, it is more expensive. I would never say that you need anything because you don’t, But depending on what results you want to achieve, you may or may not want to skip the DIY experimentation on yourself and go with something where somebody already experimented and said hey this should do what you want it to do because you could always try reformulating it yourself but it’s kind of like the debacle that I have every time where it’s like oh I could buy this ready meal or I could cook and what happens is every time I try to cook I end up with a fridge full of ingredients that are rotting and I put them together and taste nothing like the thing that I wanted in the end so I go with premade.
[01:54:08] AJ: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Tina. This was
[01:54:11] BT: Thank you
[01:54:13] AJ: Incredible
[01:54:15] TL: Thank you for having me.
[01:54:17] AJ: It’s so much wonderful information and different from many of our episodes because we don’t have STEM scientists. You’re our first STEM person.
[01:54:33] TL: Which we should have a whole conversation about that because coming to the US, STEM was not a thing where I came from. What is STEM why would you put all these weird subjects together that doesn’t even make sense, and
[0:54:42] BT: Then they thought steam I don’t know.
[01:54:43] AJ: Bruh, they be trying. It’s the branding for me. It’s the marketing. The marketing is strong (laugh)
[01:54:50] AJ: Alright, tell everyone where they can find you because I know they are going to want to if they don’t already follow you
[01:54:56] TL: Boom, I am Tina Lasisi on everything. You can find me on Instagram, TikTok, and, you know, at some point, even LinkedIn. Let me give on this most toxic platform of all. I am also on YouTube. If you want to see the PBS show that I’m on, it’s on PBS Terra. Just search Why I am like this with Dr. Tina Lasisi you will find our episodes. Yeah, and that’s pretty much all the places you can find me, oh and starting next fall, you can find me in Ann Arbor because I will be at the University of Michigan.
[01:55:29] AJ: With her own lab, so if any of the research ideas that we just fed to you sound interesting, you might be able to do them in the Lasisi lab.
[01:55:39] TL: Exactly
[01:55:39] BT: Aww
[01:55:42] AJ: We are so excited for you.
[01:55:45] BT: All I was going to say is yes, we are very much excited for you.
[01:55:49] AJ: Alight, that is all we have for you today. Thank you all for listening. This episode was produced by Alyssa James and Brendane Tynes and distributed in partnership with the American Anthropological Association. This season of the podcast is generously funded by a grant from the Arts & Science Graduate Council, the Heyman Center Public Humanities Graduate Fellowship, and donations from listeners just like you.
[01:56:11] BT: Thank you all for your support! If you like this episode, please share it via social media, WhatsApp, or even on that broke telephone you got. That little Nokia that you got in your drawer.
[01:56:21] AJ: Use the Nokia instead of the facial recognition iPhone (laughter). Hmm.
[01:56:30] BT: We would love to hear what you have to say about this episode, so be sure to follow us on Instagram at zorasdaughters and on Twitter at Zoras_Daughters. For transcripts, syllabi, and information on how to cite us or become a Patron to access exclusive content, visit our website zorasdaughters.com.
[01:56:50] AJ: Last but not least, remember to be kind to yourselves. Bye!
[01:56:54] BT: Bye!
[01:56:56] TL: Bye!
[01:56:58] BT: Period
[01:57:00] TL: Oh my God, guys I don’t want to be that valley girl, but Oh my God, I love you guys so much—As my face hurts from smiling so much I am such a stan, you don’t understand.