The Daley Breakfast Series
with Amber Starks
The second Daley Breakfast was held at Gee’s Restaurant, Oxford, on the 23rd February 2019. The convening was a three part celebration of Women’s Month, LGBTQI+ Month and Black History Month (USA). Our keynote speaker, Amber Starks, is a natural hair care advocate in the United States whose efforts led to the passage of a landmark legislation in the US State of Oregon, allowing natural haircare practitioners to practice their trade without a licence. Amber’s work on public policy and her groundbreaking natural hair salon, Conscious Coils, in the predominantly white city of Portland, Oregon, is a testament to the ambition, creativity and space-making of African and Diaspora womxn across the world. Mimi Borders, an MPhil in US History at the University of Oxford, performed a spoken word piece at the event. Guests at the (free) breakfast, in honor of Prof Patricia Daley (School of Geography and the Environment), included Oxford graduate students from various departments as well as Watu Wamae, who is incoming Research Engagement Manager at the Africa Oxford Initiative (AfOx)
The Politics of Hair
Natural hair has been at the forefront of many discussions, especially on the politics of respectability in the work place and employability in general.
In March 2013, Forbes Magazine published an article, ‘Is your natural hairstyle preventing you from getting a job‘, which recounts the normative expectation in many workplaces that ‘straightened hair is acceptable, curly, kinky and braided hair is not’.
In 2016, South African high schoolers at Pretoria Girls High staged a protest that made national headlines and went viral as school administration was accused of coercing students with natural hair to straighten it or risk suspension. The protest led government officials to hold an ’emergency talk’, led by the Ministry of Education, urging the School to suspend its ‘stone age rules’.
More recently, former WJTV news anchor, Brittany Noble, was fired from her job amid allegations of discrimination in the office. In her own words, Noble claims, “After having my son, I asked my news director if I could stop straightening my hair,” she wrote. “A month after giving me the green light I was pulled back into his office. I was told ‘My natural hair is unprofessional and the equivalent to him throwing on a baseball cap to go to the grocery store.’ He said, ‘Mississippi viewers needed to see a beauty queen.’”
These, and many other stories that have not made international headlines are discreet examples of the many ways in which black hair and black beauty have been politicized and externalized from normative culture. In fact, the issue was heard in the U.S Supreme Court as recently as 2018, in an ongoing battle between Chastity Jones and Catastrophe Management Systems (CMS). Jones alleges that she “suffered racial discrimination when CMS rescinded a job offer because (she) wouldn’t cut off her dreadlocks”.
This particular Daley Breakfast sought to create a safe space for black womxn in the academy and other Oxford affiliates to come together; offering anecdotal experiences, advice, support and a touch of humor on how to navigate professional spaces in this context. It did not fall short.
Celebrating Natural Hair
One thing was agreed at the breakfast; wearing natural hair is not easy (or cheap). Especially in predominantly white spaces where natural hair care products are relegated to oft neglected shelves in convenience stores and hair dressers are inaccessible at best; it is an easily overlooked aspect of many women’s identity (historically representing social status) which can compound the difficulties associated with settling into new spaces and places.
During her remarks, Amber gave the womxn around the table ‘permission’ to be unapologetically natural. She reminded each that she has permission to be selfish with her time, permission to celebrate her beauty, permission to be ‘counter culture’ and permission to take it easy – to practice self care in a world of deadlines, emergencies and crises. She also impressed the importance of safe spaces like the Daley Breakfast. “I found that I was in the company of engaged, capable, beautiful, intelligent, black women of the diaspora. Women, who not unlike myself have at some point in their lives had to navigate the politics of race (white supremacy and anti-blackness), of gender, and of beauty standards. And they are still standing. It was a familiar space. A space of solidarity. My hope for the Daley Breakfast was in fact that, to create and cater to a space where we, the people of the diaspora feel safe to communicate what we’ve been through. A space where we can say, “it’s hard out here!” A space where our experiences are validated, where we are seen. Ultimately, it was my intention to foster a space where we could discus how we can actively reframe the narrative about blackness, individually and collectively”, she said.
I left the breakfast feeling proud. Proud that I could speak my truth and connect with women I now consider my sisters. My time with them reinforced that the work I’m doing in my little town, the truth I desire to speak (to whomever would hear), is good. It has purpose. These women, my equals, reinforced my belief that we are a great people, no matter our geographic location. That in spite of the struggle to find self, to love self, to make room for self, it can be done and is being done. These women whom I poured out my truth to were and are actively being great. By showing up, by listening, by sharing their journeys, they personified my hope for the diaspora. And by simply being at Oxford they are saying something important. That in itself is political on so many levels. I am beyond proud of them! I’m inspired to continue my work, to do more, to be more vulnerable with others.” – Amber Starks
The Daley Breakfast
There was a great deal of laughter and camaraderie around the table as attendees exchanged their experiences with hair care and ‘fitting in’ at Oxford. It was especially remarkable to see Prof Daley, who is a senior academic and champion of diversity issues at the University, proudly wearing her natural locs at the breakfast. Prof Daley, who many graduate students have turned to over the years as a supervisor and mentor is a picture of representation in the academy. In fact, a portrait of her currently adorns the walls of the University. One breakfast attendee gasped when she saw that Prof had sat for her portrait with her natural hair!
Ultimately, the space offered a vital opportunity to meet and spend time with women at various stages of their professional and academic journeys who could all relate to celebrating their hair, as it grows, despite what ‘space’ dictates.
The Daley breakfasts are organised by a team of volunteers at the Oxford Africa Society. They are in celebration of AfriSoc’s honorary patron, Prof Patricia Daley, who is a remarkable academic, mentor to numerous students across the University and Professor of Human Geography at the School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford. The Breakfasts are intended to create a space for advancing the agenda on women’s empowerment, gender equity and pan-africanism – all of which Prof Daley has championed at the University and globally. These free breakfasts are open to members of the Africa Society, academic and support staff at the University of Oxford, registered students of the University and affiliated supporters. They are supported by Jesus College, the Africa Oxford Initiative and the generous contributions of individual academic staff at the University. In order to encourage cross-cutting conversation and inter-generational ideas-sharing, participation for the inaugural breakfast series will be through invitation/nomination only.
To learn more about this initiative or to attend the Trinity Term breakfast, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org