The Culture of Our Hair

AUTHOR: Amani Fluellen

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In today’s society hair plays an important role. It may seem like such a small topic, but this idea of cultural appropriation through hair has sparked tons of controversy and can even contribute towards racism.

For centuries black women have been one of the most oppressed members of the minority chain. They have endured challenges such as slavery, colonialism, and forms of oppression you most likely could never even imagine. Through all their struggles, one thing remained, their culture, and with this culture, a major portion of it including hair and how they style it.

The culture of our hair first began in Africa. Many tribes would wear elaborate hairstyles and this hair grooming played a significant part in their social status and identity. When slavery first began, Europeans wanted to find a way to maintain control and dependency of their slaves, as well as strip them of their identity. In order to do this, they committed something known as an “unspeakable crime” and shaved both men and women’s heads, which resulted in the African culture beginning to slowly disappear. To further humiliate them, slave owners imposed their European beauty standards on slaves. These standards of beauty deemed things such as fair skin and straight hair attractive, while dark skin, kinky hair and wide facial features were seen as highly unattractive. This idea of finer, curly hair that resembled European hair created this illusion that there is a thing such as “good hair,” and these ideas have even spread to today’s generations.  

Black women wear protective hairstyles such as cornrows, weaves, dreadlocks, twists, braids and many more to maintain their hair but it’s crazy to think that many people would believe that these types of hairstyles are “ghetto, unprofessional, and somehow threatening (Huffington Post).” By Europeans imposing this idea that straight hair is good hair, it caused many black women to chemically process their hair, also known as getting a relaxer, in order to reach these standards of beauty. An example of this can be seen in the book, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In this book, she gives many examples as to how black women need to put relaxers in their hair in order to be seen as professional because their natural hairstyles are seen as less.

In 2009, a movement began known as the Natural Hair Movement. This came about after many women became educated and realized that relaxers are damaging to their hair, so they decided to embrace their natural, kinky hair. By realizing that black is beautiful, a part of the African culture was revived. Today, this European standard of beauty is still there and many natural hair activists such as Solange Knowles and Amandla Stenberg have spoken out against it, bringing awareness to this problem known as cultural appropriation. According to Amandla Stenberg, “cultural appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated but is deemed as high fashion, cool or funny when the privileged  take it for themselves.” In her video, Don’t Cash Crop On My Cornrows, she gives many examples as to how black culture became popular and somewhat of a trend. Many celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry and the Kardashians have adopted our culture as a way of being depicted as edgy. In both the music videos of Miley and Katy, they are shown twerking, wearing cornrows, while eating watermelon, which is a clear example of a stereotype made towards the black community. Braids were made to seem as if they were a “new urban hairstyle,” when in turn they have been around for centuries being used in the upkeep of black hair. Many people are unaware of why it is hurtful to exploit certain parts of a culture but this is due to them not understanding the significance of the struggle that came with it, as well as the fact that these hairstyles are not made for them. Besides that, many of these people who appropriate black culture don’t speak out against the other injustices we face such as police brutality and racism that still exist. Lastly, by appropriating hair this can make girls with coarser hair textures feel out of place. By asking the questions, “Can I touch your hair?” or “Is that your real hair?,” you are contributing to the racism. These questions can dehumanize black girls and make them feel as if their hair is not normal and that they are out of place since they don’t fit your beauty standards.

Overall, hair is our identity. It is what makes us us and connects us to our cultural roots. I believe that it is a good thing activists are bringing attention to these other problems because police brutality is not the only type of racism still faced in America. Ultimately, people just need to put aside their differences and realize that not everyone looks the same, has the same hair texture, facial features or skin color. Black is beautiful and so is my curly hair and nobody can tell me otherwise.

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