At a Los Angeles film meetup, I once met a Christian who claimed that she was oppressed for being a “woman of faith.” Why? Because most of her friends are non-religious, she is sometimes assumed to be an atheist, and she is outnumbered at social events to the point where she feels uncomfortable with the idea of challenging the mockery of religion that is part of the conversations there.
She didn’t take my suggestion that she move a few mile down south to Orange County, home of the Trinity Broadcasting Network and some of the nation’s largest megachurches (and now home to overtly-religious city councils), too kindly. Though there was some baffled sarcasm in what I said, I wasn’t wrong: even LA County has its share of megachurches. She is hardly outnumbered or oppressed in any real sense of those words.
That she is not actually oppressed for being a Christian who chooses where she lives, works, and socializes is readily apparent to any person, secular or religious, with an understanding of how much of the world exists in its current state. However, plenty of people make similar — and similarly ridiculous — claims of oppression about matters as personal as shampooing to issues as political as veg*nism and non-monogamy.Going “no poo” is something that people of color have been doing for a long time now as part of the natural hair movement. Many of us with textured hair, especially femme types, have been told our whole lives to care for our hair as if it were silky, fine, and straight like everyone else’s. Washing daily or more using harsh shampoos, vigorously brushing dry hair, and going for traditional layered haircuts is often heavily damaging to textured hair. After all that abuse, it loses its shape and turns into a frizzy mess that can only be “tamed” by using alcohol-laden, heavy, sticky gels and mousses, which in turn further dry out the hair.
I thought my hair was an ugly frizzy mess until I started treating it gently in the manner of the natural haircare movement, including going no-poo. I use cleansing conditioners and milks with a scalp brush and plenty of finger scalp massages in lieu of harsh shampoos. The “mess” is now a relatively nice set of curls, if I do say so myself. Because it took far too many years and too much research for me to discover how to properly care for my hair, I mention my regimen when relevant. It is in the hopes that someone similarly unaware might discover that their hair type has been neglected by the mainstream hair care advice they’ve been given their whole life.
Now that no-poo is edging out of the natural hair fringes and into mainstream awareness, there is a predictable backlash. People express revulsion at the notion that someone might not use harsh shampoo daily, unwittingly playing into the stereotype of black women as “dirty” for not following white women’s hair care standards and thereby perpetuating misogynoir. There might be some who annoy others with their no-poo talk, but the backlash is disproportionate given that most mainstream hair care advice is still untextured-centric, by far. A million very vocal no-poo advocates won’t change the fact that harsh and frequent shampooing is still the unquestioned norm even for people for whom it’s inappropriate, and that those who don’t are treated with racially-tinged disgust and disdain.
The same principle applies when it comes to more obviously political matters. That someone was preachy, judgmental, or even cruel to you about your mainstream choice doesn’t mean that you suddenly are an oppressed minority for having made that choice.
As a progressive-leaning Californian omnivore, I’ve met more than my fair share of political veg*ns who did things like put slaughterhouse pamphlets on my fridge, support PETA despite its racism and misogyny and fatphobia, tell me that I should go veg*n so that I could become skinny. Does that mean I think that I’m oppressed for eating meat like the staggering majority of the world does? No. People who make non-mainstream choices tend to have good reasons to behave the way they do.
Being a non-disingenuous part of a majority means stepping up and acting like it. People who make mainstream choices are hardly alone. Those choices are being constantly validated in ways so common that members of the majority often fail to recognize most if not all of them. Mainstream choices lead to fewer people standing up for them because of that frequently-unrecognized stream of validation, not because people who make them are calmer and better people than people who make less-popular choices.