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Hair

A little African American Hairstory

I am tired of hearing negative comments about natural hair the comments about Lil Mama and her natural hair it’s like as a people we can never be satisfied. Growing up I remember being made fun of because I didn’t speak slang or have the hour glass shape of the typical African American teenager in the Bronx but when deciding to no longer look like I have straight hair but embrace what is naturally on my head it becomes a problem so I wanted to do some research to try to understand.

Our hair in Africa

According to the book Hair Story untangling the roots of Black Hair in America, in the early fifteenth century hair functioned as a carrier of messages in most African societies. Ever since African civilizations bloomed hairstyles have been used to indicate a person’s marital status, age, religion, ethnic identity, wealth and rank within the community. In some cultures a person’s surname could be ascertained simply by examining the hair because each clan had its own unique hairstyle. Clearly hair has never been a purely cosmetic attribute for the West African people. Its social, aesthetic and spiritual significance has been intrinsic to their sense of self for thousands of years. It is a testament to the strength of these African cultures that the same rituals and beliefs regarding their hair remain in traditional societies today (Byrd, Tharps 2001).

While in Africa haircare was highly regarded as we came to the Americas we had to work with what we had, without the combs, herbal ointments and palm oil used in Africa for hairdressing, the slaves were forced to use common Western household products and equipment to achieve certain styles.

In this new era led by a “bootstrap mentality” in which Black people collectively worked toward carving a place for themselves in the land that had enslaved them one generation earlier, there was no excuse for “nappy” or unstraightened hair. Writer Azalia Hackley noted in the early 1900’s that while kinky hair is an honorable legacy from Africa, “it was nonetheless a trait she hoped “constant care” would help to make go away.


 Advertisements for hair treatments and cosmetics reflected this we’re all in it together mentality. For example, an ad in the Black newspaper “The Oklahoma Eagle” declared, “Amazing Progress of Colored Race-Improved Appearance Responsible. Look your best you owe it to your race. (Byrd, Tharps 2001).In the United States, where the aesthetic norms are overwhelmingly based on a White European standard, Black people with any variation of kinky tresses are immediately cast as “others” in mainstream beauty culture.

Byrd and Tharp (2001) remind us that pop culture paradigms of beautiful Black women are coiffed with long straight hair. The images we are given in the media that are associated with status are consistent with Eurocentric images. Talent agent and former model Bethann Hardison explained to Essence in 1991 why White fashion directors and advertising executives then to favor Black women with light skin and long hair.”It’s natural”.

My opinion

I researched this topic because I wanted to understand why the stigma against natural hair. It’s easy now because it’s not accepted in mainstream America and we are following other opinions of thinking our hair is ugly, unprofessional but when I look at the way in which our hair symbolizes strength it’s almost like cutting off Samson’s hair he couldn’t fight and I believe they are taking our identity away because we will no longer feel inferior but know we are a people of strength. If you wear a relaxer I hope you have chosen to do so because you feel you won’t be accepted on your job or get fired (not possible), feel that you will get ridiculed, hate the way your natural hair looks (its a part of you love it) but that you are truly in love with yourself inside and out.

All of the self hatred needs to stop if you see me with natural hair don’t knock me or insult me cause underneath your perm or wig we have the same history.


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How do you feel about your natural hair or people who decide to go natural?

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