Afros are sometimes labeled and have been considered unacceptable or even unprofessional. But who decided hair could be good or bad?
Afros are sometimes labeled and have been considered unacceptable or even unprofessional. But who decided hair could be good or bad?.
Even though we all know that hair plays an important part in the identity of people, most of us still ignore the discrimination that takes place behind black hair.
During the pre-colonial era, African societies considered black hair as a crucial part of the identity of every individual. There were different hairstyles according to occasions such as giving birth, going to war, being married, or even puberty. Additionally, families and tribes had their hairstyles. The higher the position of a person in society, the more elaborate their hairstyles were. Lori Tharps, who wrote a book named "Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America" mentioned that hairstyling was important to an extent that people were considered mentally ill if they didn’t style their hair in a particular way.
When slavery began, Africans were forced to leave their homes and abandon their traditions. Their heads were even shaved when they boarded slave ships. If you are wondering if there is a relationship between the enslavement of Africans between the 16th and 19th centuries, and black hair, there was. According to the historian Emma Dabiri, the texture of black hair was used to justify the enslavement of Africans, claiming that black hair had the texture of wool, that seemed like livestock instead of human hair. Even after the era of slavery, the hair remained as a justification to affirm that some people were inferior to others.
The worst part of the story is that even though the slavery era came to an end, the negative stereotypes concerning the physical identity of black people, persist. The Eurocentric beauty parameters are still dominant and society tends to discriminate against people who don’t emulate European hair styling.
"And so we went from loving our hair and carefully caring for our hair, to covering up our hair and trying to emulate European styles [but] not because we thought they were pretty. There was none of that," said Tharps.
"The emulation of European styles was to push back against the idea that we were inferior or that we were animalistic. If the white slave owners were going to tell us our hair is what makes us inferior, then we're going to say, 'Well, if I can make my hair look like yours, then I'm not inferior. I'm just like you.''' Tharps has even mentioned that looking at black hair is enlightening when learning about American history since it has paid the toll of slavery and the costs of remaining.
But is this all? Unfortunately not. Since black women were discriminated against by their hair, millions of hair products were made to change the texture or appearance of their hair. This is why research has revealed that the black haircare industry is worth 88 million euros, and black women spend six times more money on hair than their white counterparts. According to Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health’s Tamarra James-Todd, haircare products for black women may contain endocrine-disruptive chemicals linked with serious health issues.
The Crown Act was created in 2019 by Dove and the CROWN coalition in partner with then State Senator Holly J. Mitchell of California to ensure protection against discrimination based on race-based hairstyles in the USA. Although it is law in some states, there is still a long way to go, so that it is supported by more. If you are wondering how to play your part in stopping discrimination based on race-based hairstyles, be sure not to ask to touch hair, and always remember not to make comments about others’ hair!