The cool thing about the diversity in this world is that we have people that come in all types of shapes and sizes. No two people, not even twins, are exactly the same, and the way that the genes each person has inherited from the people before them manifests is very specific. One of the most interesting ways in which genes present themselves is through hair. Between the vast race/ethnic barriers and various physical attributes, there are obvious differences. Typically and very generally, those of Latin descent have thick and wavy hair, caucasians have very straight hair, and African Americans have thick, kinky/curly hair. It can be very fascinating to study a person’s hair and attempt to understand the cultural background they come from. Even still, there is no more a controversial hair history than that of the black culture.
From cornrows to individuals (or singles depending on where you live) to dreadlocks, black hair has many shapes and textures. Back in the 60’s, the style was to straighten the hair about once a month using traditional tools such as hot pressing combs and grease. Black women and young girls would pride themselves on the bone straight texture they could obtain after hours of sitting on the floor or in the kitchen of someone’s home and allowing them to run the hot comb through their curls. To achieve those curls and waves that were oh-so coveted, women put sponge curlers, pin curls, and even brown paper bags in their hair. This look was used for years and it was an unsaid expectation for any female attending an important or formal event that they embody idea that has never fully lost its value. During the 70’s, it was afro’s all the way, but it was during the 80’s that the idea of wearing their hair in its natural state really gained traction. The 90’s and the 00’s were when the hairstyles that this generation has become accustomed to emerged, such as cornrows, individuals/singles, and bantu knots. The journey, however, has not been one that a girl can come out unscathed.
A big problem amongst the black culture has been cultural appropriation. This is when people take aspects from other cultures and use them for their personal betterment without paying homage to where they’ve taken it from. Contrary to what most people think, black hair is very sensitive. It can become very brittle and thin if brushed too much or pulled too tightly when being styled. The curl pattern can be destroyed by heat, leaving the hair limp and unnaturally straight. Black women have to be very careful and diligent when styling their hair to keep it from falling out of their head. Cornrows are a protective style that is used to keep this from happening. Unfortunately, in the media, black women with this hairstyle are seen as unprofessional or quickly stereotyped as ghetto but when it is seen on a model or someone like the rapper named Riff Raff, it is deemed high fashion. In addition, women are discouraged to wear their natural hair when approaching business situations because it will send the wrong message (coming back to the idea that black women should have their hair straightened for formal events). Having this negative stigma around black hair makes it very hard for black women to view themselves as beautiful. They see confounding pictures in the media telling them their hairstyles are only acceptable or attractive when Kylie Jenner wears them so they straighten their hair and in turn, destroy something that connects them so deeply to their culture and identity. “I think it’s fine for other races to wear hairstyles that originated from blacks, but give credit where it’s due. Don’t take something from a culture andclaim it as your own. For example ‘Kim Kardashian braids’ no boo they’re cornrows,” says Tomanik’e Banks.
Now, we have come to the age of the naturals, where the kinky curly hair is being celebrated and commended as much as it is being diminished. Countless women are making it their mission to record the journey they are embarking on with their hair to educate and inspire other women to begin their own journey. There are also companies such as Shea Moisture and Cantu that make products specifically for the delicate texture of black hair.
Black hair should be something that is celebrated for its ability to take on different forms. More and more women are learning to celebrate their kinks and curls rather than hide them. It is also refreshing to see young celebrities such as Amandala Stenberg and Zendaya Coleman speak out about embracing their hair and their culture. But let’s not just limit the phenomenon to the women of the black culture. Black men also are stereotyped for having long hair as it is seen as feminine (a topic that is especially difficult in the black culture). If they decide to grow out their hair, it is commonly seen in dreadlocks which are stereotyped to be associated with marijuana. Luckily it hasn’t stopped them from embracing their culture. UC Merced student, Kyle Matthews, feels that “Deciding to love my hair natural is one my most profound experiences that has led me to loving and embodying my own unique identity. The versatility that comes with your unique hair texture, is something every individual of color should experience on their journey towards self discovery, regardless of other’s opinion.” It is important that we acknowledge the beauty our differences can bring to this world. Kinky curls are a beautiful and natural thing and should be treated as such. It’s a tumultuous world that black people live in, and this is just based on how they are viewed because of their hair.
Picture Credits: Alyssa Young