Ndija Anderson-Yantha, like most black women, learned at a young age that how she wore her hair was a complex subject that many had strong opinions about. Her hair attracted a lot of attention, both positive and negative. While an undergraduate at Spelman College, she was startled to be given the advice, “if you would like to be taken seriously, you should not wear your natural Afro hairstyle.” That wearing her hair naturally could potentially cost her a job was so horrifying to Anderson-Yantha that she decided to embark on a huge research project to better understand the politics of black hair.
Anderson-Yantha applied and was selected for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. During her yearlong project, she traveled to Australia, Japan, India, Egypt, Senegal, Brazil, and Jamaica. Although her research project focused on braiding, it became “a broader study on hair itself.” During her study, she “observed the close connection that hair and hairstyles have to notions of beauty, cultural identity and artistic expression in societies around the world.”
After finishing her research project and graduating from Spelman, Anderson-Yantha went on to receive a law degree from McGill University in Montreal, but she didn’t leave behind her passion for natural hair. She started a blog, The Natural Hair Advocate, in order to “make a case for the acceptability of natural hair, by showcasing the rich history, versatility and beauty of textured hairstyles.” She writes, “My goal is to encourage all women, including myself, to love ourselves, just the way we are. It’s to encourage us to analyze why we do what we do when making hairstyle and hair maintenance choices. To encourage us to think critically about why we feel the way we do about our hair. And to encourage us to question why things are the way they are.”
Her research project and her blog were just the starting point; Anderson-Yantha has now published a children’s book about black hair. What Are You Gonna Do with that Hair? is an illustrated non-fiction book that “encourages Black girls to celebrate the beauty and versatility of their natural hair and learn the rich history of natural hairstyles.” With her darling protagonist Zuri, Anderson-Yantha teaches us all to love ourselves just as we are. She wrote the book, she says, “for all the little black girls so they know nothing is wrong with their hair and they are so beautiful.” She also hopes the book speaks to others, though, hoping that it might help them “understand the history of black hair and…change their perspectives on our hair, on us.”
With more awareness, the charged issue of black hair is certainly changing for the better and more black women are embracing wearing their natural hair. However, Anderson-Yantha recognizes that “black hair is still so taboo.” Her voice is certainly helping to change that and encourage a better future for the Zuris of the world.