THE HISTORY OF BLACK HAIR AND HOW IT REFLECTS VARIOUS BLACK HISTORICAL EXPERIENCES
Feb 28, 2023
Feb 28, 2023
All through history past and present, black hair has always been more than just hair. It has always reflected our history and the various changes in our social roles through time.
Black hair is an expression of who we are. Solange says it best in her song - Don't Touch My Hair with the lyrics, “Don't touch my crown”, “When it's the feelings I wear”.
In the pre-colonial era, black hairstyles were our pride and an identity, a glance at an individual’s braids can tell you if they are married, single, in a polygamous marriage, a soldier, royalty or a mother and their tribe.
The higher your place in society, the more elaborate your hair style.
During slavery, with the aim of alienating Africans from their cultural identity, slave masters termed black hair ‘dirty’ and declared shaving off slaves’ hair more ‘sanitary’. To avoid hair shaving, slaves started wearing their hair in tight braids along their scalp in the style named CORNROWS because of their similarity to cornfields. This way their hair was ‘neat and tidy’.
Cornrows for the slaves became more than just a means of holding onto their identity and history but rather became a tool in the fight for freedom. In South America, because they could not read or write, slaves would hide maps, secret signals in elaborate cornrow styles to help them escape plantations.
Around the 17th Century, Benkos Bioho a member of the royal family in Guinea Bisau was captured by the Portuguese but was able to escape in Cartagena to found San Basilio the first free village in the Americas and also formed an intelligence network that included female slaves using cornrows styles to deliver maps & information.
In 1619 Spaniards violated the peace treaty with Bioho. He was hanged and quartered in March,1621 by Governor Garcia Giron who argued that, “It was dangerous the extent to which Bioho was respected in the population”.
The slavery era and the decades that followed set a stage for a majority of the negative stereotypes around black hair.
Quoting Lori Tharps, an author & a professor at Temple University, She says it best, “The emulation of European styles was to push back against the idea that we were inferior or that we were animalistic. If the white slave owners were going to tell us our hair is what makes us inferior, then we're going to say, 'Well, if I can make my hair look like yours, then I'm not inferior. I'm just like you.'''
So, we went from loving our hair, protecting it, using it as a fight for freedom to covering it up and trying to conform to European beauty standards.
The Pursuit of Straight hair
In the 1900’s black hair care was still heavily influenced by Eurocentric beauty standards: sleek hair, smooth waves, achieved with relaxers, hot combs, and sew-ins.
Madam C.J and to a smaller extent Annie Malone created products to help black women treat scalp issues and make the hair straightening styling gentler. Madam C.J created employment opportunities & financial independence for hundreds of African American women. She is acknowledged as the first self-made female millionaire in American History.
The First Natural Hair Movement & Afros
A return to wearing black hair in its natural textured state was triggered by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s with the message of Black Power which aligned with a complete acceptance of ourselves as we are, skin, coils and curls.
Although they were met with backlash, terming their hair styles unprofessional, Black hair became again a symbol of liberation and pride.
Around the 1970’s came the Jheri curl hairstyle invented by Jheri Redding. He created products that softened black hair and then formed it into curls in a two-step chemical process.
Dreadlocks, Fades, Braids & Cornrows
Around the 1980’s, the birth of Hip Hop ushered in Hi-top fade haircuts, beautiful cornrows with individualized styles, and braids by the likes of Janet Jackson.
These were met with some pushback, we had kids being told that their natural hairstyles were a violation of school dress codes. And at the same time, Bo Dereck a white actress was praised for wearing cornrows in a 1979 movie 10
In the 1990’s FedEx couriers were fired if they had dreadlocks
And it wasn't till 2014 that the US military revised their appearance & grooming policies to allow for more inclusive black hairstyles that were previously banned but specific dimensions for braids width, spacing and more.
Black hair has come full circle, and we will continue to love & explore our coils & curls, learn its secrets and appreciate our crown. A Solange Knowles says, “This hair is my shit Rode the ride, I Gave it time But this Here is MINE!!
Promotions, product updates, and best offers. Directly to your inbox.