A Global View on Natural Hair Twanika Washington

Natural hair on African American men and women is often called nappy, dry, and brittle by present day American society. The term “nappy” is a colloquialism used to describe hair that tends to be curlier and coarser than Caucasian or other races hair texture. When you hear the term natural hair all these different type of hair products may come to mind. Images of perms, relaxers, and hot combs pop up. When shampoo commercials are promoting their brands on TV, most of the time you don’t see black women with natural hair or any women with so called “wild hair.” They mainly show white women with flowy hair and easy to tame hair. I know when I see these commercials it used to make me ashamed of my hair. I wonder what it makes other women feel. It used make me want to get texturizers and perms to straighten my hair. But why should I even have to feel like I have to do that?

HISTORY OF BLACK HAIR: Hair is connected to many historical tribes, civilizations, movements, and the pain of African descent. Hair of the African American people were seen as a representation of age, religion, rank within their community, wealth, marital status, and even occupation within their culture. (Byrd and Tharps 2002). For instance, cornrows, they originated in Africa and Caribbean areas. Their very name indicates agriculture, planting, and labor that slaves had to endure. Like many other “Africanisms” in the new world, knowledge of African hairstyles survived the Middle Passage. Heads were often shaved upon capture, ostensibly for sanitary reasons, but with the psychological impact of being stripped of one’s culture. Re-establishing traditional hair styles in the new world was thus an act of resistance; one that could be carried out covertly. The shaving of the slaves head was done for the purpose to break that persons spirit to make it easier to control them. In the 1700s American slaves were often worked to death. There was little time for things like beautiful African hairstyles. So most women covered their hair in a rag. Not only to hide their undone hair but sometimes to even hide things like ringworm, which left places on your head where no hair would grow. Those who worked indoors were able to do their hair. For them braiding was common.

Before slavery, African American men and women wore and styled their hair with braids, shells, twists, beads, and a vast variety of different hairstyles. According to Byrd and Tharps in the article “Social networking sites: a support system for African-American women wearing natural hair”, the doing of the hair could range from many hours and sometimes even days to complete (Byrd and Tharps, 2002). For me, it represents my black culture. I never knew what my kind of hair stood for until about a year ago. It made me appreciate myself and my African heritage. African hair is also seen as a type of art form. In the West African tribe, Qua-Qua, the men cut off the locks of their wives hair, they then dried them red, plaited them, then affixed them to their own heads (Byrd, 2002, p.4). Another example would be Nigerian wives. These women were in polygamous marriages and sometimes wore their hair in a Kohin-Sorogum style. This certain style was meant to be seen from the back of it. It was a hairstyle that was used to insight jealousy from the other wives by indicating that one was turning her back on them (Byrd & Tharps, 2002). Also, in the Wolof culture young girls would partially shave their head to indicate that they were not of age for dating (Mosely 2004).

Recently a high school in South Africa, a couple of months ago, has placed a ban on girls wearing Afros and natural hairstyles because they are “untidy”. These girls are as young as 13. In an article, I read about the event, stated that one of the young girls said “I have a natural fro, but the teacher told me I need to comb my hair because it looks like a bird nest”. Another said her mother forced her to cut her hair because she “didn’t want trouble” at the affluent school. Pretoria High School for Girls, school’s code of conduct dictates that cornrows, dreadlocks and braids may not be more than 10mm in diameter. The code of conduct does not mention Afros or hair texture, but the girls say the rule that “all styles should be conservative, neat and in keeping with school uniform,” has been used to oppress black students.

As people of color, many of us come from painful legacies of immigration, slavery, and exploitation. When we approach each other with respect for one another’s culture and the struggles, most ethnic groups had to endure, we are much more likely to be able to define the line of respect and appropriation. Respecting ones heritage is accepting them for who they are. Not judging them on what they can’t control, such as their skin color, hair texture or where they come from.

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