New legislation, called The Crown Act, has been written to protect people of African decent from discrimination, due to their personal choice of hairstyle. This effort has been long overdue, especially since our worldwide, societal indoctrination has explicitly implied that African hair is undesirable. With the emergence of the natural hair movement, many Black Americans have decided to select natural styles, instead of choosing hair procedures to alter and straighten their hair, which has been viewed as the more acceptable and beautiful representation of hair options. As more individuals are choosing to rock their natural hair and its vast selection of styles, others are still judging the looks as being undesirable and penalizing the wearer in the workplace. Why is this so?
The negative perception of natural African hairstyles has a long and complicated history. It is as tumultuous as its wearers’ existence. Thick, coarse, resilient and sometimes unruly, African hair stunned early white colonizers around the globe. These groups viewed black, tightly curled hair as being unmanageable and unappealing. Jokes and negative imagery soon followed as a way of degrading those who possessed this type of hair texture. Not every person of African decent, however, has course, curly hair. The African gene pool possess the most diverse DNA molecules of any human on the planet. Consequently, some also carry different hair textures and colors ranging from course to fine, curly to straight, and even naturally blonde (check out the people from the Polynesian islands). Many mixed race or multicultural individuals acquired a more “desirable” hair texture via slave rape, interracial breeding and modern day marriages.
The interesting thing about the perception of African hair is the reaction it causes for some. It can instantly create a “fire storm” of curiosity or negativity within the dominant white culture who, generally, believe their hair texture is the most beautiful. Their worldwide propaganda campaign depicted natural African hair as nappy, ugly and not beautiful. Everyone believed this as truth (even those who possessed it). Yet it should be noted that African hair has an adaptability, unmatched by other hair textures. It’s genetic purpose was to provide protection for its owners living in extremely hot, sun rich climates.
I remember being about seven years old when I first understood the African hair versus value connection. There was a tribe of grandchildren at Grandma’s house for the summer. Nothing excited me more than being with my extended southern family. Free as a little country girl, I enjoyed the fresh air, trees, dirt roads, fire flies and peach trees all around. It provided a sense of home for this child growing up in the concrete jungle. While we played in the front yard, members of my family were talking about us children – – our physical attributes and accomplishments. I heard some saying my sister was pretty (which she most definitely was), one of my cousins was really smart and elegant (teacher in the making), one of my male cousins looked just like his daddy (handsome as Billy D), and when it came to me “I was pretty for a black girl” with the qualifier. “Thank God she got good hair.” I remember hearing those words and feeling hurt. It felt like a back handed insult, and my little heart ached with shame. I internalized something very damaging to my psyche after hearing these words, repeatedly, throughout my childhood. I learned that it was not ok for ME to be ME.
My familial story is not uncommon among people of African decent, globally. Due to our world-wide societal indoctrination, people of African descent have internalized the racist views and beliefs about self-identity and value and have perpetuated many of these ideas within our own families. We learned to unconsciously accept that being “Black” was not beautiful, especially if one has darker skin and more pronounced features i.e. kinky hair, big lips, or noses. Black people learned that looking more like individuals of the dominate white culture has privileges (meaning the more one assimilates even in physical attributes, the more one is accepted in the dominate culture). This acceptance allowed Blacks to gain more access to opportunities in society. Many did not understand that self-denial often results in a diminished or lost connection to one’s own divine, authentic self.
Whether a person chooses to wear a natural African hairstyle or straighten their hair, should have no bearing on your value or importance in society. After all, hair is hair. It represents the specific genetics of an individual, which inherently will be diverse. However, your hair is not the divine YOU. It can in no way provide a full resume of who you are and your capabilities. Anyone making negative connections is operating within their own “shadow self” (personal preferences and prejudice). They ultimately have some splainin to do.
At a minimum, people of African descent, embracing their God given hair texture, is no reflection on anyone. It is a personal choice, representing one’s identity, self-expression, self-love and preference. It is an acknowledgement that African hair is beautiful, too! Period.