Science of black hair essay

It fit my busy lifestyle, and I liked the way I looked and felt wearing a natural—free and comfortable in my skin. Whatever Black women do to their hair is controversial. The straightening of Black hair was controversial when first introduced at the turn of the 20th century. The technique was loudly criticized by the Black elite, even though many of them had straight hair that afforded them higher levels of acceptance by Whites than other Blacks received. Fast-forward half a century, and the Afro and natural were in some corners criticized as unkempt and uncivilized.

Even today, many feel that natural hair is questionable as a legitimate hairstyle. The talk show host Wendy Williams criticized the actress Viola Davis so virulently for wearing her hair in a natural style to the Oscars in , you would have thought she had attended the ceremony with a bag on her head. Recently, I was invited to speak to a group of high school girls who wanted to wear natural hair and who had formed a support group to sustain them in their decision. They shared heartbreaking stories of parents and friends who questioned their judgment because of this choice and predicted all manner of ruin and disaster for these girls.

But the CEO of Xerox, Ursula Burns, wears a natural, and the real world of corporations has learned to make room for constantly changing expressions of racial and ethnic beauty, even as there is ever-present pushback, attempting to enforce a unitary beauty and hair standard.

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This twixt and tween is simply called reality. Black women never really win the hair wars. We keep getting hit by incoming fire from all sides. Today our hair is as much of a conundrum as ever.


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While Black women spend more on their hair than anyone else, they are routinely less satisfied with results. Weaves, wigs, and extensions are mainstream, from the heads of high school girls to those of TV reality series housewives. While clearly the cover was meant to parody mindless racism, many across the political spectrum took offense.

Madam C. J. Walker - HISTORY

As first lady, Michelle Obama has been crowned, quite justly, an American queen of style and glamour. She is considered by many ordinary folk, as well as those who are the arbiters of fashion and style, to be beautiful and elegant and a premier symbol of American female beauty, as influential as Jacqueline Kennedy.

OK, the revolution just got televised. Yet the controversy continues generation after generation. The cultural tumult is inspired, I feel, by the questions that continually haunt Black people. Questions that years of activism, protest, and progress have failed to answer in ways we can uniformly accept: Who are we? What is our standard of beauty, and where are the roots of that beauty to be found? These questions spring from our position as both central to American culture and perennially marginalized by it.

And there are the other questions that hair leads to as well, about femininity, questions that haunt women of all shades, hues, and races.


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  • Especially when real beauty, the kind that can light up a room literally and figuratively, radiates from within? Black women, like women all over the world, live imprisoned by a cultural belief system about beauty and hair whose time should have passed. Today my natural is full of gray hairs, and I love it and my face more than ever, as the battle about Black hair rages on. I often wonder if, with my college degree, my status as a published author and educator who has worn natural hair for over forty years, I am too dismissive and critical of the reasons why so many Black women care so deeply about the state of their hair.

    I care about my hair too and have frankly chosen the natural as a form of adornment and statement. But as I said, if you are a Black woman, hair is serious business. My hairphobic sisters have gotten the same message that I received relentlessly as a young girl: my natural hair is bad and it could exact a potentially high price if I choose to expose it and exult in it. I have just always been willing to pay the price. This can even more difficult when the media adds on to the negative connotations. Racism Review brings up the topic of the media pandering to white audiences whiling slandering the black community in the process.

    Natural hair movement

    Different aspects in life affect the way people see and recognize the black community, but most of the time that is out of our control. The constant marginalization of our culture, language, hair, skin color, and more can be a burden on our spirits, but they are all important facets of the identities of black people everywhere.

    In a system we were put into where we cannot prosper may inhibit us, but it will not define us and we will continue to be strong in the face of oppression. Works Cited. Nedhari, Aza. Hamm, Nia. This debate is an often-ongoing topic of discussion within the community. The issue is highly debated and disputed, creating almost a social divide within the community between those who decide to be natural and those who do not. After the American Civil War and emancipation , many African-Americans migrated to larger towns or cities, where they were influenced by new styles.

    The photos below show 19th-century women leaders with a variety of styles with natural hair. Others straightened their hair to conform to White beauty ideals. They wanted to succeed, and to avoid mistreatment including legal and social discrimination. Some women, and a smaller number of men, lightened their hair with household bleach. A variety of caustic products that contained bleaches, including laundry bleach, designed to be applied to afro-textured hair, were developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as African Americans demanded more fashion options.

    They used creams and lotions, combined with hot irons, to straighten their hair. The Black hair care industry was initially dominated by White-owned businesses. Walker , Madam Gold S. Young, Sara Spencer Washington and Garrett Augustus Morgan revolutionized hair care by inventing and marketing chemical and heat-based applications to alter the natural tightly curled texture. They rapidly became successful and dominated the Black hair care market. Men began using pomades, among other products, to achieve the standard aesthetic look.

    During the s, conking vividly described in The Autobiography of Malcolm X became an innovative method in the U. Women at that time tended either to wear wigs, or to hot-comb their hair rather than conk it in order to temporarily mimic a straight style without permanently altering the natural curl pattern. Popular until the s, the conk hair style was achieved through the application of a painful lye , egg and potato mixture that was toxic and immediately burned the scalp.

    Black-owned businesses in the hair-care industry provided jobs for thousands of African-Americans. These business owners gave back strongly to the African-American community. These offered permanents and hair-straightening , as well as cutting and styling services, some to both White and Black clients.

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    In this era, men regularly went to barber shops to have their beards groomed, and some Black barbers developed exclusively White, elite clientele, sometimes in association with hotels or clubs. Media images tended to perpetuate the ideals of European beauty of the majority culture, even when featuring African-Americans.


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    • African-Americans began sponsoring their own beauty events. The winners, many of whom wore straight hair styles and some of whom were of mixed race , adorned Black magazines and product advertisements.

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      In the early 20th century, media portrayal of traditional African hair styles, such as braids and cornrows, was associated with African-Americans who were poor and lived in rural areas. In the early decades of the Great Migration , when millions of African Americans left the South for opportunities in northern and midwestern industrial cities, many African Americans wanted to leave this rural association behind. Civil rights activist and suffragist Ida B.

      Wells in styled natural hair. Photo taken between and Successful entrepreneur Madam C. Walker invented a method that relaxed textured hair. Photo taken c. African-American children with braided styles in Natchitoches, Louisiana , Jazz musician Eddie South sporting a conk , or congolene hairstyle, African-American woman in New Orleans in with styled afro-textured hair. Scholars debate whether hair-straightening practices arose out of Black desires to conform to a Eurocentric standard of beauty, or as part of their individual experiments with fashions and changing styles. Some believe that slaves and later African-Americans absorbed prejudices of the European slaveholders and colonizers, who considered most slaves as second-class , as they were not citizens.

      Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharp say that they believe the preference for Eurocentric ideas of beauty still pervades the Western world. African-American hair has been through many different cycles. Slavery played a major role in the ups and downs of the pride that African-Americans take in their hair. It's the perfect metaphor for the African experiment here: the price of the ticket for a journey no one elected to take , the toll of slavery, and the costs remaining.

      It's all in the hair. Like Jamaica Kincaid , who writes only about a character named Mother, I've decided to write only about hair: what we do to it, how we do it, and why. These relaxers often contained sodium hydroxide lye or guanidine hydroxide which result in hair breakage, thinning of the hair, slowing of hair growth, scalp damage and even hair loss, according to Gheni Platenurg in the article, "Black Women Returning to Their Natural Hair Roots".

      In the United States, the successes of the civil rights movement , and the Black power and Black pride movements of the s and s, inspired African-Americans to express their political commitments by adopting more traditionally African styles. The Afro hairstyle developed as an affirmation of Black African heritage, expressed by the phrase, "Black is beautiful. This movement influenced a generation, including celebrities like Diana Ross , whose Jheri curls took over the s. Civil rights activist Angela Davis wearing an Afro in African-American musician Billy Preston in Movie screenshot of actor Richard Lawson in Black Fist African-American guitarist Johnny "Guitar" Watson in African-American country music singer Charley Pride in Since the late 20th century, Black people have experimented with a variety of styles, including cornrows , locks , braiding , hair twists and short, cropped hair, specifically designed for afro-textured hair.

      With the emergence of hip-hop culture and Jamaican influences like reggae music, more non-Black people have begun to wear these hairstyles as well. A new market has developed in such hair products as "Out of Africa" shampoo. The popularity of natural hair has waxed and waned. In the early 21st century, a significant percentage of African-American women still straighten their hair with relaxers of some kind either heat- or chemical-based.

      This is done despite the fact that prolonged application of such chemicals or heat can result in overprocessing, breakage and thinning of the hair. Rooks argues that hair-care products designed to straighten hair, which have been marketed by white-owned companies in African American publications since the s, represent unrealistic and unattainable standards of beauty. Sales of relaxers took a great fall among African-American women from to Many African-American women gave up relaxers to go back to their natural roots. During the same time period, the number of natural-hair support groups has increased.

      Meanwhile, sales of products for styling natural hair continued to rise. Chris Rock 's documentary Good Hair has shown what many women go through to achieve the "European standard" of hair. Black woman has finally decided that it was simply too much", according to the documentary. Black hairstyles have been utilized to promote the idea of identity in the Black community.