Just like adults, children need to be affirmed. As I mentioned, when I wash my daughter’s hair, I am also affirming her in the process with my words. Although she is only two years old, I want her to become acclimated to hearing great things about her hair and her self-care process. I also want her cup to be so filled that if she experiences natural hair discrimination, she can bounce back quicker. We can fight natural hair discrimination by using our powerful words to affirm children so that they are empowered throughout their lives.
As a part of our series about “Five Things You Need To Understand About Hair Discrimination “I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Gouéti, Esq., MBA.
Elizabeth Gouéti is a lawyer, Conflict Resolution Expert and podcast host of We Resolve to Win (designed to help women flex their courage muscle). She is also the proud author of Jane and the Hair Goblin, a young readers’ book about a girl whose natural hair begins to talk to her. Through the book, Elizabeth helps young girls experience self-love by managing the emotions and conflict about their hair.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit of your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
Thank you so much for having me! Absolutely! I’m a proud first-generation American from South Florida. My parents come from the beautiful island of Haiti and emphasized the importance of education and hard work my whole life. Being raised in a Caribbean-influenced community was an amazing experience because I saw people of different backgrounds, accents, complexions and even hair textures. The sounds of reggae, kompa, calypso and even popular 80s music filled the streets on the weekends along with the smell of delicious foods from many cultures. My father used to say, “There’s always something to learn.” Having an opportunity to grow up in a diverse city still helps me today as an adult because I can effectively pause, consider different perspectives and challenge my own thinking, as necessary.
Can you tell us a story about what inspired you to become a natural hair advocate?
Well…it’s an interesting one. When I was in my undergraduate studies at Florida State University, I had a deep admiration of women who wore their hair naturally. There were only a few of them on campus but it was such a powerful statement for them to stand in their statement of beauty. One evening, I was in the library and overheard a man making fun of a woman’s natural hair. They were studying together and from my observation, I can tell that there was an innocence there because they both were laughing. However, when I looked at her face, I saw sadness or disappointment in her eyes. In my opinion, the jokes about her beautiful hair were mean-spirited and crass. I wanted to jump in and tell him to stop but didn’t feel that it was my place. I imagined that I stood up, walked over and say, “why would you talk about her amazing crown like that?” After leaving the library that evening, I felt guilty for not saying anything. I believe silence is complicity and there are times when it is important to speak up because others may not have the words or the courage. I vowed to speak up from that day forward.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One day, I decided to get my hair straightened for my annual trim. I only apply heat to my hair once per year and with special exception, twice. When I arrived to work the next day, a colleague said, “Oh your hair is different! Straight! Wow, you look so clean!” It was such a shock and punch to the gut! I wasn’t sure how to respond so I said, “So do you!” and walked to my office. It was a very awkward occurrence to me. I was used to the usual surprise about my hair being straightened. However, the statement stayed with me for several hours. I began wondering, “are people seeing my natural hair as dirty or unkempt?” “Have I presented myself in an unprofessional manner with my natural hair?” I struggled to focus because my mind was racing. I mentioned it to 3 colleagues that also wear their hair naturally and they all agreed how inappropriate and unacceptable such a statement was. I spoke to my colleague about it and we cleared the air and any misconception. Now imagine, if a professional adult can make an off-handed statement with such negligence that impacted me the whole day, what about statements made to young girls about their hair? Without intervention, the emotional weight can impact them for years.
As an influencer, you have been blessed with great success in a career path that many have attempted, but eventually gave up on. In fact perhaps most people who tried to follow a career path like yours did not succeed. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path but know that their dreams might be dashed?
Make peace with and on your path. It is one thing to say, “my path is different” and it another thing to truly be at peace with that sentiment. It is important to make your own path, but it must be a peaceful one. Although I am a practicing lawyer and love supporting women resolve conflict in the workplace, home space and in their businesses, supporting Black and brown girls with curly hair is a deep passion that I have. For years, I’ve tried to follow the paths previously laid out in front of me. I began checking many boxes in the beginning but found that I wasn’t at peace. I was often frustrated and couldn’t understand why things weren’t as “easy” for me. When I finally became self-accepting, I appreciated that I am different in how I express life. I am an extroverted, high energy person that will engage with anyone in a conversation. I also love to listen to country music and watch Bollywood movies with their awesome dance scenes. Thus, whoever you are reading this — find out who you are, be okay with iterating yourself and flex your courage muscle in the spaces that you occupy. Make peace with the fact that it your path may not be easy, but it is yours. Don’t suffocate or fight who you are because we need you.
Can you share 3 ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Maintaining your natural hair is self-care and self-care is beautiful. Many people quit on their natural hair journey because it can be a tedious process in the beginning. I see learning natural hair as moving to a new country: there is a different culture, language and even local customs that you must learn and acclimate to. It may be different, exciting, nerve wrecking at time but overall, it is a journey and a beautiful one. Perspective is everything. So, when you take time to take care of your natural hair, you are engaging in self-care which is important to your body, soul and mind.
- Eliminate an “all or nothing” mindset. Everyone knows that beauty doesn’t fit in just one box. Three different people can look at a piece of artwork and see three different things. As people who are wearing their hair naturally, this is a time to change your thinking and eliminate an “all or nothing” mindset in defining beauty. Whether your hair is like Nina Simone’s or Esperanza Spalding’s, it is beautiful as long as you are happy with it and care for it.
- Be kind to yourself and flex your courage muscle. When a woman speaks up for herself, she is flexing her courage muscle. Yet, flexing your courage muscle must also include being kind to oneself in the process of finding one’s voice. When we are kind to ourselves, we can feel beautiful because we are expressing beauty from the inside out. By establishing and reemphasizing boundaries (about anything, relationships, work, money and even how people talk about your hair), we show the world how to treat us which is a daily expression of beauty.
Can you share with our readers some of your techniques to style natural hair?
Before the pandemic, I primarily wore my hair in loosened flat twists. I love large, fluffy hair and a flat twist style has longstanding wear (that gets bigger over time). In my opinion, flat twists are great for the workplace, the home space, business meetings, etc. at all lengths! My technique to flat twists my hair is to make sure that I am intentional at the styling phase and moisturize the ends daily. Now that I’m working full-time, supporting my children and semi-homeschooling, my time is much more categorized so I am now wearing braids for the first time in my adult life. (I can’t believe I’ve been missing out on the ease of braids this whole time!) With braids, my technique is to wash my scalp weekly because a clean scalp is a healthy scalp!
Can you share some of your techniques about how to best maintain natural hair?
Similarly, my top three techniques for maintaining my natural hair are:
- Learn your hair and the patterns that follow your hair. For example, I live in a hot area and have build up in 5–7 days. Thus, I wash my hair weekly with diluted shampoo because maintaining a clean scalp promotes growth.
- Keep your ends moisturized because your ends are the oldest and most fragile part of the strands. When my hair is in flat twists, I like to moisturize my ends with a light application of grapeseed oil twice per week. I’ve learned that my hair does not like coconut oil and feels too greasy with olive oil. By paying attention to my hair and how it responds to products, I know that I must keep grapeseed oil on the ready!
- Minimize weathering of your hair by tucking it away as much as possible to maintain your length. My position is that length is not the most important factor to determine whether hair is healthy. I prefer a thick tweeny, weeny afro but due to the fact that my hair is naturally dense and grows consistently 7 inches per year, I have to keep my ends tucked away during my nighttime routine. I pineapple my hair at night and then tuck the ends to prevent them from snagging when I sleep. This technique also allows me to preserve my style throughout the week in gently. (These same tips can be applied to little ones! I wash my daughter’s hair weekly, affirm her whilst doing it (“Oh! Your hair is so pretty and curly! I love it! You are so beautiful because you are taking care of your hair!”) Healthy hair is paramount in my home! always first in my home!)
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can help articulate to our readers your “Five Things You Need To Understand About Hair Discrimination”. If you can please share a story or example, for each.
- Children learn from what you say and don’t say. As adults, we sometimes unintentionally show children what we don’t like by what we say and don’t say. For example, if an adult is with a child and says, “her hair looks a mess!” in response to seeing someone with kinky hair, a lesson has been taught. The lesson that may get picked up by the child is: kinky hair is ugly. A secondary lesson is: it is okay to share an unkind opinion about someone. We have to teach children how to be kind. On the other hand, if three people have complimented someone’s kinky hair and the adult (with a child) stays quiet, the child may interpret their parent’s/caregiver’s silence as expressing disapproval. The lesson that may get picked up by the child is: kinky hair is not worthy of a compliment. I can clearly remember hearing little kids calling each other “nappy headed” when I was a child. I am certain that this language was picked up from other children and adults. Children are incredibly intuitive but in their youth, may misunderstand or misinterpret an interaction. It is important to be clear, kind and understand that children are always watching.
- There is unconscious bias against natural hair. Due to colonization that has occurred around the world, unconscious bias exists against hair that is curly, kinky or coily. I recall walking the streets of Italy several years ago with a perfectly coifed head of hair and getting very “telling” looks. Finally, a man said to me, “I have hair just like yours, curly and big.” I responded, “oh that’s wonderful, why don’t you grow it out?” He said, “no, hair like ours is not accepted here.” I was saddened but not surprised. We must normalize natural hair in all communities so we can eliminate bias against natural hair in the workplaces, businesses and eventually, around the world.
- Natural hair discrimination happens everywhere, even in families. As a child, I remember hearing that I had the worst hair in the family. I internalized that statement and didn’t shake it off until I went to law school and transitioned to wearing my hair in its natural state. That is about two decades! Now as an adult, I cannot imagine saying anything like that to my children or any child! Having roots in the Caribbean, my family comes in different shades and hair textures. Thus, as many families are becoming more diverse, we have to be vigilante to correct the discrimination that exists even within our own homes. We have to fix it so that we can advocate for each other, in truth outside of our homes.
- Just like adults, children need to be affirmed. As I mentioned, when I wash my daughter’s hair, I am also affirming her in the process with my words. Although she is only two years old, I want her to become acclimated to hearing great things about her hair and her self-care process. I also want her cup to be so filled that if she experiences natural hair discrimination, she can bounce back quicker. We can fight natural hair discrimination by using our powerful words to affirm children so that they are empowered throughout their lives.
- Natural hair discrimination can impact a generation. As a Millennial, I often hear my mother’s generation talk about natural hair in a way that rivals that ‘70s! When I big chopped, I got a great deal of interrogation about why I would even fathom the idea of struggling with my natural hair. If we are not aware of natural hair discrimination and do not intentionally change our behaviors, we can impact a generation’s self-esteem and confidence. To help our younger curly, kinky and coily kids, we have to give them and their hair a voice. So for the parent/caregiver, ask yourself: “how can I help this younger generation and give them a voice of empowerment for their hair and self-image?”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is “the sun always rises tomorrow.” It is a statement full of hope and certainty. I remember when I fell into a depression when after I gave birth to my son. I had just moved to a new city, started a new job and was 8 weeks postpartum. Sitting at my desk, doubled over in pain from my C-section and under great stress about my lack of community, I whispered this quote to myself daily. I only had enough to make it one day at a time and I remembered with hope and certainty that the sun would always rise the next day…and it did.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you’d like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. 🙂
Oof! So…this is a tough one because I have a rolodex of names that I’d love to eat breakfast, brunch and lunch with! I’d love to brunch with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie because she has an amazing way of bringing stories to life and expressing thoughts and emotions. I love her writing and her bravery to stand on what she believes in. (But Michelle Obama, if you’re reading this, call me sis and let’s get some mimosas!)
How can our readers follow you online?
Jane and the Hair Goblin (Book): check out www.hairgoblin.com or follow @hairgoblin.
We Resolve to Win: check out https://www.avinuconsulting.com/we-resolve-to-win or follow @weresolvetowin. (The We Resolve to Win podcast can be found on every podcasting platform.)
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!
No, thank you! I am truly honored and hope that women of all ages continue to flex their courage muscle!