What’s all this fuss about natural hair?

Human hair naturally comes in different textures:

Afro-haired woman from Nossi-bé, Madagascar

Curly, also called coiled, spiralled or type 3. Though some like to think so, I don’t really think of afro hair (also called kinky, nappy, type 4 and less commonly crisped, woolly, fleecy, frizzy or crinkly) as separate from curly. To me it’s just the extreme end of curly so I refer to it as such, although it too can be divided into further gradations

Wavy, also called type 2. 

Straight, also called wiry, lank or type 1. 

This is partially because the follicles they grow from come in different shapes; curly & wavy hair grows from oval follicles, straight from circular ones. However, at least for some, hair naturally changes texture because the hair follicles change shape (though why this happens is unknown). It’s also partially because of the proteins in the hair strands themselves, which  are joined together by disulphide bonds. The more of these bonds, the curlier the strand.

Though type 4 hair is most common in indigenous Africans and their diasporic descendants, it is not exclusive to us nor is it the only texture we possess. As for type 1, it is most common in Easians but not exclusive to them nor is it their sole texture. Types 2 & 3 are pretty much the norm everywhere else.

Chinese girl exemplifying type 1 hair

 Hair also comes in different colours; black, brown (aka. brunette), orange (aka. ginger), yellow (aka. blond/e) and overlaps. This is because of different amounts of a group of pigments collectively called melanin, of which there are 3 types – black eumelanin (technically isn’t black but very dark brown), brown eumelanin (more obviously brown, like reddish/ chocolate) and phaeomelanin (yellowish-orange). Globally black is the most common hair colour, followed by brown, blond/e and ginger. White and grey hair can result either from old age (during which the hair typically produces less melanin of any kind) or from congenital lessened or aborted melanin production, such as the more extreme forms of albinism. 

 

So what’s all the fuss about? All people naturally have hair, right? Why should a post be made about it?

 

Well, here’s the deal. For ‘black’ people (especially women nowadays) it is often a self-esteem issue. Our story starts from the trans-Atlantic slave trade (TAST). When ‘white’ people captured Africans one of the first things they did was shave their hair. This may be no big deal to us but in some African belief systems the hair is on the head, and because the head is the highest part of the body it is therefore closest to God. This effectively meant that head hair was a symbol of connection to God. Therefore for the hair to be cut off and discarded like filth was, in a word, traumatising. 

However it gets worse. Soon after the slave trade started both ‘white’ and ‘black’ people were being worked like nobody’s business. However, while the elites started passing laws to stop them uniting and rising up they tried to find ways, no matter how trivial or fantastical, to justify the laws. They thus declared Africans to be naturally inferior and fit for eternal service, and one of the MANY ways they ‘evinced’ this was to pass judgments on the differences between Africans and Europeans. Nose shape, skin colour, language differences, lack of Christianity* and the like were all used (and this is also when the negative stereotypes started being invented), but for the purposes of this post we’ll focus on hair texture. The respected scientific minds of the time espoused that our natural hair texture was more bestial (beast-like), suited for jungle & wilderness and overall hideous and revolting. The church authorities agreed, claiming that our hair was part of the curse of Ham – even though the Bible doesn’t mention the nature of this curse.

* This was ignoring the newly converted slaves, and that Christianity came to Africa about 500 years before Europe.

As such, many ‘black’ people were convinced that their natural afro hair was cursed and ugly. They could have tried styling their hair, but as slaves they barely ever had the time and usually just covered it in a headwrap. The only way for them to have hair closer to ‘white’ people’s (what became known as “good hair”, a very common phrase in USA & the Caribbean) was to have children with a ‘white’ person. This meant that either:

1 – ‘Black’ men would have to have children with ‘white’ women (which as far as I know never happened back then. It would’ve been absolutely forbidden and the man could be killed/ mutilated for it), or,

2 – ‘Black’ women would have to have children with ‘white’ men (this was very common, and pretty much always happened without the women’s consent – in other words ‘white’ men raped ‘black’ women and their mulatta children, especially in the southern states of USA. And were never punished because raping ‘black’ women wasn’t considered a crime).

Almost ironically, the ones who worked indoors (who were usually the products of rape anyway and thus had “good hair”) were the ones who had the time to style.

Al Sharpton, ‘black’ man with straightened hair. Yes, even at that age

Even after the TAST was abolished and the Civil War had ended, the psychological damage therefrom was ignored. This damage has been passed down to near enough every member of the African diaspora since. The desire for straight hair gained strength and prominence in mainstream media since the 1900s, when it was considered a sign of prestige and changing from “country” life to city life.

 

Note: the desire for straightened hair infected the men’s and women’s minds.

This explains why so many subscribe to the belief in euro & mixed hair as good & afro as bad. Obviously not all of us believe it but we all are familiar with it, and most of us know why. The Black Pride movement of the 50s and 60s worked well to counter this damage – for the time being. However it didn’t last and the ‘white’ media pushed the image of straight hair as beautiful with a vengeance. This is why the vast majority of ‘black’ women now either straighten their hair* or wear weaves/ pieces. Funnily enough, ‘black’ men no longer do it (except Al Sharpton) but most of us have been brainwashed into preferring our women with long silky straight hair.

* To do this they can use hot combs, but the much more common – and more damaging – way is chemical straighteners. Some ‘black’ Americans call it creamy crack, because its use is compulsive despite the health problems often brought with it. See Chris Rock’s Good Hair for elucidation, as well as its psychological & financial effects on ‘black’ women. And ‘black’ men, even though most of us don’t use it.

Because of colonialism and globalisation, even many women on the African continent itself (especially in the industrialised areas where Western media flourishes) hide their natural hair texture under blatantly fake weaves. Luckily, natural afro hair is making a comeback throughout the African diaspora, through the sporting of African/ afro-hair-friendly hairstyles or not styling at all. Most ‘black’ women are somewhat scared to do this because they think afro hair doesn’t grow and therefore looks manly. Afro hair can grow to awesome lengths, you just have to know how to look after it.

Even short afro hair looks good and feminine

 

LONG natural hair

 However, there’s another phenomenon taking place. It’s highly counterproductive and I don’t know how prevalent it is so I’m not going to call it a trend, but there are cases of women with naturally non-afro hair (including ‘black’ women) getting it chemically treated to resemble afro hair! What the hell?

But anyway, long story short (tee-hee!), everyone should love their natural hair texture, ‘black’ women especially.

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