As a natural 4A coils and curls Black female, I have experienced all forms of discrimination throughout my life. I’ve had bosses who have told me my hair looks “crazy,” “untidy,” “nappy,” or “dirty.” Coworkers and hiring managers have judged my work ethic before even seeing me at work due to my hair. I’ve stepped into corporate settings where I felt like my hair should have looked different than the way it naturally grows out of my head. I’ve had store clerks follow me around in a store when my hair is out in a fro or in braids, presumably afraid that I would steal. What I’m trying to say is, I’ve been exposed to a lot due to my hair.
The fact of the matter is that Black hair is posed as a double sword, great for the wearer in terms of versatility, but open for public scrutiny and judgement. And, as difficult and irritating as these moments can be, my story is not unique.
Black and Brown bodies are discriminated against and judged daily. Even kids are sent out of school for wearing faux locs and natural styles. All of this to say that history continues to show us that the world (systems and mindsets) weren’t created to fit us, or with us in mind, no matter our age or curl pattern. But how did we get here? Who decided Black hair was offensive and not in fashion? When did it start? And when will it improve?
A lot of historians credit this judgement to the roots of slavery. Similar in many cultures, prior to the slave trade, Black people saw their hair as a source of pride that signified the occupation or social status of a person. But to dehumanize African Americans and seize power, one of the first terrible acts that happened to them when they were put into slavery was the shaving of their heads.
Black people were only allowed a few hours a week to do their hair, where they held onto traditions of wrapping it and braiding each others crowns. It was during this time that the Tignon Laws, laws used to ban excessive attention to dress, were created by white slaveowners. With the goal to completely erase our identity.
After years and years of strife, Black men and women became increasingly aware that apart from our skin color, a way to get ahead in society was through hair. Straight hair was seen as a way to be accepted into society. In many ways, it still is. Sometimes having a certain look can make or break you from achieving your goals. And back then, assimilation was the key to survival — making us feel like our hair had to be straight, smooth, and sleek.
It’s the reason that people like Madam C.J. Walker created the hot comb, and many other hair products after that smoothed out Afro hair. The ’60s and ’70s saw the Afro texture and big hair making it’s way back in pop culture again — deeming that volume and texture were in. Of course some people still resorted to smoothing treatments, but when the natural hair movement kicked off 20 years ago, there was more of an acceptance towards Black hair and our culture.
Things continue to move as the country reckons with their role and responsibility in racism. The hope is that our hair will no longer be judged and we will be seen as equal humans.