Search

I Am Not My Hair: An Exploration of Black Hair Pride & Discrimination (Part 1: Hair History)

"How I grew to believe Black hair has power, genius, and magic in it, defying gravity and limitation. I mean, look at how marvelous it is: Black hair grows up and out." - Michaela Angela Davis

Artist Shani Crowe’s piece: “Fingerwave Saint”

Black hair and its multifaceted history is extraordinaire. People of the African Diaspora have used their hair as a symbol of creativity, culture and authenticity. Through the years, this expression has transformed into political exclamation and impacted Black people socially, economically and internally. Western and European beauty standards and levels of professionalism have socially turned Black hairstyles into burdens that must be taken on and off to please a white society. Black people wearing their hair authentically and as they personally desire has become a form of liberation and resistance.


Comprehending the journey of Black hair evolution and fighting against oppression in the form of policing Black hair is a part of the many sectors of diversity and social justice advocacy. Before beginning to advocate for Black life and rights, we must first seek to understand Black history and experience. Black hair history is one place to start.


Artist Shani Crowe’s piece: “2 Dey Back”

The history of the Black hair journey begins in Africa. The various hair textures and types seen in Africa are representative of the diversity of African people. The commonality in the various hair styles and patterns of Africa is in the hair’s symbol of social and cultural significance.


In the early fifteenth century, many West African societies used hair to communicate and carry messages. Hair was more than an accessory or thing of simplicity. African hair was a part of a complex and intelligent language system. The people of West African societies including Wolof, Mende, Mandigo and Yoruba, were the people forced on slave ships, unwillingly journeying to a foreign place. On this journey, hair styles were used to indicate things like marital status, age, religion, ethnic identity, wealth and community rank. Hairstyles could also identify a person’s geography or place of origin. For example, people of Nigeria, called Kuramo, were identified by their completely shaven heads, except for a single tuft of hair left on top.


In the 1700s, enslaved African women who worked in the fields were known to cover their hair in head-rags due to the harsh demands of their work. However, enslaved Africans who worked in the “big house,” sometimes mimicked the hairstyles of their enslavers, by wearing wigs or shaping their hair to imitate them. In cities li