I have been meaning to write this post for a while, but sometimes I get a bit distracted, and my blog posting takes the backseat to other stuff- like packing, traveling, and figuring out where I am going to live/ stay in the next country, what am I going to do with my life after this year is over (a whole post could be dedicated to this last topic/ life anxiety!) But, better late than never! Here is my post on a “focus group” that I got to participate/ co-run with my friend Bayyina Black- I promise to elaborate on everything in the post!
As I have learned this year, Black women aren’t the only ones with opinions on their hair- here in Brazil, it seems that everyone has an opinion on afro-textured hair! About a month ago I had the opportunity to go to a women’s help center and conduct a group interview along with my friend Bayyina Black. She is also here in Salvador conducting a research project on the types of hair products available to women with Afro-textured hair here in Brazil. She has been here since April, and now is in Rio! (Well now she is actually in Berlin, but she was in Rio when I first began writing this!) I was, and still am, so happy to have met her, and even more pleased that she invited me to tag along/participate as an interviewer for this focus group.
While I didn’t get as much from this group interview as I did with the ones in South Africa, I still did enjoy myself, and made the most out of the group. It was composed of 15 women and 4 men. Of the men, 3 of them were gay and sported long flowing Beyoncé esk weaves, or Mega Hair (as it’s called here).
The foucs group was held at the women’s help center in the neighborhood of Brotas. The help center is set up like a police station, but only deals with women who are in abusive relationships, and provides support services that encourage the women to come and seek advice on what to do/ how to handle their relationship. As well, women, and many gay and trans people frequent this location in order to gain police help for abusive relationships in a much freindlier and less judgemental atmosphere.
Our friend Sauanne’s mother has worked here since the 1990’s and is also an important figure in the community. She managed to get this group of women, young and old, and from all different neighborhoods and hair textures in one room for Bayyina and I to talk with. Since this was a prearranged focus group, I asked if it would be alright if I added in a few questions of my own at the end of the already prepared questions. Bayyina told me it was no problem, that being said, Bayyina’s friend Jerry who was visiting on vacation was transformed into our camera man, and he tarted recording with both of our cameras as we got the icebreakers/ group introductions going.
Intro’s are always my favorite, and it was so amazing to hear why these women, and men, loved their hair. While they weren’t really the responses that I had hoped to get, at least this was a start. Besides, prior to this focus group discussion, I hadn’t really done anything with my project in Salvador since the person who was supposed to be my mentor/ contact there severely misled me. However, a few unfortunate contacts can’t stop this sista! So, with a little ingenuity, and whole lot of luck and Blessings from God, I was able to create and rely on Plan B- which Bayyina helped make possible in so many ways!
Our entire sessions was conducted via translation. Sauanne- a true Bahiana, and Afro-Brazilian beauty, friend to Both Bayyina and myself, served as our translator. My Portuguese is no where near the level of fluency required for this type of interview- remember I only began picking it up when I arrived in Brazil, and Bayyina doesn’t speak much either, Sauanne really saved the day. Her English is AMAZING! That being said, I think that a lot of our questions and our participants responses were lost in translation.
When we asked the question, “what is the relationship you have with you hair?” normally a variety of responses such as, “it’s love/hate, it’s complicated, I love my hair, or i can’t stand it” are some of the responses. This time however, our responses were mainly, “I like my hair because it is long.” Or another response we got was, “I like my hair because I can style it however I want to.” I think having out questions asked in English and then translated to Portuguese cut out the analytical edge that the original question had. Also, I think that when doing a focus group with non-university students/ faculty/ staff, the types of responses are very different. One thing that I sometimes forget, but am constantly reminding myself is that not everyone looks at a common day occurrence, physical feature, or a perceived non-consequential moment through a critical eye. Even though we both didn’t achieve as much as we had both hoped for, we were able to speak with a group of afro-brazilian women, that ranged in ages, professions, and educational backgrounds, about their hair. And, while we may not have achieved as much as we had wanted to, Bayyina was able to learn what American products had been seen in the Brazilian market. We both learned about traditional and popular hair treatments that make Afro-textured hair soft, moisturized and full of well defined curls. As well, I definitely gained insight on the fact that Afro- Brazilian women, and Queens LOVE their hair, maybe not because it is afro-textured, but because they can do just about anything to it.