Note to Penn: Set up an extra overflow room because this topic is hotter than a metal straightening comb on a stove burner. African-American women in Philadelphia and nationwide are in the midst of a hair renaissance as more of them free themselves of chemical straighteners, also known as creamy crack, and opt to sport Afro styles, braids, twists or locks. This is the source of a bit of tension between some of those who do and those who don't.
For proof, look no further than the mean-spirited comments on black-hair blogs, or ask Solange, Beyonce's younger sister, who angered some natural-hair fans when she tweeted that how she wears her hair shouldn't be the subject of public discussion.
Bless her for saying that.
It's annoying how black-women's hair has a way of being perceived as political or a way to make a statement. Remember the hoopla over that black meteorologist in Louisiana who last year cut off her long, straight hair and adopted a boy cut? Rhonda Lee took to Facebook to school a viewer about black hair after he complained about her new hairstyle. Station management fired Lee for violating the company's social-media policy. Last I heard, Lee, who's nicknamed the Rosa Parks of hair, was still out of work.
And I'm still annoyed about the ruckus black women caused on social media after Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas competed with her hair in a messy ponytail.
"It's easier in this culture to wear your hair long and have it straight or get your hair out of a bag. And I'm not mad about that," pointed out Anthea Butler, an associate professor at Penn and one of the symposium organizers. "But having your natural hair can be very freeing. It can also help you love yourself more."
The Penn event was inspired by a lively discussion on MSNBC's "Melissa Harris-Perry" show about black-women's hair that took place last June. Since she usually talks about politics, it was a surprising departure for Harris-Perry.
My jaw dropped as Harris-Perry explained terms such as the kitchen, which is slang for the hair at the base of the neck. While watching, at times I felt as if I was in a beauty shop listening in as customers weighed in about their hair choices and the ramifications from them.
And, yes, there can be ramifications.
Trust me. I've been there. Because my hair has run the gamut - braided, Afroed, straight, weaved or whatever.
"If you're natural, there's an assumption that you are homely and into poetry, and guys are even more likely to call you 'sister' or 'queen' if your hair is natural," pointed out Nikki Walton, a hair blogger who appeared on the Harris-Perry program. "I feel that it's the society we live in. Our hair is not accepted."
Straightening your hair, as black women have done for decades, isn't necessarily the answer, either. Choose the hot comb or a chemical straightener, and you run the risk of the black-hair police calling you a sellout. You also could wind up damaging your hair. Besides, skipping workouts because you don't want to sweat out your straight hairstyle, as the surgeon general recently pointed out that women sometimes do, just isn't smart.
So, what's a black woman supposed to do? That surely will be a source of much discussion at the Penn symposium.
On Twitter: @JeniceAmstrong