When Lupita Nyong’o walked across the stage to claim an Oscar for her supporting role in “12 Years A Slave,” she ushered in a fresh opportunity for black girls.
From the glow of her dark skin to the crown of her closely cropped natural hair, Nyong’o made natural beauty fashionable again.
Although black women have come a long way from skin-bleaching creams, hair remains a source of tension.
For instance, Chantelle Allen of the South Side, claims her 12-year-old daughter, Charlene Brown, was not allowed to compete in a cheerleading competition because her hair was braided.
The cheerleading competition was held at the Kalahari Water Park in Wisconsin Dells over the Valentine’s Day weekend.
“We got there and her coaches said I better take that ‘nappy’ mess out or she will not be performing on Sunday,” Allen told me.
“They made no mention of a hair standard before I made the decision to have the hairdresser put the braids in,” the mother said.
Catherine Calloway, the owner of Technique Gems, denied referring to the braids as a “nappy mess,” and said parents were notified that braids would not be allowed.
“Very honestly, no one told her she was off the team because of braids. We have a lot of kids with natural hair. We have different hairstyles for different performances. For that competition, the style was half up and half in curls,” Calloway said.
She acknowledges, however, telling this parent that her daughter came with the “wrong hair style” and that she asked the parent to “correct it.”
Ellise Ferrar is the program director for Technique Gems, and also works for the Chicago Park District at Kennicott Park, 4434 S. Lake Park Ave., where Technique Gems holds its classes.
Ferrar said the coaches chose “spiral curls” for this competition because judges give appearance points.
“Charlene had Senegalese Twists. I told her she needed to have the braids removed in order to compete/perform on Sunday,” Ferrar said.
“She didn’t show up on the second day of competition.”
According to the coaches, braided styles have been allowed at other competitions, and some girls in the cheerleading group wear natural hair.
“The reason we didn’t allow braids for this particular competition was to [also] discourage the kids from going to the competition to play in the water,” Ferrar said.
That’s the first lesson black girls learn about straight or curly hairstyles. You can’t get your hair wet or it will revert back to its natural state.
What makes this controversy bizarre is that Ferrar and Calloway are black women.
Had white coaches told black mothers that their daughters could not wear their hair in braids for any competition, there likely would have been trouble.
In fact, Allen said she went to the officials hosting the event and asked if points would be taken away because of the braids.
“They said it was not a problem, but the coaches still insisted that I should take the braids out,” Allen said.
“I told Charlene: ‘You have a choice to make. I’ll take them out, but this is your defining moment.’”
The 12-year-old decided to keep her braids.
It couldn’t have been an easy decision.
Her mother spent $1,200 to put her into the cheerleading group and another $1,500 to get her to the competition. None of that money is refundable even though Charlene has been removed from the team because she missed the last day of the competition because of the hair controversy.
Charlene told me she is still confused about what happened.
“These are two African-American women. So, why do they have a problem with braids in the first place,” she asked?
That’s the question.