What is Black hair? This question seems like an easy one to answer but there’s really quite a few layers to it. There’s, of course, what it is physically based on its chemical composition, and then there’s what it is socio-politically, what it is culturally, what it is emotionally, and what it’s meant historically.
Right now there’s a shift happening in the cultural definition of Black hair. As a result of today’s natural hair movement, which has been growing since roughly the past decade but picked up speed around 2013, Black hair, in many circles, is largely beginning to mean natural hair. Given that for centuries in America, Black women had to hide or change the texture of their hair in order to assimilate, the shift that’s happening now is, for the most part, a positive one. However, the thing about definitions is that by declaring what something is you automatically define what it isn’t, and when that thing refers to a group of people, you’re essentially saying who’s in that group and who isn’t. By their very nature, definitions create a framework for including and excluding people. And with the definition of Black hair changing to largely be associated with kinky, curly, coily hair, I’ve wondered what that means for women who still wear their hair straight or ‘unnaturally.’
With the definition of Black hair changing… I’ve wondered what that means for women who still wear their hair straight or ‘unnaturally.’
Toward the end of last year, we kicked off an exciting new project, geared at exploring what we as a community think Black hair should be versus what it actually is. We interviewed six women with natural hair and six women with relaxed hair, discussing various topics like: why they chose to wear their hair the way they do; if they’ve ever felt judged because of their texture; what are some of the stereotypes they hear about natural or relaxed hair; and given that most women with relaxed hair had the choice made for them, should moms relax their daughters’ hair. Let me tell you, the answers to those questions, the conversation that came out of these interviews was so rich! I loved hearing responses that affirmed each other and especially responses that contrasted with each other, because I think that’s something that often gets missed when talking about various aspects of Blackness. As much as we are one big Black community with shared experiences and tons of commonalities, we’re also individuals within that community and as a result we have individual experiences that form our preferences, our choices, and opinions and make us different from each other. And although being different sometimes might seem scary, differences only become a bad thing when people place a negative value on them. And that’s one of my biggest learnings from this project.Differences only become a bad thing when people place a negative value on them. Click To Tweet
Black hair is so versatile and diverse and our feelings and thoughts about it are equally diverse. Unfortunately, some hairstyles and textures, over time, have gotten a bad rap, usually because it served some political purpose to denigrate a certain group of people. But if that’s taken out of the equation, I think we’ll find that we can all co-exist with our differences without any malice or tension. As long as we’re open to understanding our differences and not using them as a way to exert power or elevate status, that little knot that we sometimes get in our stomachs when we’re about to enter a room with people who have hair that’s not like ours can dissipate.
As Black hair continues to evolve, the larger challenge moving forward will be to recognize just how diverse it is both in natural and altered states (because those altered states are a part of our history and they’re not going anywhere). We also have to unlearn the stereotypes and associations that were placed on various ways of wearing our hair. And I think with both of those things we can really embrace the diversity that lies in our diversity.
With all that said, I’m so so so excited to release the trailer of our new project, “Black Hair Is…” which was made possible with the support of Smooth ‘N Shine. The project is a two part debate. The first part will be released on April 9th and the second part will be released the following week on April 16th. To be one of the first to watch the videos, sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook or Instagram for sneak peaks.