Black hair doesn’t grow.
- Black hair grows at the same rate as other ethnic groups’ hair
- Black hair is the most fragile of all ethnic groups, which leaves it more prone to breakage
- Black hair grows outward (horizontally) and/or downward (vertically)
- Black hair has various states it can exist within, which also allows extreme versatility and shrinkage to occur
When persons are oppressed due to their race, it can be said that any identifiable features linking you to said ethnic group will be scrutinized, as racism usually speaks to an overall dislike or hatred towards the suppressed individual in their entirety.
Plainly said, if you don’t like or fear a race, everything about them is offensive to you, and thus, up for scrutiny.
When the 13th Amendment was enacted, approximately 4 million African Americans needed to secure work in order to feed, clothe and house themselves. Without going into the details of slavery and all the ill effects because of its existence, it can be agreed upon that finding work as an African American in the United States was a challenge.
The beauty of diversity can be found in the appreciation of all our differences. However, as a community that was captured and forced into slavery for centuries, the mindset of those in power didn’t see the difference of skin tone as beautiful, but inferior. Slave owners implemented and utilized a global issue, shadism or colorism to create a divide amongst the Black community. In another post I will cover the systemic division amongst the Black community that ensued from this less discussed form of oppression, but for now, a brief introduction to establish its link to Black hair.
On a plantation, if your shade of brown favored caramel versus dark chocolate, you were made a house slave, instead of a field hand. We know all ethnic groups have varying shades within them, and for those of African descent there’s no exception. However, some slaves were lighter in skin tone due to the rapes of their mothers. Because African women were slaves–property, their biracial offspring were considered free labor. Essentially a slave owner got two, three, or ten slaves for the price of one—the mother. According to historian and professor John Simkin, some slave owners promised female slaves their freedom if they birthed fifteen children (Mulattoes, Spartacus Educational 1997-2016).
From the abolishment of slavery to our current era, those with lighter skin tones and eye colors, receive preferential treatment. Throughout the 1880’s and 1900’s, many African Americans passed as white in order to secure work and to escape the brutality of racism.
With the standard of beauty and ultimately the standard of acceptance being aligned with “whiteness,” one’s appearance needed to closely resemble that of a European American in order to get ahead, or to simply exist without bodily harm—to the point of death—being inflicted. For African Americans, this meant altering their physical appearance through hair straightening and bleaching of skin.
Straight vs. Kinks, Curls & Coils
“Upon arrival to the Americas, slaves lacked the skills, tools and ability to meet local aesthetic standards. The issue was most particular to women. Furthermore, there was no time for hair grooming as slave masters worked their subjects 12–15 hours a day, 7 days a week. The barbaric and desperate social climate left slaves with little concern for grooming and personal well-being. The carefully crafted combs and tools available for hair grooming in their homeland were no where to be found in the new world. American slaves wore matted and tangled locks, instead of the well maintained, long, thick and healthy tresses worn by their brethren left in Africa.”
In order for free African Americans to work or even enter establishments, it meant covering one’s head with a scarf or straightening one’s hair either chemically or with heat. Both are extremely damaging to African American hair, which is the most fragile of all ethnic groups.
Due to the outlawing of natural Black hair in some states and the forced need to outwardly assimilate, African Americans, both male and female used burning chemicals such as a lye and potato mixture to smooth down their coils, kinks and curls, or heat straightening devices like hot combs.
Chemical burns, hair loss, and scabs resulting from a relaxer (above left) Hot comb warming on stove before being used to straighten the child’s hair (above right)
In Louisiana, African Americans turned the ban of their natural hair, Tignon Law into a new style, that became a fashion craze. Today we see the continuation of this fashionable style, known as headwraps or head scarves. This law amongst others, was set in motion to mark African Americans as “enslaved” whether they were free or not. Additionally it was to curb white men’s lust and white women’s jealousy of the African American female with her distinctive, eye-catching hair.
Even with a brief hair liberation during the civil rights movement and our current curly hair movement, there has always been a forced assimilation of African American hair into European standards.
Late 90’s-Mid 2000s
*Watch a 60 second video of 100 years of Black Hairstyles here.
In spite of the curly hair movement, Black hair is still targeted. When African Americans wear their hair in its natural state, a specific cultural look, and/or protective styles such as dreads, locs or braids, the look is criticized often as “unkempt,” “unprofessional,” or “ghetto.”
Our hair does grow. However it isn’t “allowed” by society, to grow.
The continual suppression of Black hair can be read below:
- Children threatened with expulsion from school due to wearing their hair in its natural state
- Military ban on protective/religious black hairstyles lifted in 2017
- Zendaya responds to Giuliana Rancic who issued racial slurs in regards to her hair
- Amara La Negra being criticized relentlessly by a music producer for wearing her hair in an afro
Lack of education, representation, product availability, and race focused restrictions on how society deems it’s acceptable for African Americans to wear their hair, has all contributed to the unsuccessful retention of length for many within the Black community.
However, Black women created their own space to share their natural hair knowledge and self-taught techniques through research and trial and error, using platforms such as Instagram and YouTube. With this accessibility to natural hair education from Black bloggers and vloggers, the naturalista community in the US has been enabled to grow rapidly throughout recent years.
Black Hair Does Grow
My Black Hair Experience
On a personal note, I have always had a lot of hair and it’s quite thick. My hair, beginning at 3 years old, was straightened with a hot comb like the above picture. Being tender headed (sensitive scalp), and tired of the pain of having my hair continually detangled and pressed, I chose to sit the 8-10hrs every 3 months to have my hair braided. I did this from the age of 10 until 14. I then chemically straightened my hair with a relaxer until going back to braids from the age of 14 until 18. I did this because it was easier to maintain my hair while being in sports year round, and also aided in dodging the rude comments, suggestions, and questions surrounding my hair from my classmates (I attended a predominately white jr./sr. high). I then reverted back to a perm until going natural at the age of 26. The transition has been difficult as I had to learn all about my hair, (I have 3 textures), how to wash it, care for it, style it etc and the information for Black hair has only been available about 5 years, due to the curly hair movement. The curly hair movement until recently, has been primarily focused on nonBlack persons or Black persons with a looser hair texture. Because of this, my hair education has come from Black stylists, bloggers and YouTube vloggers, all sharing what they’ve learned through being natural. About 5 years in, and I’m finally figuring out what works for my hair. Every Afro person has their own unique hair texture and curl, coil, or kink pattern, just as everyone has unique fingerprints. Every head must be cared for individually to suit said person’s hair, leaving trial and error as the only way to figure out what your hair likes.
When I transitioned it was unnerving, because the media and society had ingrained in me that my hair was ugly. Even my boyfriend at the time told me he didn’t like my hair natural. To my surprise I received the most compliments I ever have while being natural. However I have also been told several times that my naturally kinky hair is unprofessional in the work place. While working as an Event Staff and Security Guard Supervisor, our client (who happened to be a POC), running The StubHub Center in Carson, CA, told my boss that my hair was unprofessional and that I needed to put it up. I was simply wearing my hair how it grows out of my head. Additionally while working for this company, I was selected to model new uniforms for the company’s website and pamphlets, and was told I needed to straighten my hair in order to participate. They company had one of the few Black women in the office phone me this news, and what’s more, the company makeup was about 85-90% African American. However the company, Contemporary Services Corporation, was owned by a white man.
Despite the stares, rude inquiries from nonBlack persons regarding my hair, strangers touching it without permission, or even asking to touch it, the lack of representation across all industries and media, AND the negativity surrounding being a Black female that wears my hair in its natural state in America—at 30 years old, I have finally learned to love my hair. Read my poem about it here.
“With education and respect of others’ cultures, we can all #bethechange through our words and actions, reflecting on who and what platforms we choose to support.”