Confronting Stigma in Hampton Roads

By Ta’Kindra Westbrook, Hampton Roads Community Organizer. Contact her at @takindra or email her here.

This past weekend, I was very excited to attend the first “Curls for Choice” event in Norfolk, VA.

“Curls for Choice” is the brain child of one of our choice ambassadors (a recent graduate from our Hampton Roads Leadership and Advocacy Summit) and community organizers. After attending many choice activities and events, the two recognized that there was not an equal representation of women of color at these events. They saw a need for a space where progressive, pro-choice, women of color could meet to discuss issues that were important to them — and with that, Curls for Choice was born.

At NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, we recognize that a cultural shift needs to happen if we want to remove the stigma of abortion. Curls for Choice is an opportunity to begin that cultural shift through conversations among a small group of women of color in Hampton Roads. At the group’s first meeting, we discussed the correlation between the stigma of abortion and natural hair. The women quickly found that stigma is the same no matter the topic.

Women at "Curls for Choice" event discuss the stigma around natural hair and reproductive health
Women at “Curls for Choice” event discuss the stigma around natural hair and reproductive health

Each woman shared personal anecdotes about transitioning from relaxed to natural hair. Some shared comments that we in the natural community have heard before, such as “You are very brave to do that, I don’t think I could wear my hair that way,” or even “You’ll never find a husband.” While these comments may seem outrageous, they are actually very common, and have been experienced by many women of color who choose to wear their hair naturally.

Interestingly,  many of these same comments are also made to women who share their story of choosing abortion. Women who have chosen abortion as an option may hear  “You are very brave; I don’t think I could have made that decision,” or even “you’ll never get a husband.” Sometimes these are the nicer comments (as was the case with this woman’s abortion story), but ultimately the root is the same – judgment and stigma.

More often than not, women are put in a position to explain their decisions and choices, whether it is about their hair or reproductive health. That’s why NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia is working on shifting the culture so that a woman’s choice is her sacred right — no explanation needed.  I was inspired by the first Curls for Choice event, and I know we’re off to a great start.

Are you interested in getting involved? Curls for Choice is welcoming women of color in the Hampton Roads area to join us in having candid and culturally relevant conversation around reproductive choices and health. If you are interested in attending an event or learning more, please contact me! 

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