Combing Through the Roots

Samon Bovan Blog #2

African-American hair and African-American hairstyles are the diverse  ways that African-American men and women style their hair.  Because many black people have hair that is thick with tighter and smaller curls than people of other races, uniques hairstyles have historical connections to African cultures.

Although slavery greatly restricted the ability of African-Americans to practice their original cultural traditions. Many practices, values, and beliefs survived and our time have modified and blended with the European culture.

In the 15th century, African hairstyles were used to indicate a person’s martial status, age, religion, ethnic identity, wealth, and rank within the community. The hair is the most elevated part of the body and therefore considered a portal for spirits to pass through the soul. Because of the cultural and spiritual of hair for Africans, the practice of having their heads involuntarily shaved before being sold as slaves was in itself a dehumanizing act. “The shaved head was the first step the Europeans took to erase the slaves’ culture and alter the relationship between African and his or her hair.”  (Boyd and Tharps 2001)

As the Europeans began to explore Africa, the slave trade began and continues for hundreds of years, the attention and respect given to hair was much different and the perspective on it was severely altered, even damaged.  Although the Europeans were at first entranced with and admired the complexity of style, texture, and adornment of Black hair, something  had to be done to rid them of their identity as they entered the “New World”.

By the time North American outlawed the transatlantic slave trade, a distinct Black American culture had developed. Many blacks argued that imitating European standards of beauty and grooming was necessary for blacks to be accepted by white culture, especially by potential white masters and their employers.

In the 1960’s, Black hair underwent its biggest change since Africans arrived in America. The very perception of hair shifted from one of style to statement. And right or wrong, Blacks and Whites came to believe that the way Black people wore their hair said something about their politics. Hair came to symbolize either a continue move toward integration in the political system or a growing cry for Black power and nationalism.

When the Afro, hit it’s stride in the 1960’s, it was an expression of pride, connection, power, revolution and differentiation. The black hair was a way to showcase a link to their African ancestors and Blacks throughout the diaspora. The Afro, in conjunction with the Civil Rights movement was helping to define black identity. (Byrd and Tharps 2001)

Young Black Americans were “froing their hair” in great numbers as a way to emulate the style of the Black Panthers and convey their racial pride.  Although the Afro started in New York, it was Angela Davis in Chicago, an associate of the Black Panther Party, who pioneered the Afro as a political statement. In embracing naturalism, she glorified the Black aesthetic and facilitated its power to connect Blacks in Civil Rights movement. Her Afro became a way to celebrate African-ness and embrace heritage while politically rejecting European ideals.

For generations hairstyles have reflected the history of American race relations and the way blacks wore their hair reflected the dominant white culture.

Byrd, Ayana and Tharps, Lori. Hair Story: Untangling The Root of Black      Hair In America. New York, New York. 2014

Donaldson, Chris-Tia. Thank God I’m Natural. USA, Tgi Nesis Press. 2008

Gentry, Grandma. 1939 to present

Rooks, Noliwe. Hair Raising: Beauty, Culture, and African American Women. News Brunswick, New Jersey. 1996

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One thought on “Combing Through the Roots

  1. I was immediately drawn in by your title and image! I touched on African American hair in my blog, and was interested to see what you had to say. I really enjoyed your blog, but I definitely think you could have connected it to what we learned in the course more. I think you danced around some connections, but never came right out and identified them! This definitely would have made your blog even better! I thought your points were very interesting, and I learned some new things. I had no idea that hair depicted your marital status or your position within a society. I love that you talk about the way that black hair has changed over time, and with it, its importance. The language and diction you used made your blog really enjoyable to read, not to mention it was informative!


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