What’s the big deal with black hair?

For as long as I can remember, getting my hair done has been a big part of my life routine. In primary school, I’d get my cornrows taken out and redone on a weekly basis by my fabulous mama. As I got older, I got braids and in secondary school I upgraded to weaves, pick and drop and for a period of time I just straightened my then relaxed hair on a daily basis… without heat protector :S. The thought of doing this now makes me cringe but you live and you learn, right?

Recently, I changed my hair after wearing the same wig to work, for about 10 months. The longest I’ve ever had the same hairstyle for, so I was ready for this change but something inside of me was hesitant. Something inside of me said “are you really ready to deal with all the questions?” I had to take a step back because in all the time I’ve lived in Peterborough I’ve never particularly cared what people thought or asked about my hair. So why now was I hesitant?

I can’t give an honest answer to why I was hesitant but what I can try and do is explain what the big deal is with black girls and their hair. I personally love changing my hair because it just feels great to get a new look every so often. After a few weeks of the same hairstyle, I’m itching for something new and when I do get a new hairstyle (that’s done well) I feel so revitalised. Personal feelings aside, there’s so much more to black hair than just feeling revitalised.

Hair has been an integral part of black culture throughout history. From African tribal styles to dreadlocks to the afro, each style representing something important in its own way. In early African civilisation, your hairstyle could represent what tribe you came from, how wealthy your family were, whether you were mourning the loss of a loved one and so much more.[1] After the abolition of slavery, many black people felt the need to smooth their hair down and make it as straight as possible to “fit in” with the rest of society. This is when products such as the relaxer became popular making Madame C. J. Walker (the inventor of the relaxer) the first self-made millionaire in the US[2]. After this, came the civil rights era. During this period of time, the afro became the new look and as black people protested against racial segregation and oppression, it quickly became a symbol of rebellion, pride and empowerment[3].

There is still an ongoing battle surrounding black hair. Two years ago, a young black woman that was working at Banana Republic was told her braids were “too urban” and unless she took them out she would no longer receive shifts[4]. Or you may recall not too long ago a black high school wrestler was forced to cut off his dreadlocks because they “violated competition rules”[5]. Black hair is constantly being criminalised and labelled as unkempt, unruly or unprofessional. Ultimately, this is the hair that grows out of our heads and we are the ones that are best placed to decide what styles work best for the type of hair we have.

Black hairstyles not only protect and maintain but they symbolise a deep and rich history with so many ups and downs. So, yeah… it’s kind of a big deal.

Paula M

 

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-31438273

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-31438273

[3]  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-31438273

[4] https://www.glamour.com/story/banana-republic-employee-destiny-tompkins-says-she-was-told-box-braids-looked-too-urban

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/21/nyregion/andrew-johnson-wrestler-dreadlocks.html?module=inline

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