The Issue Surrounding Black Women's Hair- Yeah, What Is YOUR Problem, It Is MY HAIR!
My God, Y-Y-Y-Y-YOUR Hair!!!!
This hub is in response to the request DO YOU APPROVE OF, AND SUPPORT BLACK WOMEN'S NATURAL HAIR by sister hubber, Brinafr3sh.
The subject of hair is quite a heated one among Black females. It goes back to the premise of so-called good hair and bad hair. So-called good hair in the Black community was/is defined as having straight, long, and "manageable" hair whereas so-called bad hair was/is defined as having coarse, short, woolly/kinky/nappy, "unmanageable" hair.
Black girls and women who possessed "good" hair were/are considered to be more attractive than those who had "bad" hair. The issue surrounding Black hair goes back to slavery. When Blacks were enslaved, they were indoctrinated that anything African and/or Black was deemed inferior to that of the Caucasian/European construct. This programming was done with the sole purpose of dehumanizing Blacks thus making them detest their heritage and having them to be malleable and compliant to the slavemasters' wishes and desires.
The issue was further exarcebated with the Willie Lynch premise. When Blacks were enslaved, the slavemasters did not want a Black united front. So a system was instituted in which to implement separation of Blacks based upon artificial constructs such as gender, age, and skin color.
Blacks who were from different nations and/or ethnic groups were also separated as to not to start insurrections. Part of this separation was the issue of skin color and hair texture. As we all are quite aware of, when enslaved Blacks "arrived" in the Americas, there was racial intermixing between Blacks and Europeans. While this was acknowledged as a matter of fact in lands colonized by the Spaniards and Portuguese, it was begrudgingly acknowledge in the lands colonized by the English and Dutch. In other words, the Spaniards and Portuguese were more tolerant of racial amalgamation than the English and Dutch were.
Although the English were barely tolerant of racial amalgamation, it occurred nevertheless. When slavery was institutionalized in the American colonies, Black women were viewed as a cash crop and commodities. There was potential in that they could bear children to socioeconomically enrich the slavemaster. Although Blacks were forcibly bred with each other in order to produce future enslaved children, the slavemaster was not loathe to mingle with Black women for this secondary purpose. It was well known that slavemasters routinely sold their racially mixed children. Their children who were the product of their sexual congress with female enslaved Blacks were not considered to be a legitimate part of their families.
As a result of this racial amalgamation, there was a wider variations of skin colors within the Black enslaved communities. Blacks with lighter skin, straighter hair, and more Caucasian features were oftentimes treated better and somewhat more preferentially by the slavemasters than Blacks with darker skin, Africoid features, and woolly hair. In antebellum Louisiana, Creoles of color entered into an arrangement- a placage- with Caucasian men. Children of a placage were granted privileges such as freedom with all its amenities. Many such children were educated abroad. There were many Creoles of color who owned enslaved Blacks.
As a result of enslavement, lighter skin, European features, and straight hair became valuable to Blacks. Even after the enslaved Blacks were freed, this racial inculcation continued. Lighter skinned Blacks were more likely to have influential positions than their darker skinned counterparts. In some newly established Black churches and educational institutions, there was the paper bag test. The paper bag test was instituted for the purpose of exclusing of Blacks who was darker than the paper bag.
Many lighter skinned Blacks practiced the art of inclusion. That is they believed in socializing and only marrying other lighter skinned Blacks in order to retain their particular racial hegemony. Besides lighter skin, the crux of the issue was so-called good hair. The straighter and longer the hair, particularly for women, the more attractive they were considered to be and the more accepted in Black and Caucasian society they were.
Women who had more woolly hair had to go through many lengths to straighten their hair sometimes with often dire results. Many women's hair became damaged as a consequence of this. In the early 1900s, Madame C.J. Walker developed a line of black hair care products which subsequently made her a millionaire.
Black hair care products especially for women became a quite lucrative business. Black women, by any means necessary, wanted to have the most attractive hair possible. There were more and more hair strengthening products. It was a commonplace weekly ritual on Saturday mornings for Black women and girls to go the beauty parlor to get one's hair done. The ritual including washing, pressing, and curling one's hair. If one could not afford the beauty parlor or to go weekly, this ritual often occurred in the home.
How many Black women and girls remember the perils of the hot comb and the burnt ears as a result of a mishap? Besides the hot comb, another method of straightening woolly hair was the relaxer method. There were Black women who straightened their hair by this method. They straightened their hair by using unsophisticated methods such as lye soap. However, more sophisticated hair relaxers arrived on the market.
I remember as a girl the travails of Saturday nights when my hair was washed and was to be pressed. I asked my mother why I had to under this weekly ritual. The comb was hot and sometimes my ears was burned as a result of a mishap. She replied that one must be beautiful. In other words, naturally woolly hair was not viewed as beautiful, not by many Blacks and the general society.
Many Black women, especially those with woolly hair, viewed their hair as a necessary evil. Yes, the HAIR was viewed something to be TAMED and CIVILIZED and woolly hair brings to mind being WILD and UNTAMED. At least, that was what mothers, female relatives, and advertisers told the Black woman. Instead of the Black woman's hair being a badge of pride and glory, it was considered to be a badge of shame. In addition to resorting to pressing and other forms of hair altering, many Black women wore wigs to make themselves be more attractive.
In the decade from the late 1960s to the late 1970s, there was increasing awareness and pride among Blacks pertaining to Africa and its culture and civilization. No longer did Africa mean shame. Blacks were becoming more interested in their African heritage. There were Black women, especially younger ones, who eschewed wearing their hair straightened. They opted for more natural styles such as braids and the Afro( wearing one's hair unstraightened). At this time, hair products specifically for natural, woolly hair such as Afrosheen came on the market.
Beginning in the late 1970s and especially in the 1980s, there was a marked emphasis on upward mobility and presenting the "proper" image. Black women, specifically those who wanted to advance up the corporate ladder, wanted to be as inauspicious as possible. So straighteners and relaxers became de rigueur again. If a Black woman wanted to be successful, she had to look as all-American as possible. This means not looking ethnic.
It seems that the pendulum has swung back again. Black women who elect to wear their woolly hair natural are oftentimes looked down upon. There was a segment in Chris Rock's documentary GOOD HAIR where he interviewed some young women regarding the relation to hair to corporate image. One young woman stated that she would never hire anyone with "nappy" hair, adding that the image is considered to be unkempt. In another segment, a noted Black actress asserted that those in power are not happy with Black women with "nappy" hair and are less threatened by those who straighten their hair.
In the book, THE COLOR COMPLEX, a Black woman was terminated from an airline company because she wore her hair in dreds. Although there are somewhat more lassitude regarding Black hairstyles than it was in the past, if one's hairstyle is too ethnic, he/she will most likely either to be not promoted or oftentimes summarily terminated. In high visibility professions, a Black woman with naturally woolly and/or extreme curly hair will be told to "tone it down" if she wants to remain hired.
There are many Black women using hair extensions and weaves to make themselves more palatable to the general society. While some do for the fun and experimentation of it, others do because they subconsciously believe that their own, natural hair is not good enough. Black women are under undue pressure in this society to look as appealing and feminine as possible. Although the standards of beauty and feminine are becoming more inclusive, there is still an underlying standard of what is acceptable in terms of beauty.
Many Black women with naturally woolly hair oftentimes alter their hair, whether it is through straightening, weaves, and/or extensions, because they innate believe that they are not beautiful. Many young Black girls with woolly hair are inculcated that their natural hair is ugly and in order to be considered beautiful, they must straighten their hair. Some Black girls as young as 3 years of age have their hair routinely straightened.
However, there are Black women who are gladly embracing their natural hair and society be damned. They are proud of their hair and view nothing shameful in wearing it in its natural state. They simply refuse to succumb to societal dictates as to to wear their hair. To these women, any grade of hair is good hair as long it is is clean, healthy, and properly nourished.
In summation, the issue of hair among Black women is a source of much contention. The roots of this contention started in slavery with the initial abnegation of the enslaved Black in this country. As an result of enslavement, they learned to hate themselves, their features, and their culture. Conversely, they learned that the Euroamerican society and culture were supposedly superior to theirs.
Blacks learned from slavery that the more Europid featured among them had better privileges. This included the issue of so-called good hair. Black women with naturally woolly hair straightened and otherwise altered their hair to conform with the more European beauty societal standards. This legacy from slavery was staunchly in place until the late 1960s.
In the late 1960s, Blacks, especially Black women, started to embrace and appreciate their African culture and heritage. Many Black women, particularly the younger ones, began to wear their woolly and/or extreme curly hair natural. However, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, this trend somewhat reverted itself. Many Black women in order to fit within the corporate image began to straighten their hair in order to be deemed corporate material.
Although there is more lassitude regarding hairstyles regarding Black women, companies and corporations still frown upon many natural hairstyles, particularly braids and dreds. Companies and corporations want their employees to appear as nonthreatening and homogenized as possible as to have greated appeal among their clientele. This applies especially to those in high powered and high visibility jobs where image is first and foremost.
While some Black women alter their natural hair, there are others who are proud of their natural hair. To them, it is THEIR hair and see nothing wrong with its naturalness. In their estimation, if others do not like or are threatened by it, well, it is the latter's problems, not theirs.
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© 2013 Grace Marguerite Williams