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Podcast: How To Wear Your Hair? A Potent Question For African & Caribbean Immigrant Women

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(Photo: Sally Nnamani)

For black women from Africa and the Caribbean settling in the U.S. means many changes. As immigrants their identity is shifting, as women they feel pressure to fit in and feel beautiful.

Listen to the Podcast Here:

On this podcast, Miranda Shafer and Sally Nnamani visit hair salons and the homes of immigrant black women from Africa and the Caribbean to talk about hair.

Sally left Nigeria when she was 12. She knows first hand the pressure recent immigrants face. When Sally’s parents broke the news to her five siblings that they were leaving Nigeria for the United States, her mom said to her and her three sisters “you girls are going to have to get your hair done!”

In Nigeria, having styled hair was a sign that you had money and that you came from a good home.  Sally says, “We would get our hair done for big occasions. My mom wanted us to look our best and that meant synthetic hair.”

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(Photo: Sally Nnamani)

Some of the women interviewed have similar stories: straight hair is equated with “putting your best face forward, ” having confidence, being beautiful. While women all over the world spend lots of money trying to be beautiful, the black hair care industry in America has a powerful story to tell. In 2012 this segment of the hair care industry brought in an estimated 684 million dollars, according to Mintel (a market research group).

Immigrating to the U.S. means leaving some things behind and picking up new ideas and customs in your adopted home. Black women’s relationship to their hair has been contentious for a long time: relaxers, perms, irons can be toxic to the body and the bank account.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation and the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation.
AboutFeet in Two Worlds
Feet in Two Worlds brings the work of immigrant and ethnic media journalists from communities across the U.S. to public radio and the web. Since 2005, this award-winning project has expanded the diversity of voices and stories on public radio by presenting the work of journalists representing a broad spectrum of immigrant communities including Arab, Bosnian, Brazilian, Chinese, Haitian, Indian, Irish, Latin American, Pakistani, Polish, and Russian immigrants. Feet in Two Worlds reporters appear on nationally-distributed public radio programs including PRI’s The World, Studio 360, and The Takeaway, American Public Media’s Marketplace and NPR’s Latino USA, as well as on public radio stations WNYC, New York Public Radio, and WDET in Detroit.