Roberto Germán [00:00:00]:
Hey, welcome back to Our Classroom. I am joined once again by St. Clair Detrick-Jules, award winning Afro Caribbean filmmaker and photographer whose work focuses on immigrant justice, women's rights, and Black liberation. We are here to talk about the first book that she published. Last time she was with me, we talked about out her second book, and my daughter Analise helped to co-facilitate the interview. But this time I'm going solo. And I have the book right here. My Beautiful Black Hair: 101 Natural Hair Stories from the Sisterhood.
Roberto Germán [00:00:48]:
St. Clair, welcome back.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:00:50]:
Thank you. I'm happy to be back.
Roberto Germán [00:00:53]:
Well, listen, I have my questions prepared for you, but in reading the title over again, there was a question that I did not write down, and now it's resurfacing. When I first saw your book, I was like, wow, first of all, dope cover.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:01:11]:
Roberto Germán [00:01:11]:
But there was something about this title that stood out to me, and it was the number 101. I don't know, maybe it's because I'm an even guy. I'm like, I need even numbers. Why 101 natural hair stories from the sisterhood instead of 100?
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:01:35]:
Yeah, that's a good question. I mean, when I started the book, I didn't think it was going to be anywhere close to 100. I thought maybe less than 50. And then as I started interviewing more women, I thought, okay, maybe 50 50 is a good number. But then I just kept on hearing so many incredible stories of women going natural, and I didn't want to stop. I wanted to keep going. So then I figured, okay, I think 100 will be a good number. And then after that, there was one more person who wanted to participate after I had already had 100 participants.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:02:06]:
And so I was like, okay, well, I guess 101 people use that in titles. 101 Dalmatians, that kind of thing.
Roberto Germán [00:02:14]:
Okay. I thought it might have been a marketing strategy, but it was just one more story and you fit it in.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:02:22]:
Roberto Germán [00:02:24]:
Wonderful. Well, tell me who you had in mind when you wrote My Beautiful Black Hair. And I know part of the inspiration for your books was your but, and you could speak into that again, but in addition to your sister, who else did you have in.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:02:48]:
Know? So this is my sister Chloe, and so she was the inspiration behind this book because she was bullied at school for having an Afro. And so I wanted to create something to show her that her hair is beautiful and worthy of Know. And that was my original inspiration. But also, as I kept on interviewing women for this book, there were so many women who said, oh, I wish that I had something like this when I was younger, or even I know people who, as adults, could use something like this in their lives. And so as I continued working on the book, I just realized how many people I think need to be able to see and read about other women who have gone natural, right. Because so many of us don't have that kind of representation around us. As I kept working on the book, I figured, okay, this is for my sister Chloe. But it's also bigger than that at this point.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:03:45]:
It's for every person who has felt uncomfortable or not beautiful or not professional in their natural hair.
Roberto Germán [00:03:56]:
That's wonderful. And after our first interview, you mailed me this book. And it happened to be around a time where we were having a family gathering, and there were a number of members of my wife's family that were here. And I'm looking at all of them. And I'm looking at all the different hair textures between my daughters and my wife and her aunt and her daughters, who have my wife's aunt's daughters have very different hair texture than their mother. And I'm looking at all of them, and it was just this beautiful array of women in their beautiful hair. And it made me think a lot about your book. And I wanted to do an interview right there with all of them centered around your book.
Roberto Germán [00:04:50]:
It didn't end up happening because our family is Dominican and they're super loud and everybody's talking at the same time. Like, this is not going to make for a good interview if everybody's talking at the same time and it's too loud. But it definitely got me thinking about the importance of engaging family members and others in this conversation about hair. And so what is it that all people can learn from this book and why should all people engage with it?
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:05:30]:
Yeah, thank you for sharing that. That's really cool. And a lot of the women in the book, I'm not sure how many of the stories you've read, but a lot of the women are actually Afro Dominican as well.
Roberto Germán [00:05:39]:
I know, yeah, it got my attention. Yeah. And their stories, they really resonate with me. I'm sure they resonate with many of my family members. I'm so fascinated to hear folks engage more deeply in this conversation. And I'm going to have to invite you back a third time because I want to do an interview in which I feature you and my friend Jamie Medina from Lawrence, Massachusetts, who's also Dominican, and her platforms about hair and natural hair and that movement. And I interviewed her when I first started the podcast and listened to her tell some difficult stories about the messages that she internalized from teachers and family members and others and the journey that she went through to be comfortable in her own skin, with her own hair, so on and so forth. As it has been documented here in your book with many of the stories that were told not by just Afro Caribbean Afro Dominican women, but numerous different women who told very similar stories about how they were treated and the words that were directed at them as it relates to their hair.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:07:08]:
Roberto Germán [00:07:09]:
And so I'm wondering what is it that all people can learn from engaging with this book and why they should engage with it?
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:07:19]:
Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate you asking that. I mean, I think everybody should care, first of all, because I think that we are all interconnected, right? No one is free until we're all free. That kind of thing. And I think black hair liberation really is important, feeling comfortable in our own skin. And I think that we should have empathy, right? As human beings, we should have empathy for each other. And I think it's important for people who are not black, who are not women, to still listen to black women talking about their hair. Right.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:07:54]:
This is still an issue that everybody should care about. The same way for me, I care about immigrants, even though I'm not an immigrant myself. I care about people with disabilities, even though I don't have a disability, right? That kind of thing. So I think that in terms of having empathy and wanting to create a better world for all of us, everybody should be engaging with issues, even if they don't affect them personally. And then I think also on another level, so many of the women talk about being courageous, being brave, finding that confidence within themselves to, in this case, go natural, even if the people around them told them that they were making a mistake, that their natural hair was ugly, that it was unprofessional. Right? But they found that self love and confidence within themselves. And I think that that is something that's universal, that everybody, regardless of race, gender, nationality, everybody can be brave, everybody can be courageous. I think everybody sometimes needs that encouragement, whether it's to wear your natural hair or in some other aspect of your life.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:08:57]:
And so I think in that way, there are sort of these universal themes that come up that hopefully everybody would be able to get something out of.
Roberto Germán [00:09:05]:
Absolutely. There are definitely universal themes in this book. And it makes me wonder, how do you think this book can be used in school settings, in educational settings? How can they take this text and engage our young people in discussions around black hair or hair in general?
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:09:28]:
Yeah, hair in general. And I know in other communities as well, I've learned about a bit about hair in Native American communities. For example, I've heard that Native American communities have also been pushing for things like the Crown Act, which is creating a respectful and open world for our natural hair to prevent or to prevent race based hair discrimination in schools and the workforce. And so Native Americans, for example, have also been pushing for this because a lot of times men in the communities will wear longer braids, that kind of thing, and they'll be also victims of discrimination in schools and in the workforce. Because you said hair in general not necessarily just within the black community. So I think for all communities, it really is important to have this to have these kinds of conversations. And I think that in schools, hopefully, because the book is also writing, but it's also full of photos, hopefully, that could help grab students attention. And then I think it also showcases, hopefully, the power of personal narratives and using our own voice.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:10:36]:
And I think that that's something that students can always benefit from. I think from a young age, students are often taught in a lot of places, including at school, to not use their own voices, right? To never use the word I in their writing, that kind of thing. And so I think that this book hopefully can help students understand that actually their voices are really important and really powerful, and they also have important narratives to share, right? Everybody has a story. And so I hope that this book can also be used as a catalyst to sort of encourage more of that first person narrative storytelling, whether it's oral or written in schools.
Roberto Germán [00:11:20]:
Yeah, definitely. I just see some amazing projects that this book can inspire for our young people and beyond. Talk to me about the process of creating this book. The book cover, the individuals that you chose to be included, the narratives that were told. I'm fascinated by the way you structured this book. I'm interested to know, how did you find all these individuals? Did you take every photograph? Talk to me about your process.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:12:09]:
Yeah, absolutely. So when I started this book, I started just by reaching out to my friends, to former know, my mom teaches at an HBCU here in D. C. And so she recruited some of her students to be in my book. And so just sort of networking people within my immediate community. And then after that, to get to 100 women I'm not friends with 100 women with natural hair. And so I started going to social media. I was going through hashtags.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:12:43]:
I was looking for folks in the natural hair community online and reaching out to them and saying, hey, I'm doing this book on black women with natural hair. It's to inspire my little sister to love herself more deeply. Would you be interested in participating? And I was really grateful for how many women who didn't even know me but responded and said that yes, that they would be part of this project. And a lot of them said that they had also been in my sister Chloe's shoes before, and so they didn't want anybody else feeling the way that they had felt. And so I went around mostly in the DMV and New York area, but also some other places as well. And I photographed all of these women for the books. I photographed them, interviewed them just on the voice memos app on my phone, transcribed all of the interviews, put them all together in this book. And the COVID was actually my so I worked with a publisher, with Chronicle Books, and so Chronicles team is the one who decided actually, we came up with the title together, my publisher and I.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:13:50]:
And then my publisher put together a few options for the COVID and we decided yeah, so we decided together which cover to use. And this is a woman. She was in New York when I photographed her, but she is actually in Florida now.
Roberto Germán [00:14:06]:
So, neighbors, we might have to connect. What's your favorite part of this book? Is it the photographs? Is it the narratives? Is it a particular letter that was directed to Chloe? Is it one of the interviewees having a grand revelation through this?
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:14:40]:
That's a that's a difficult question. Let's see. I think one of the women writes the letter to Chloe. And let's see. I wonder if I can not sure the page right now, but her name is Elise Bryant, and she says to know you stand on the shoulders, basically, of giants of all of these women who came before you. And she talks about how there's so much strength in our history, and I think that that's something that's important to think about, right? And if we think about here it is. Here's the letter from Elise. When we think about I read that.
Roberto Germán [00:15:28]:
One, by the way.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:15:29]:
I did. Okay. Yeah. So I thought this was really powerful, and I think that it's important for us to see natural hair as something that's beautiful and aesthetically, really pleasing, but it's also so much deeper than that because it comes with so much history. And I think that when we root it in this history, the natural hair movement really grows stronger at something that's not just like a fad or a fashion trend, but really something that's deeply rooted and that sort of remains and doesn't go away if the trend is over or whatever. And so this woman in particular, she says those of us whose ancestors survived the Middle Passage were survivors. We have some powerful genes, and that ain't nothing to play with. And I do think that that's important.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:16:19]:
I think that in schools, we are often not taught about our history. And now I'm talking people, black people whose ancestors were brought from Africa to the Caribbean and to the Americas. I think that we're not taught how strong and resilient our people were, and they survived so that we could be here so much. I think that there's so much power in that. And our hair is a piece of what we inherited from these incredibly resilient people who survived for us. I like her letter.
Roberto Germán [00:17:04]:
Besides Elise, there's just so much wisdom in the words that were offered here by your interviewees. So I'm deeply appreciative as a man engaging with these stories that women go through with the hair, but also as somebody who's had his own hair journey and his own challenges around identity with that. What's your encouragement to educators as it relates to ways they can engage their students, but more importantly, affirm their students as it relates to hair?
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:17:54]:
It's a great question. First of all, obviously it depends on the subject. I'm not sure if the math teacher is going to be doing this, but I think that, especially when it comes to our history, classes need to include our true history, right? So that we associate blackness with something that is beautiful and positive, as opposed to often these sort of negative versions of history of our people that we receive that are very watered down, if not just completely incorrect. And I think that also for writing personal narratives. Again, that's also really important, encouraging students to use their own voices. And that's when I think we find power in ourselves, and when we feel powerful as people, then we feel powerful being our full selves, including our hair. I am also a big fan of affirmations. So affirming ourselves and then also making sure that students are maybe even affirming one another and being rooted in that community.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:19:05]:
Because school is a community, right? Kids spend so I mean, they spend half their lives there growing up. And so I do think that affirmations are really important because self love is great, but also sometimes it's difficult. And so it's nice to have community members affirming us as well. It also, I guess, depends on the ages of the kids. But I think that communal affirmations, making sure that there's a positive environment is also good. And then I will just say also that I think it's important. And I know teachers have so much on their plate, but I know that for my sister, she was a victim of racism at her school, and the school was aware of it, and the teachers weren't really doing anything about that. And so I do think it's important whenever possible for teachers, if they see these kinds of things going on, right.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:19:51]:
If people are making racist comments about someone's hair or any other sort of discriminatory comment about someone. I think that it's also important for teachers to be able to step in and stop that kind of bullying, because that really does impact students psychologically starting from a young age. I mean, my sister was four when that was happening.
Roberto Germán [00:20:11]:
Wow. Communal affirmations can be offered by everyone, which is why I'm not letting math teachers off the hook.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:20:23]:
Roberto Germán [00:20:26]:
All content areas can affirm our students. Thank you, St. Clair. Thank you, St. Clair. This is wonderful. The photographs are intense. They're vibrant.
Roberto Germán [00:20:44]:
Like, you could feel the individuals. I'm amazed at how you were able to capture them and all of their fullness in, their beauty. I just love the way this is laid out.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:21:02]:
Roberto Germán [00:21:04]:
The individuals in this project should feel great about being involved with this, but I also hope that you feel wonderful about this final product. Very impressed.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:21:20]:
Thank you. I really appreciate you saying that. It was definitely a group sort of community.
Roberto Germán [00:21:27]:
Look at this. You captures the power in this, right? Not just her with the fist up, but then the blend of the dark shirt with the pink flowers in the background. I'm not a photographer by any means, but I could see the contrast. I could see the contrast. And I'm sure there's photography language I'm not using that would really make you affirmed as a photographer. But I look at this, right? This photograph right here of this lady with her braids, and we're looking at the back of her head, and it reminds me of when I had my hair braided, when I had my hair locked. It also reminds me of the work that the locations did or my braider did and the beauty. There's an art to that.
Roberto Germán [00:22:27]:
There's an art to creating different hairstyles. There's an art that I really appreciate. There's also, for some of us, there's pain in the process, right? For me, one of the reasons I cut my hair was like, oh, my goodness. Every time I got it braided or every time I got it twisted, every time I got it locked up again, I have a sensitive scalp. It's painful for me to think about it right now. I'm like, every time I did, I'm like, Why do I keep doing this? But then I see the end result and I'm like, this looks beautiful. That's why I keep doing it. Well, not anymore, because now I got short hair.
Roberto Germán [00:23:10]:
But thank you. I think it's important to give folks their flowers when you have the opportunity to do so. And what you've done here. I don't know how your book has been received, but know that it's been highly received in the Germán household.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:23:32]:
Thank you. Thank you so much. And I love what you were saying about black hair being an art form, because I think it really is. And going back to our ancestors, too, and how our ancestors would use different styles as identity markers and that kind of thing. I mean, historically, there is also so much art when it comes to our hair. And I think it's beautiful that that's something that we've been able to sort of recreate despite everything having been taken from us when we were brought to the new world. I think that the fact that we're still creative and artistic with our hair is really a testament to, again, to how resilient and powerful we are as a people.
Roberto Germán [00:24:16]:
Well, keep doing what you're know with the filmmaking. You had the film about the DACA experience and immigrants in this country, and then your two books centered around here, which is important for me, for my family, for my daughters, for my son. And I encourage you to just continue to create and use your gifts and your vision for your values to push us to push us as it relates to what we're seeing with the visuals you create, whether photography or through film, to push us with the writing. We definitely need more of this. So thank you. Last time that we met, I asked you if you had the opportunity to have lunch with anybody that alive, who would it be and why? You said bell hooks. Today is a new day, but it's the same question, so let's leave bell hooks out of it. If you had the opportunity today to have a meal, to sit down, to have lunch with anybody dead or alive, who would it be? And.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:25:38]:
You were as you started to ask that question again, I was thinking, oh, bell hooks. And then you were like, oh, I already said that. Yeah, let's see. I guess, I mean, it would be really cool to sit down with Angela Davis. I saw her speak one time at my school, and I met her afterwards, but just briefly in a very long line of students. Loving to meet her. But it would be really great, I think, to sort of sit down with her and just listen. She's definitely one of my idols, and I love how she's so intersectional in her work.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:26:18]:
So it would be an honor to have lunch with her.
Roberto Germán [00:26:21]:
I had Angela Davis on my mind as I was going through your book and just looking at all the different folks, different hair texture. And Angela Davis has a presence about her, including her hair. So that's dope. Well, St. Clair, thank you for joining me. Once again, please remind the audience where it is that they could follow you.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:26:50]:
Yeah, thank you. So people can follow me on Instagram. It's my name. So it's St. Clair Detrick-Jules so, Stclairdetrickjules. And I'm not sure if that can be in the notes of the podcast. I know I have a long name, and then my website is also just www.st
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:27:14]:
clairdetrickjules.com so folks can find out more about my work there. They can get my books there. They can also connect with me there. If people want to reach out, if they have any questions, if they want to chat, if they want to share their stories with me, always happy to to connect with more people.
Roberto Germán [00:27:32]:
Well, as I mentioned earlier, we're going to have to have you back on and this time will be more panel style. Hopefully I could get my friend Yeimy Medina on maybe one or two other individuals. But let's continue the conversation. Thanks for being with us today.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules [00:27:49]:
That would be great. Thank you for having me.