Last term I went to a talk titled the “Politics of black hair” by a fabulous new group at my university called ‘The Black Women’s project’. I left the talk feeling emotionally charged and since then I felt I had a lot to say about this topic. In this post I will be discussing some of the trials and tribulations of black hair and tackling some of the issues revolving it. I will not be assuming everyone knows the ins and outs of black hair so will try and explain it all as I go along to the best of my ability.
From braids to weaves to clip ins to cornrows, it is clear that I am always changing my hair. Last year I took a selfie every day and from that you can notice my varying hair styles. However, even this does not demonstrate the true extent of how much black hair can change.
I am sorry to break it to those of you who do not know, but when you see a black girl with a mane of curls or butt length blonde hair, it is not actually her hair. This is something many people don’t realise when they look at black celebrities such as Beyonce – yes, she is usually wearing a weave or a wig. (Weave = when you have your hair in cornrows against your head and get hair extensions sewn on top that).
Don’t trust a black girl
This is something my sister recently said to me. I was using clip-in hair extensions , that way I could decide whether or not I wanted my hair longer or shorter literally in a matter of seconds (Clip-in extensions: a weft of hair with hair slides on it that you can attach and blend with your own hair).
Many people probably do not really know exactly what my hair actually looks like. Even I don’t know what my real hair looks likes half of the time because it is usually in a protective style (Protective style: a hair style that you put your hair in to avoid excess handling, heat and to promote growth e.g cornrows)
Over the years I feel like black hair has moved on from just being hair to being a political statement. I remember reading a news article online which argued that black girls were, “wearing oppression on their heads”. Whist I can see where the columnist was coming from in the sense that beauty standards generally favour traits that are generally more common with other races e.g. long straight hair. However, I feel like it has gone too far and is actually putting women against each other. How you have your hair is an active decision many black girls have to face all the time.
Black hair as a subject matter has always been prevalent which is evident in the more contemporary cases such as Chris Rock’s documentary ‘Good Hair’, the emphasis on the hair of the Williams sisters and Michelle Obama. Just take the gymnast Gabby Douglas for an example. I remember being so proud to be black when I watched her secure the title of Olympic double gold medal champion. However, what did the media have to say about her? They criticised her hair. She had won two gold medals, smashed records and it was her hair that you found trending on social media.
This is further demonstrated through the amount of opposition that Beyonce faced over her daughter Blue Ivy’s hair which she chose to leave in its natural state. It went so far that a petition on Change.org was created to get Beyonce to do her daughter’s hair. And more recently the focus on Zendaya and her choice to wear locs, a look which has now been immortalized on a barbie doll.
Personally, the first time I decided to do something to my natural hair was for a production I was in. Aged fourteen I got cast in a production of ‘Hairspray’ and my natural hair just did not fit the part.
This is something that black girls face from each other too. Why do we judge and critique each other for our hair style choices? For the past year and a half, I have been transitioning. And no, I do not mean I am in the process of turning into a man but this is also the term for when you have relaxed your hair and you decide to go back to your natural hair (Relaxed = Chemically straightened).
I did not realise it then but I had developed a complex about not being ‘black enough’ and subconsciously I felt that having an Afro would make me more black. Black women should be propping each other up and stop the development of reverse snobbery. Regardless of whether you choose to have natural hair or processed hair or whatever, black girls all face the same struggle. Why don’t we stand together? Enough with the #TeamNatural culture. I am all for black pride but not at the expense of putting others down. Is it not ultimately about self love and what makes you happy?
This problem of black hair goes so much further and reflects general societal outlooks towards different races.
What is the difference between a white and black woman deciding to use hair extensions or braided hair?
The recent marketisation of predominantly black features such as cornrows is a serious problem in modern society. It seems illogical to embrace black culture but not black people. This is cultural appropriation. The key difference between me choosing to use hair extensions and when Kylie Jenner had braided hair is the variance in the power dynamic between the racial groups. This is the difference between appropriation and assimilation. It is impossible to appropriate features of a dominant racial group who already experience privilege based on being the favoured aesthetics.
So I guess this post was just a little insight into black hair and some of the associations with it. And remember, never trust a black girl! Would love to read your comments with your thoughts on the topic.
It’s just me, Dammy, and I am so much more than my hair.