NATURAL HAIR IN AMERICA

The Natural Hair community is a large group of women, mostly Black women, who wear their hair in its natural state free of harsh chemicals like relaxers. Natural hair comes in all textures but is usually thick, coarse, and curly. Although hair may just be hair to some, natural hair is a big deal for most that are apart of the natural hair movement. This is a growing community and a lot of women of color have been wearing their hair in its natural state, embracing their kinks, twist outs, wash n’ goes, afros and even protective styling that represents black women’s beauty.

BrannonHumanrights

Drawing by Philece R.

A Little Hair-story

Natural hair is usually a challenge to maintain because of its unique thick kinks and tight curls. In the early 1900’s Madam C.J. Walker created her own line of beauty and hair products, which helped black women with their hair needs while Garrett Augustus Morgan, invented relaxers and hot combs for straightening kinky hair.  Many black women would straighten their hair with relaxers and hot combs during the 1950’s and 1960’s inspired by icons like Dorothy Dandridge, Billie Holiday, and Lena Horn. This straightened look was fit for society and Hollywood, which was influenced by European beauty. The Civil Rights movement (1954-1968) transitioned into the Black Power movement from the mid 1960’s to the early 1980’s. This inspired many brothers and sisters to accept their natural kinks. Inspirational women like Kathleen Cleaver, Angela Davis, and Pam Grier wore their hair natural and in Afros which started a social trend.

Chemical Process

As beautiful as the transformation looks from natural to relaxed, it is also a danger due to the harsh chemicals that cause intense burning on the scalp. According to comedian Chris Rock’s documentary film “Good Hair” he meets with a scientist and discusses the dangers of Sodium Hydroxide. Sodium Hydroxide is one of the leading ingredients in the relaxer. The scientist demonstrates sodium hydroxide melting a can of soda while left on the soda can for a period of time. The message in media reflecting on black women’s hair can be mentally damaging as well, manipulating the public to believe that the natural look was not THE look. The message that has been delivered over hundreds of years is that thick, coarse, kinky, black women’s hair, is not beautiful and needs to be straightened in order to fit in society’s standards of beauty and also to fit into the corporate world.

Society/ Media

Society has easily accepted black woman making the transformation from natural to straight for years now. We see it everyday on our magazine covers, television, media, and advertisements. It almost makes Naturals wonder, is there even a platform for women with natural hair? These messages that speak to everyone have constantly shown that black women’s natural kinks may not be a good fit for branding or business. Media would rather a look that is more approachable and managed, a look that reflects the girl in your Pantene pro-V ads and commercials, a look that fits any other race but a black woman. Young girls want to look like the women in the ads as well as having hair like them, so a young girl with kinky hair will feel her hair isn’t beautiful unless she is taught that natural hair IS beautiful, which usually isn’t the case because their mothers wear relaxers to straighten their hair themselves. According to an episode on the Tyra Banks show that aired in 2009 young girls preferred straight hair because they thought their natural hair was not pretty. Some of the children were even made fun of in school. This isn’t healthy for young girls to feel this way and it has a large effect on the younger generation.

Corporate World

Society, media and the chemical process all has lead to what is expected from black women in the corporate world. Black women have been told what their hair should look like above most. Big, thick, hair is portrayed as messy, unprofessional and often un-kept. Women have been asked to straighten their hair at work and alter their protective styles to remain employed. According to an article on http://www.thegrio.com, in September 2015, a Black news anchor, Angela Green, suggests naturally curly intern to straighten her hair while in the work place. News Reporter Angela Green says, that she understands that “speaking about natural hair in the work place is a very sensitive subject, but it is best to satisfy your employer and straighten your hair in order for it to look presentable”. Angela Green has natural hair but chooses to straighten it to please her boss, as she explains in the video. She says that natural hair can be “distracting”. Angela Greens video spread across social media and the natural hair community was highly offended.

Another case of discrimination that has happened recently was the Google search on unprofessional hair vs. professional hair. According to http://www.theguardian.com an MBA student discovered that the Google searches under “professional hairstyles” where mostly Caucasian women with straight hair, then the student Goggled “unprofessional hairstyles” and the result was mostly black women with natural hair. The issue behind this was the word search of unprofessional and professional hairstyles in blogs like the one you are reading now, however, still disappointing and misleading.

Embracing the natural look at work has lead to complications at in the work place. According to CBC Toronto news, restaurant server Akua Agyemfra was sent home from work for wearing her kinks in a bun, which is usually an easy to go hairstyle that keeps the hair in place and “neat”. The manager said it was a restaurant policy that the female staff wear their hair down even though Akua demonstrated that her natural hair could not fall straight.

Black women have faced many roadblocks in the corporate world because of the way they choose to wear their hair, or what they have chosen not to do with their hair. It being in its natural state and women being asked to change it for a job is a form of discrimination, most say. I think that this has a lot to do with what media portrays as beautiful and what black women have been doing for years, perming their hair. Society has gotten comfortable with this look so much so that natural hair isn’t something that is acceptable.

ON THE REALLY BRIGHT SIDE

Aside of the what I guess I would call the other side of being natural, “behind black beauty” if you will, there have been some very recent changes in the natural hair community in society and one of those changes has been, growth. Many women have been taking a lot more health precautions, which have lead to the transition from relaxed to natural. The transformation has reversed and women are “Big Chopping”, which is when the relaxed hair is cut off and women start re-growing their hair chemical free. It is one of the most common first steps to start the natural hair journey. Social platforms like YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram,  have been used to spread visual information on how to care for natural hair. Many well-known Vloggers and Bloggers like Curly Nikki and Naptural85, have documented information all about natural hair and developed almost thousands of followers on their social sites, helping the community grow even greater than is has ever been in history. This kind of progression in the community has made it easier for women to accept their hair by learning how to manage it allowing them to embrace it, and feel comfortable during this journey… no longer feeling alone. There are moments that I ride the train and I will see another woman with natural hair and we will just make eye contact, and smile. The community creates peace and the security, and has acted as the glue that brings black women together, and I hope it continues to grow.

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