From box braids, finger waves, quick waves, roller wrap sets, hair bobos and barrettes, from drop top fades, waves, locs and mini twists, Black hairstyles have always been versatile, stylish, trend setting, and indications of coming of age, Black hair has taken on multiple transformations and been a sign of the time, In the late 2010’s the natural hair movement reemerged as Black women in the Youtube community started uploading video of themselves taking care of their natural hair and helping others do the same. What is natural hair? Natural hair is coily, curly, and kinky hair that is unprocessed from chemicals, natural hair is a term associated with people part of the Black community as it a differentiation mark between someone who has processed hair (a relaxer or texturizer) than someone who wears the hair naturally, (grown from their scalp), every person has choice to wear their hair process and unprocessed. Natural hair in America comes with a complicated history as the implications of slavery, mainstream media, professionalism, and laws have all influence whether a person chooses to be natural or otherwise.
Hair laws have been implemented in United states history even before the fifty states were fully formed. Before the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 the Tignon Laws were implemented in 1786 by governor Rodríguez Miró which banned Black women in Louisiana from wearing their hair out in public and required them to wear a headwrap or handkerchief across 800,000 square miles. During this time slavery was still a large part of America’s economy and society Black women and men were still enslaved and had to conform to the will of societal norms, laws, and slaveholders who could decide who, what, when, where, and how African -Americans should present themselves. Due to this it created a social hierarchy within American society: people who were closer to the eurocentric beauty standards were superior in terms of beauty than those with more afrocentric features. You’re probably wondering why this is important. Well, have you ever heard of “good hair: or “bad hair” logically speaking hair cannot be good or bad because hair is just hair or so it seems. The term “good hair” is used to describe somebody particularly an African-American with a loose curl pattern, “soft” and long and “bad hair” the complete opposite. The 2009 film Good Hairdirected by Jeff Stilson and produced and starring by Chris Rock tackles this issue of the “good hair” “bad hair” this put the conversation in the mainstream media. But let’s get back into the history of Black hair in the US.
You may know entrepreneur, activist, and a woman of her time, Madam CJ Walker, but you should also know inventor Garret Morgan, Morgan invented a breathing machine, and an improved version of the traffic light, but he also invented the creamy crack also known as relaxer in 1909, After having a problem with a sewing machine he used a chemical solution to reduce friction within the machine, he notice the cloth of the hair was straighter than before, after experimenting on a dog and himself he started to sell his product to other African Americans. Madam CJ Walker built an empire with her own hair care line and also hair straightening tools making her a mogul of her time. During the early 1900’s black people were straightening their hair either with a hot comb or permanently straightening their hair with a relaxer. Even though African Americans were starting to wear their hair in the manner they wanted they still assimilated to a Eurocentric culture.
The Civil Movement of the 1950’s till the 60’s promoted the Black community to continue to fight for voting rights, equal education, and betterment of the Black community. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense established in 1966 founded by Heuy P. Newton and Bobby Seale, promoted the ideals of the power -self liberation, economic power, political power, and Black power, by living by the ten point program they had created change within the Black community by challenging the harsh reality most African-Americans were facing. Part of this movement was women like Angela Davis and Kathleen Cleaver who promoted the idea of Black power through the empowerment of the Black image, she did this by wearing her afro this inspired other Black women to do the same. This is one of the most pivotal moments for Black hair, because natural hair was praised publicly and on a national scale. During this time Black women and men were becoming unapologetically proud of their skin tone and natural hair. In 1968 Kathleen Claver spoke these powerful words “...were born with our hair like this and we wear it like this because its natural“. Black people know that their own natural appearances physical appearance is beautiful too and will make a stand against mainstream beauty standards to be heard and seen. Those words were part of the movement that promoted the self image of the Black people and this catapulted the natural hair movement for the next decade to come.
Now let's talk about the 90’s and early 2000’s because the black hair during this time has undergone many transformations as many Black men and women brought on fashion trends and hairstyles that eventually became a staple within the black community. To Janet Jackson’s iconic box braids in Poetic Justice and Lauryn Hill and Whoopi Goldbergs’s locs, and Nina Long’s pixie cut, and Coolio, Snoop Doug, Maxwell, and Prince whose hair was major factor in their persona black hair was taking on a major shift as creativity and versatility was out of this world. Even though black hair styles were acceptable for everyday life in the workplace Black women and men faced ridicule for having protective styles or even natural hair. For many within the Black community especially women when entering an interview they are always faced with the question if they would straighten their hair in fear that their hair would be the reason why they wouldn't get the job. In the article “Natural hair and Job Interviews: Black women share their experience” by Maya Allen who shares the perspective of the multiple Black women from different industries and backgrounds, Cortni 26 years old who works in Experimental marketing and Operations manager at Discovery In said “I'm afraid an employer will think I'm 'too Black' or unpolished or whatever people who cannot relate may think. I've been wanting to get braids, but I'm afraid to go into an interview as a Black woman with braids." Another woman Rachel, 25 years old who works as a Public Relations Senior account executive proclaims “Despite the typical 'work-appropriate' hair and beauty standards we see accepted in professional environments, I think it's ultimately very important to bring your best, truest self to your work. That includes your experiences, your personality, your style, your perspective, and your hair the way it grows from your scalp." Their experience represented the reality of many Black women who venture in the corporate world and have to face how they want to represent themselves. However, some may say their experience isn’t validated, or represent the majority of Black women.
A recent study done by Ashleigh Shelby Rosette discovered the realities of women like Racheal and Cortni are very real. Rosette conducted a study that proved bias exists against natural hair does in fact limit job opportunities for Black women. The study concluded that in conservative industries found straight hair to be respectable and polished while natural hair was viewed as the complete opposite, even when presented with the same person. The CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair)Act of 2020 was another turning point for Black men and women entering or currently in the corporate world. The CROWN Act prohibits discrimination based on an individual’s texture or style of hair. In section 6 the CROWN Act speaks of employers or companies cannot discharge or refuse to hire an individual based on their hair. The CROWN has been enacted by18 states and 40 municipalities who have their versions of the CROWN Act, the CROWN Act is not enforced federally which means nationwide, states who do not have their own version of the CROWN Act don’t have to follow the bill. Which leaves those outside of the states still under the possibility of being discriminated against in the workplace due to their natural hair. Regardless if you are natural or otherwise you have a choice to wear your hair the way you want to, even if it is a wig, weave, protective style, or shortcut.
In reality, no matter who you are, you want to put yourself in the best position possible in life weather that be financially, socially, personally, so when it comes to the workplace you want to be able to get the jobs you want and deserve especially if you obtain all the qualifications require that make you an awesome candidate. So for those who live in states who are not covered by the CROWN Act you may have to compromise when it is time to interview. If you want you should opt in for wearing a Virgin hair or wig that you can style, you can still the hair as you would your natural hair,it is a protective style and can help your natural hair flourish due to the low tension and manipulation. No matter what, always remember your natural hair is beautiful, and so are you. As America still has a long way to go with accepting natural hair you should accept yourself for who you are.
Authored by Lakya Simon
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