Solange said it best in her song Don’t Touch My Hair, saying, “It’s the feelings I wear.”
Black hair is beautiful and glorious. Whether it is tightly coiled, curly, kinky, wooly, or wavy the hair that grows from our heads is not easily definable. It’s complex, just like the Black women that have been blessed to have it.
One of the earliest expressions of Black natural hair is cornrows/braiding. Cornrows/hair braiding just didn’t pop up with HipHop. It’s been around, scorned since colonization.
Legend has it that the enslaved used cornrows and braiding patterns for maps and messages for finding freedom.
I’m saddened that I didn’t realize the strength and resilience of Black hair until adulthood. I’m ashamed that I felt my hair was a curse when I was young.
Growing up, I have memories of sitting in the kitchen and having my hair straightened by my mom with a hot comb. The result was straight hair and forehead burns. We thought it was worth it. It was the acceptable thing to do. You see, throughout history, America’s beauty standard was white skin and long straight hair. Black women were made to feel that our natural hair was too unruly. That it was “nappy.” Television commercials were geared toward women with straight hair.
Currently, there’s a natural hair revolution. Black women are taking our power back. We are taking control of our hair. We are no longer trying to conform but are embracing the beautiful strands that flow naturally out of our heads. We braid it, we loc it and we wear afros. The complexity of Black hair is the reason why it is discriminated against. Some employers won’t hire you if you have locs or braids. Some schools have suspended students for being out of the dress code if their natural hair was in a traditional Black style. Athletes have had to cut their hair before matches.
To protect Black people from these types of discrimination, the House passed in early 2022 The Crown Act, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair. Black women, in particular, have faced pressure in school and the workplace to alter their hair to conform to policies biased against natural hairstyles. On December 14, 2022, Senate Republicans BLOCKED its passage.
As of August 2022, only 18 states have enacted the CROWN Act into law. A Black woman is 80% more likely to change her natural hair to meet social norms. Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from a workplace due to their hair. One and two children have experienced hair discrimination as early as five years old. With statistics like this, we have to do better in advancing efforts to end hair discrimination and foster beauty and inclusivity of the Black hair experience.