(Article) Black Perception of Self: Let Your Hair Down
Black Perception of Self: A Series
Black hair carries a deeper meaning than just look and style. Our hair is unique. It is our creative outlet. It tells a story that is never-ending and always evolving.
Black hair carries history. Our hair has traditions that were passed to us from our African ancestors. It is an essential part of our culture that we were able to maintain after being taken from our homeland. From cornrows being the roadmaps to freedom for those enslaved, to afros being a symbol of pride during the civil rights movement, our hair has always been an expression and reflection of ourselves. Hair reminds Black people of our strength and courage but also connects us as we pass down lessons and tips through generations.
Different Black hairstyles, from box-braids to dreadlocks and afro shape-ups, date back thousands of years ago. In Ancient Egypt, they used different braid styles to identify a person by their family background, tribe, and societal status. Today we see braid styles used to express someone’s style, flair, and personality. In many ways, the expression and adoration for Black hair is a form of self-acceptance and love towards oneself and a way to embrace natural beauty.
During the 19th century, in the post-Emancipation era, many Black women felt pressured to fit into society’s definition of “beauty”, although such values were based on European standards. More women felt compelled to add heat to their hair and straighten it. This industry started to grow, specifically beginning with Madame C.J. Walker, who created the world’s first hair-straightening formula and hot comb.
In contrast to the straightening and chemical uses becoming popular, towards the 1960’s, the Black Power movement started to gain momentum. As a result, the afro hairstyle started to become more popularized. As racial segregation and civil rights protests arose, many people began to grow more appreciation for their hair and wanted to honor their African roots. The afro wasn’t just a form of expression to their culture but also a political statement. The afro was celebrated as a way to defy Eurocentric beauty standards and emulate pride in Black culture.
In many ways, the 1960’s was a prelude to the natural hair movement that has manifested itself today in Black communities. More people today recognize the beauty in natural curls, braids, and everything Black hair has to offer. Beyond the physical beauty of Black hair, there is also something to be said about how it connects us all. From going to hair salons to try a new style, to asking your friend to help you take out your braids, hair allows us to spend quality time with each other, especially when we are young. Hair is oftentimes the centerpiece in forming new relationships and connections among Black children and young adults.
Black children sit between their mother’s legs as she picks at their unruly curls, and wince in frustration when she combs through "the kitchen." As we all grow and have children of our own, we will inevitably repeat this cycle. They will sit in our laps as we navigate through their bush and tell them stories of our mothers and others who came before them. Black hair is a journey-- full of bouts of insecurity, trials, and tribulations. Yet, Black people are connected by the legacy held within our tight coils of hair.
Reporters: Jalyn Hamilton and Clarke Weddington
The Art, Gravity Magazine, 2020