In honor of Black History Month, we sat down to speak with three women who stand at the unique intersection of two or more ethnicities, cultures, and identities to learn what representation, identity and diversity mean to them.
Amanda Johnson of Sequins and Sales is a biracial social media strategist and fashion blogger; Ilana Ybgi is an African-American Hasidic woman from Brooklyn and an artist; and Maayan Zik is a designer, social activist, mother of four, and co-founder of Kamochah, which exists to support Black Orthodox Jews and engage with the broader Orthodox community.
These women each have unique relationships to their dual identities and an extraordinary relationship with her hair as it relates to her identity. Keep reading to learn how each one of these women display distinct strength and power both in their activism and by simply existing at the intersection of two identities that can sometimes feel very different from one another.
Black History Month: Representation, Identity and Diversity
Black History Month and Representation
“Representation means seeing people like me out in the world taking up all the spaces,” Maayan says as she reflects on Black History Month. “When I think of this word, I think of how proud I was of Kamala Harris being the first Jamaican-South Asian- American woman to be Vice President of the United States. As a woman and Jamaican-American, I felt seen. On Inauguration Day, I tried to impress upon my daughters, if you can see it, then you can be it, so come look here. But there are times when we have to be creators of our own visions.”
“I also think about a quote by the Lubavitcher Rebbe [the late leader of the Lubavitch Chasidic Dynasty]. “There must also be a girl in the picture,” he said in regards to cover art of a Jewish magazine for children. The Lubavitcher Rebbe understood his audience and knew that having both boys and girls represented on the covers of these magazines would help encourage all children to feel and take meaningful part of their Judaic life.”
“Representation is a buzzword that I feel has been thrown around a lot more as of late,” Amanda shares. “To me, it means being able to see yourself represented. I remember the first “mixed” doll came out when I was around 8 years old. FINALLY, I felt represented and it was pivotal to my childhood! I also want to mention here that this seems to be the extent of representation. Light skinned women of color are always the token POC in a show. Dark-skinned representation needs to be WAY more prevalent than it is.”
3 Women, 3 Unique Hair Types
“My hair type is anywhere from a 2A to a 3B,” Amanda says. “My hair had always been multi-textured and has switched between straight on top, curly on the bottom (and vice versa) since I was a kid! Right now the top is more of a 3B and the bottom is more of a 2A. It’s frustrating because they don’t make many products to work with multi-textured hair like I have.
“I wash my hair twice a week and base it around my photoshoot schedule for the week. I also try to limit my shampoo usage to once a week (and make sure that it’s sulfate-free). I’ll then leave it plopped overnight with a hair mask, and then style the next morning! I rarely use heat.”
Editor’s note: Amanda uses SheaMoisture Raw Shea Butter Deep Treatment Masque to keep her curls happy and hydrated!
“Based on Google searches, I officially have 4b-4c hair,” Maayan shares. “Ha! Other words to describe it are natural, thick, curly, and tightly spiraled or coiled.”
“My natural hair type is very fine and very curly,” Ilana says. “I also have a very dense amount of hair on my head. I always joke about my head being like 6 heads of hair.”
The Pressure to Fit In
When asked if she ever felt she didn’t fit into either community when it came to being mixed race, Amanda answered with a resounding yes. “Every day of my life honestly. The most stark examples of this pertain to my family and dating life. When I dated my first high school boyfriend, his mom said that she would never let him marry me because I wasn’t “fully Black.” So 15 year old me then grew up thinking Black parents would never fully accept me.
“Then on the flip side of that, White guys my age would say they could “never date a Black girl.” I felt like I would never be able to fit in. I’ve also had a Black family member say I care about my “White relatives” more than my Black ones when they were just in a MUCH closer proximity (5 minutes to 45 minutes away versus 9-12 hours).
Later the clerk asked me if I was one of those Black Jewish people and I said yeah. And she exclaimed, “Wow, you’re like a unicorn!”
When asked about the pressure to assimilate she says, “I grew up in a majority White area, so the need to assimilate was pretty aggressive at times. For most of my childhood, whether unintentional or not, I assimilated more towards White students. I also grew up with only my White parent, so that factored in unintentionally. My high school was a bit more diverse, so I was able to make a larger group of Black friends through sports. I always have felt more comfortable around other POC, but especially other Black people.”
The Intersection of the Black and Jewish Communities
“Once I went into a beauty store, looking for inexpensive wigs for everyday wear. I was trying to keep my hair covered and be as discrete as possible about trying on a wig in the back of this store,” Maayan shares. “It seemed impossible to get my wig off and put this new one on without revealing my actual hair. So I pretended my wig was my actual hair and just tried putting the new one on top of it.
“The store clerk, a black woman, saw through it all and called me out on it. She said, “You know you have to take off the wig to try on the wig.” I decided that perhaps that shop wasn’t the right place to buy wigs, but I did get some other products. Later the clerk asked me if I was one of those Black Jewish people and I said yeah. And she exclaimed, “Wow, you’re like a unicorn!”
“My experiences at the intersection of the African-American and Jewish communities have been beautiful, comical and challenging,” Ilana adds. “African-American culture and Jewish culture have many similarities. I tend to focus on the similarities more than the differences. I think the key to peace between people is focusing on unity.”
Hair as it Relates to Identity
“I’ve never thought about it directly this way, but I suppose my hair does play a part of my identity,” Maayan says. “From the way I’m looked at and judged and interacted with all based on my appearance and before I even begin to open my mouth and reveal my personality and actual life story. Life for me sometimes feels like a monotonous exercise in setting out to battle all the stereotypes people may have about me based on my appearance alone. And also fighting for respect and ownership of my personal space (e.g. people thinking they can touch my hair without permission and objectifying me).”
My hair is an important and rich part of my cultural and religious experiences. When a Jewish woman gets married her hair becomes holy.
“Not many women with curly hair have a short, bob haircut,” Amanda shares. “I’ve actually been noticed in public with a mask on just by my curls which is crazy to me. I love my hair and it looks so much better short. I’ll likely keep it this way for the foreseeable future!”
“I think the fact that I cover my hair plays into my identity. In my community covering my hair immediately separates me into the category of a married woman,” Ilana says. “My hair is an important and rich part of my cultural and religious experiences. When a Jewish woman gets married her hair becomes holy. Since getting married I’ve used scarves, hats and wigs as a form of self-expression. In general covering my hair is an expression of my cultural and religious heritage. How I choose to cover my hair is my personal expression.”
Support Within the Beauty Industry
“Dark-skinned women (and men) NEED more representation,” Amanda stresses. “We need more 4A-4C hair type representation. We need marketers to realize that the Black buying power is VAST and REAL. I was on a panel last year and one woman worked on the back end of influencer campaigns at a PR firm. She made a great point that there aren’t many Black and Brown reps in corporate offices. So often White women are working on campaigns for BlPOC and don’t know what they’re doing. For example, edge control is a product that White people have no need for. Not knowing how to use the product itself will make it that much harder to find people to promote said campaign.”
“There’s a whole Youtube world of black women discussing methods of hair care for our hair,” Maayan shares. “I would implore the beauty industry to listen to them and help create products with us in mind. Better yet, employ us and collaborate with us about the care of our hair.”
All Things Hair would like to thank Maayan, Amanda, and Ilana for taking the time to speak with us and share their unique stories in honor of Black History Month.