Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Black Hair Matters

Rockin' it all natural
I love black natural hair. The way it looks, the way it feels. And the way it makes me feel, inside. And I’m not the only one. There’s a revolution coming. Maybe it’s already here.

              More and more, I’m noticing African American men and women increasingly embrace their natural hair in all its creative styles. Dreads, plaits, twisties, cornrows, naturals, Mohawks, faux hawks, afro puffs, dookie braids. You name it, I’m seeing it.

              Kinky, curly, coily, bushy, tight, short, long – I’m loving it.

              Reasons for going natural are varied. For some, it’s convenient; for others it supports a healthier, more chemical free lifestyle. For a whole lot more it’s just more affordable.

              Sure, lots of black folks still “process” their doos. They’re perming, weaving, tinting, dying, highlighting, and wearing toupees and wigs. That’s fine by me; do your thing.

Required reading
              Unfortunately, that “thing” includes succumbing to hair-related esthetics and preferences favored by white Americans. Sadly, we (including me) all have generations of social conditioning to thank for that. It’s fueled by media that, consciously or not (read Tom Burrell’s Brainwashed), is designed to prop up whiteness as the end-all, be-all standard. But I digress.

              It’s just I’m lifting up sisters and brothers who are styling their hair in ways associated with our indigenous African American heritage. And they are rockin’ it with flavor. Leading the charge are young folks. No surprise there.

              Back to the revolution. There was a mantra in the African American community of the 1960s: “Black Power”. The catch phrase popularized by activists Kwame Ture and Mukasa Dada, better known as Stokely Carmichael and Willie Ricks. The pair were organizers for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

              Their work sparked one aspect of the nation’s collective Black Power movements, which became widespread nationally and internationally by the early ‘70s. It was further fueled by historic firebrands like Angela Davis and Malcolm X. They and scores of others at the time were demonized by mainstream establishment. In recent years however, many historians have come to view them more evenly and recognize their stalwart efforts during a difficult period of social change.

Natural history
Hair is a big deal in American society. Unfortunately, the tops of African Americans’ heads have for generations been a blistering battlefield. A scarred landscape on which oppressive cultural warfare continues to be waged.

              Witness the systematic and institutionalized workplace racism centered on hair. Citing policies and “appropriateness” as placeholders for white supremacy, African Americans were/are made to conform to hairstyles that as much as possible resemble standards of beauty and acceptability associated with whiteness.

              Dreads, twisties, braids, cornrows, even if perfectly coifed, until recently were banned in office environments. Still are in most mainstream institutions. In spite of it all, African Americans, though savaged by their inability to express a cultural individuality, nevertheless endure. But at what cost?

              It all speaks to resilience, what’s happening now. Figuratively speaking, once upon a time Black Lives Matter was called Black Power. But like the ‘60s and ‘70s slogan, it’s being twisted. Perverted by those afraid of some sort of uprising in which African Americans are “gunning for whitey.” But nothing could be further from the truth.

A person's hair is nothing to toy around with
              More and more persons uncomfortable with the Black Lives Matter movement assign blame of recent tragic killings of law enforcement personnel to an adamant but peaceful activist campaign. It’s a move rooted in fear and driven by a resigned notion that in our society there are people who must necessarily be oppressed in order for others to thrive.

              I don’t buy it. Neither should you. Natural black hair, like Black Lives Matter, embodies a growing reclamation of cultural humanity and sense of social justice. It’s time to set aside fear in favor of authentic efforts toward equity in our institutions and systems. Join the revolution.

Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at 4humansbeing@gmail.com.


  1. I've been thru so much with my hair as a validator of my ancestry, intelligence, abilities, so forth/so on. I was in the military when I first when chemical-free, and an Afro-Amer. Master Sergeant asked me why I wanted "to walk around nappy headed?" That, plus the looks, whispers, you name it behind my back by white colleagues did not make the experience worthwhile. No one, including most black people, did not give me hi-5s, or offer tutelage in care or styling that could have help grow it or help me feel like a woman still, but there was plenty scuttlebutt about how I could be gay -I am not. Again, none of this helped my femininity- or marriage at the time, which took major hits because according to him I "looked like a guy" so he treated me "like a guy." I'm natural now, but I find myself using the same devices most women that get relaxers use : sew-ins, extensions/braids... because NOW the emphasis is it's okay to be natural as long as the hair is LONG.
    -I have a severe skin condition that will inflame without notice to boot, so I really could use a holiday from the entire black hair circus. It has really die cut multiple areas of my life that hair would not have for most people with straight/acceptable hair.

    Thank you white institutionalism!!!

  2. Sorry you had trouble like that in the military, supposedly an innovative institution, and I guess in some ways it is. But it's also steeped in patriarchy, with generous doses of white privilege - a lot of which many persons of color actively participate in. Also, I'm sorry about your skin condition, the likes of which I cannot imagine what you must go through. Thanks for checking in. jr