A Glimpse Into The History of Black Hair

A brief look into the rich history of Black hair to help us understand where we are today.
FesticiaOliviaFesticiaOlivia
Aug. 20
campaign, cherie
Cherie is an online community of beauty lovers sharing their stories; whether that's their favorite products, makeup tutorials, or skincare routines. Download the app today to be a part of #BeautyWithoutBarriers and show the world what beauty means to you!It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. As for the Black community, our hair is worth a thousand more. Black hair captures our culture, tells our stories, our passions and our creativity. African CultureHistorically, African tribes used hair styling to signify someone's marital status, social status, age, ethnicity, manhood, religion, fertility and death. Shea butter and coconut oil have always been a traditional need when it came to styling Black hair. Styling usually took hours and were used as a chance to socialize and form bonds with one another. The Yoruba people, one of three major ethic groups in Nigeria, used hairstyles like The Shuku , which involves braiding to form a hump on top of the head. This style was most traditionally worn by the wives of royalty, but is now common among young ladies, school girls and married women.
Shuku Hairstyle
Shuku Hairstyle
During SlaveryIn 1444, African people were stolen from their native lands and traded across the Atlantic by Europeans to be forced into centuries of slavery. In fact, once they were brought to the western world, Europeans negatively referred to Black hair as wool. Slave owners shaved the heads of both men and women to strip them of their identity as well as cultural connection that their hair held. In an effort to erase African culture and identity, Europeans did not allow enslaved Africans to speak their native language, partake in cultural practices like dancing and of course, styling their hair. The European standard of beauty was pushed on to Africans; meaning fair skin, straight hair, thin features and colored eyes were seen as beautiful while darker skin, kinky hair, and wider facial features were perceived as unattractive. Enslaved Africans used bacon grease, butter and kerosene as hair conditioners and cleaners. Lighter-skinned, straight-haired slaves were sold at higher prices at auctions in comparison to darker, more kinky-haired ones who were viewed as less valuable. This idea became an internalized form of anti-Blackness amongst enslaved Africans and still impacts the Black community today. EmancipationWhen slavery was finally abolished in the 19th century, Black people still suffered years of trauma, and societal disadvantages at the hands of Europeans. Finding their place in society meant fitting into white America and their beauty standards. Black people who styled their hair similar to white people and tried their best to get rid of kinks and curls. The goal was to have “good hair” (straighter hair or looser curls) along with lighter skin, to fit the white standard of beauty. Hair ToolsIn 1845, Metal hot combs were invented by the French, and became available in the United States. The comb is heated and used to press and temporarily straighten kinky and curly hair. In 1900, Madame C.J. Walker created a variety of Black hair-care products. She popularized the press-and-curl style and was criticized for encouraging black women to look white. She then went on to be the first Black woman to be titled a self-made millionaire. In 1954, George E. Johnson launched the Johnson Products Empire with Ultra Wave Hair Culture. This was a permanent hair straightener for men that was applied at home. Soon after this became popular, hair straighteners for women hit the market. Smoothed, relaxed or straightened hairstyles were all published on mainstream media during this time.
Source: hotstylingtoolguide.com
Source: hotstylingtoolguide.com
The Civil Rights EraIn the midst of the Black Power Movement, political activist, Angela Davis wore her afro to embrace her blackness and symbolize Black pride and power. This look was soon called the natural and this movement coined the saying; ‘Black is Beautiful.’
Angela Davis
Angela Davis
Weaves, Twists & LocksRelaxers, jheri curls and hot combs continued to be popular in society. However, in the 90’s weaves, twists and braids also gained popularity.The Natural Hair Movement From the years 2009 to 2014, the natural hair movement became widespread. Black women began embracing their natural kinks and curls, investing in products that were beneficial to the health of their hair. YouTubers and social media influencers continue to share their natural hair journeys, tips for maintaining healthy hair and some even create their own products to care for their hair. There are a ton of Black owned businesses that create products for Black women who are looking to properly care for their natural hair.
Source: @Naptural85
Source: @Naptural85
The Banning of Natural HairDespite the fact that black women use their hair as a form of self expression, others outside of the community, do not understand the importance it holds. As of today it is still legal for workplaces in 43 states to refuse to hire someone because of their hair or restrict them from wearing their hair in its natural state. The Crown Act, which bans hair discrimination, has only been passed in 7 states and 9 states have filed or pre-filed to have it passed. The systems set in place to restrict Black expression date all the way back to slavery and constantly reminds us of the anti-Black ideas that are upheld in our nation today. The beauty and power our hair holds goes so much deeper than what we see. To truly appreciate our crowns, we must stay connected to our roots and where we came from.
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