When I was growing up nearly every black woman and child I knew had a relaxer. Defined by Black Hairology 1401: a relaxer is a chemical straightening agent that is put on a black woman’s hair to make it more “manageable”. Throughout my entire childhood I had only one friend who did not have a relaxer simply because her mother believed that a relaxer was inappropriate on a child. Ironically, her mother was a beautician who was not only paid to put relaxers on women and children’s hair, mine being included, but she had relaxed hair herself. Furthermore, since the creation of the superficial phenomenon that some black women call “creamy crack”, false ideas have developed. If you were to go around a group of young black girls, all who are forced to get their hair relaxed by their mother’s, you may hear one say “I got Indian in my family.” Even though they all know her hair is sleek because her mother paid for it to be so no one speaks up to correct her. It is even evident in the media since the starlet with the bone straight hair is on the cover of the magazine while sister girl who rocks the natural is in the magazine towards the back. Therefore, I see that there needs to be a discontinued or reduced use of the relaxer for the negative affects that it tends to have amongst the black community on what is considered “good” or “bad” hair and the actual damage it does to a person’s scalp. By allowing oneself, or even worse your child, to commit the painful and damaging process of getting a relaxer not only can it cause permanent damage like alopecia, but it promotes and encourages a black woman’s self esteem to be rooted in a superficial view of beauty that is not indigenous to African Americans. However, for those women who choose to continue the process of getting a relaxer or having never had one, run while you can, here are the basic steps to follow for the chemical sleek finish.
There are two ways in which a black woman can have a relaxer done. She can go to the salon. She can pay $50 to $100 dollars to have it relaxed and styled. Then, she can go home, go to sleep, and wake up having it look completely different then the day before. Or, she can purchase a do-at-home kit that a friend can administer for just $5.99. Which one do you think Shareefa is going to do? I will walk you through the steps in which NeNe or Bonquisha can do it in exchange for you letting her wear your favorite dress that you both know is two sizes too small on her, some Funions, and an Arizona Tea. Before we get to the actual steps let me tell you a black woman’s secret. All black women know, now including you, that when waiting to have a relaxer done you do NOT scratch your hair. Do not even try to wash your hair before the process begins because a clean scalp burns. When you scratch your hair a thin layer of skin is exposed which will cause your hair to literally feel like it is on fire once the relaxer is on your hair. From my own personal experience let me tell you that it is not the best feeling in the world just for a hairdo like Rihanna.
Now, it is time to pay a visit to your local hair supply store. If you live in a community with a moderate to high population of African Americans then it will be very easy to locate. There is nearly one in every shopping center! Once you are inside the store locate a box kit relaxer. Relaxers are very easy to locate as well because store owners tend to have an entire wall dedicated to them since millions of black women relax their hair every 6 to 8 weeks, possibly every week if the ratchet knows no better. In the store you will notice that there are three types of relaxer, but my focus will be on a lye relaxer made with a sodium hydroxide base and activator in which a petroleum gel is used. And, yes you did read sodium hydroxide as if it is something that belongs on the periodic table, not on your hair. Also, if you don’t have these items at home I advise that you take the time to purchase them: one pack of combs, one perm brush, one plastic cap, one hand held blow dryer, one flat iron, and 2 aprons to be used during the process for these will come in handy. Purchase your items and make your journey back home.
At last, you arrive home from a fun filled trip to the hair store; it is time to setup location in the kitchen with a chair near the sink for you to sit in. This location is ideal for there tends to be a good amount of space and where a sizable sink is located just in case you have to make that mad dash to the sink due to a hot head. Next, you will open up the relaxer kit. Inside you will find the instructions that the person administering the relaxer will need to read. But, knowing a possible friend like NeNe she will toss it to the side, snap her fingers, and say “Girl I got this!” You will also find the relaxer base and activator, gloves, mixing stick, and neutralizer shampoo; it will also contain the conditioner, moisturizer, and a petroleum gel pack because you have to keep your edges tight. Once you take all of the components out, gather the relaxer base and activator so they can be mixed together. Add the activator to the base and churn until they are infused with one another creating a vile creamy texture. If you want to keep your sense of smell, brain cells, sight, and intestines DO NOT put that relaxer and activator, separate or together, anywhere close to your nose, eyes, and mouth. Sad to say but, yes, some people do try to consume relaxers hoping that it will cause an inner mutation creating straight hair. Have a timer or clock nearby so the relaxer on your hair can be timed accordingly. You do not want to end up like Pep from Salt n Pepa resulting in half of your hair being burned off, or even worse the fabulous Tina Turner with a bald head in “What’s Love Got to do With it?”
It is timed to be relaxed. Before taking a seat make sure that you and the person who is administering the relaxer, who from this point on I will call NeNe, are wearing an apron. If the chemicals get on your cloths it can bleach or even burn a hole in your shirt! Have NeNe put on the gloves because knowing her she will not want her $15 dollar manicure to turn yellow due to the chemicals. Now the process truly begins. First, start off by having NeNe apply the petroleum gel to your edges all around your head; then, have her part your hair in sections of four where she will apply the gel to. At this point your hair will be parted like a cross with gel on the exposed scalp. Time for the relaxer to be applied, honey child. Allow NeNe to put the relaxer in your hair moving from the back towards the front for this will allow for an easy and less messy application. She will pull a small part of your hair horizontally and then apply the relaxer close to the edges using the perm brush. She will continue this process until she is all the way up to your front edges leaving your hair covered with the relaxer.
Now, you must begin the process of waiting grasshopper! In order for the hair to truly get straight well, you must allow it to sit for at least 6 to 10 minutes. This is when the timer and patients come in handy. For the first minute everything is going to go fine. You will experience no tingling, itching, or burning; everything is just peachy keen. Another 2 minutes pass, but wait, you feel this horrible tingling that you want to scratch but you can’t. IT’S THE BLACK WOMAN’S SECRET! So, you sit for another minute. You come to realize that you scratched the back of your hair before the process waiting on NeNe – Oh Lord! Your head is starting to feel pretty hot right about now and you feel little drops of sweat ease from your forehead to the side of your cheeks. Looking at the clock you know that if you want to look “the bomb” you have to wait at least two more minutes. Yet, at this very moment it feels like NeNe could be smoking a cigarette right over your head dropping the buds in your hair. Nevertheless, you wait, wait some more, and is just hoping that any second now you hear that timer go off. Ting, Ting, TING!
NOW WASH IT OUT – and to think that women do this to their daughters as young as three! To get your scalp back down to the cool temperature that is should be have NeNe running some water under the kitchen faucet that is at lukewarm temperature. If it is too hot it will make your head feel worse or too cold, well, no one like cold water unless it’s being drunk. As NeNe begins rinsing the relaxer out of your hair make sure that your eyes are closed for if some of the residue gets into your eyes it will sting. After rinsing your hair a little to get a good amount of the relaxer out, NeNe will then get the shampoo and begin lathering it in your hair. For most neutralizing shampoo when the foam is pink that is an indication that the relaxer is still present on your scalp which you do not want. NeNe should continue the washing process until the foam is completely white meaning there is no relaxer present in your hair. With the relaxer completely washed out, blot dry your hair and apply the conditioner for 5 to 10 minutes. Keep the warmth in your hair by using the plastic cap you purchased or wrap your hair with the towel used to blot dry your hair. This is the calm after the storm now that your hair is getting back some nutrients that were just stripped away due to the relaxer. Wash the conditioner out, and then blot dry again.
Girl, you are almost there to your sleek finish. After you blot dry, add a quarter size of moisturizer in one of your palms, rub your hands together so the moisturizer spreads, and then smooth the moisturizer into your hair. Take a seat back in the chair set up in the kitchen and have NeNe blow dry your hair using a comb. Continue this process until your hair is completely dry. If your hair is not as straight as you would like you could use a basic home flat iron to get your hair to the bone straight flair. With your hair so straight you can begin whipping your hair back and forth or swishing it like some AKA’s at a probate. Take your hand through your hair girl and feel that smoothness. Oh no! You feel something that doesn’t feel smooth and hurts when you touch it. Well that means you have a scalp sore sweetheart, and right in that exact location that you scratched your hair. But, don’t stress about your new chemical mess. Make a daily habit of adding a small amount of the remaining petroleum gel that will cause the sore to heal. Well wasn’t that a journey?
This has been your first rush off of that “creamy crack”, but don’t overdose like some women because you will end up bald. After all, unless you break the habit it will catch up with you like all drugs. Besides, I do understand that beauty is pain, but there is no need for a black woman to get a relaxer. If we were all comfortable with our hair as is, the hair care industry that doesn’t benefit our communities would not strive as much as it does. And that’s a shame. In the words of Malcolm X who said it best “If they [African Americans] gave the brain in their heads just half as much attention as they do the hair, they would be a thousand time better off.”1 So with that said, determine if this practice is truly detrimental to the self esteem of a black woman, and take the time to reevaluate and determine what is truly important in life.