Black Hair pt 2

"Black women are so broken by their hair." The lady at the bus stop said.

I completely agree. I had been thinking about the hair history of black people for months, but it was that moment a few weeks ago that really made me look deeper into why my hair was so significant to me. What American cultural stigmas was I suppressing by wearing my African descended hair in its normal state?

Now, when I say normal, I dont mean without styling. All cultures style their hair, but few changed the actual texture of it to fit to the extreme opposite of what you hair is suppose to be as black hair has done.

I guess that is why I was so disappointed by the social commentary film (I cant call it a documentary) 'Good Hair' by Chris Rock. I cant be nice about this movie when I speak about the impact it could have had. No where is the history of black hair prior to the 1950s actually discussed. Nowhere are black women actually confronted with *why* they wear fake straight hair, or dye it blonde.

Nowhere were there historians that talked about the psychological wave that resulted from the origins of black hair, and being denied in keeping those traditions, to the reason why 'this' hair is good or not, to the eventual acceptance of this as the norm.


That made me angry. It had good contemporary social conditions as to what was going on, and Im all for embracing a wrongdoing and making it your own, but the film seemed nearly afraid to say to black women, 'Here is a major reason why you spend billions on the black hair care industry'. That avoidance made me realize, I dont think those women wanted to know. They wanted to be 'cute', without paying attention to some of the social reasons why this is considered cute. Its just all they know.

My Granny is in the upper left corner.

Origin, reason, acceptance.

In seeking some historical enlightenment on why natural black hair was as it was, I found a fantastic book that essentially took the journey of black culture, extracted the references to hair and condensed them into this book. 'Hair Story: Untangling the roots of black hair in America' by Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps.

The book starts in Africa just before the slave trade and states the many different hair styles and varied hair textures of African hair. It talks about the ritual of having elaborate hair for men and women, the social interaction of having your hair groomed by the right person, what that meant and so on.

It talked about when a new slave had their hair cut, it was like robbing them of their identity. Each tribe had different intentional styles, and now all these different people were to be lopped together and taken to a foreign place.

At first, African slaves were worked until they dropped. Seven days straight sometimes 16 hours a day. There was no time for rest let alone grooming. The book pointed out the origin of a rather interesting iconic look associated with that time.

A few centuries later, after the import of African slaves was stopped, a sabbath of Sunday was slowly incremented into the slave way of life. The book says for Christian reasoning, but I also believe because by then a lot of the slaves were actual children of the masters as well. Sunday not only became a day of worship, but a day of grooming. Also a divide in slaves was growing. House slaves, as we all know the lighter and often offspring of the master, worked in the house. Those jobs were said to be easier than the one in the field. They had hair that was more curly than wooly compared to a field slave. Their skin was lighter, their noses were not as wide. They were more easily integrated into the white lexicon, so therefore more sought after, and its that divide we still have in the much of the black community today.

Reason For:
So we have this desire, based on non allowance of upkeep like in the African times, and the social stigma of more prosperity if your hair was not as 'African' in later times. The book demonstrates it was this combination that lead to the great black beauty products industry so soon after emancipation. As more black people went into higher education and business, they still had to compete with the white accretion of acceptance.

So straight hair is good hair. Straight hair makes you more relatable to the norm, and favorable among men, and more likely to succeed. That is the mentality that my grandmother had when she said to me what she did.

I guess that is what ticked me off about the film 'Good Hair'. It started its history of black hair with CJ Walker. I have always refused to accept that black hair started with her.

It was that time before her, granted, history making business, (first millionaire woman in America) that I have always wanted to know about. Now I have some foundation. And now you do too.

As for me personally, I still continue the natural route.

Here is my hair ready for washing.

Generally I do a rinse of warmed Apple Cider Vinegar on my hair and scalp twice a week. Then, I wash with castile soap, and condition with oils and a vegan conditioner (Im still looking for one Im happy with).

I comb my hair out with a wide tooth brush because I was always braking combs because they were never meant for my hair type! Revelation, right!

I then twist two large locks together and in essence 'pin curl' them to my head. I let them air dry then brake the locks into fourths. Thats it.

Thats the total of my styling. Ill then arrange my hair in which ever coiffure I wish, and Im on my way.

Im really proud of the personal strides Ive taken in my hair. It might seem small to others, even silly, but as a personal venture, its one that Im extremely proud of.

Part 1 can be found here.


  1. I'm so glad that you wrote these two posts. I am also a fan of sewing my own clothes, vintage fashion, and natural hair. I went natural over six years ago. I was also upset my "Good Hair" because it WAS scared to talk about the real issue. But it was just reflecting society. My much older sister's have not been subtle in their aversion to how I wear my hair. They read an article about ethnic women wanting to hide their differences by changing their natural looks, as in Asians wanting "round" eyes and black women relaxing their hair and using Middle Eastern hair for weaves and they refused to even admit that there was some truth in it. Also my nieces (half Hispanic-half black) have beautiful naturally curly hair (think Gloria Reuben from ER) flat iron their own hair to death and when younger actually asked me why 'I did this to my hair'.

    So, there's a lot of denial out there.

  2. Thanks for the reply.

    I agree, to this day I get looks from black women. Im just wearing it the way it grew out of my head. I don't understand why that is so not right.

  3. Your hair is gorgeous and I LOVE the flowers. Masheka and I were let downby "Good Hair" as well. The premise was so promising, especially Rock being inspired by concerns that people would tell his little girls they had "bad hair"... and the science stuff and the trip to India was interesting... but he just went all over the place, seemed to get caught up in sex jokes, and he only talked to one female interview subject who had natural hair herself.

    We're going to do our daughter's hair naturally and make sure she knows how pretty it is that way... and since I know nothing about hair of any texture at all (including my own) I went out and bought a book aimed at women (black or white) on natural hair care + styles for black children (well, girls--there is one page for boys' styles but we don't need that anyway), "It's All Good Hair."

  4. I really like these posts (and your hair!)! I use a vegan conditioner from LUSH if you haven't tried them yet!

  5. These posts were really interesting to read and your hair is gorgeous.

  6. you look lovely with thoose roses in your hair!

  7. This post was very informative for me. My Husband pastors a small rural chruch in Idaho. We have some wonderful people from Africa. They are refugees. We love them and try to tell all the time how beauitful they are. What lovely hair and skin. Wonderful clothing, (that I would kill to get ahold of). BUT I DON'T THINK they believe us. We understand that they think that in heaven their skin will be white. So Sad.

  8. Im glad you found the post informative. Its information I myself have wanted to know for years, but never had a definitive source to find it. Id recommend the book. Its a good read, and researched out the wazoo! :)

  9. What a really interesting and informative post. I only recently saw Chris Rock on Oprah talking about this film and black hair, I know I sound naive but I had no idea about weaves etc. I just thought black women were very good with the straightening iron. I know..sigh. I was saddened to think that only straight flowing hair is supposedly beautiful. I really did feel for all women/young girls with black hair that go through all this treatment and pain when their natural hair, such as yourself , looks so fantastic. I really devoured the parts of the book you posted too. I live on the east coast of Australia and here, everyone wants blond hair, I am dark haired and am constantly asked if I want highlights etc. We just need to enjoy our hair as it is and I am so glad you are celebrating your hair in its natural state.

  10. I LOVE this post! I was introduced to the world of black hair care when I adopted my two older children. As a white lady, I was completely clueless. The first night the kids came to us I called a black friend of mine and said, "What do I do with her hair?" She said, "YOU don't do anything. I'll be over in the morning to show you what to do." Perhaps it is because of my ignorance or because I think that my daughter is about the beautiful thing that God ever created, I have never relaxed or chemically treated her hair. I have learned to do all sorts of natural hairstyles.

    It is so hard to fight against what is shown in the media. I would love to find even one doll with real, natural African hair so that my daughter would have something to play with that would give her the skills that she will need someday. Brushing all that corn silk hair only makes her wish her hair were like every Barbie doll she owns.

    I am definitely getting Hair Story. Thank you so much for this post. I love it!

  11. I found this fascinating. I always attended public school, and since I'm kind of in the ghetto, I was usually one of the only white kids there.

    I was always kind of envious, once I got to high school, of the way certain girls (the fashionable ones, it seemed) were able to change their hair every week.

    I don't remember many girls at all with their God-given hair. What I do remember is the creativity of their weaves. In particular, one girl who looked as if she had a bunch of roses piled on top of her head. I loved that and was sad when she changed it.

    I don't know where I was going with this, but you brought back some feelings/memories with this post.


  12. I just found your blog today via Sew Retro, and I have to say that you've got crazy good sewing skills. I love your clothes.

    I think that Western standards of beauty are really oppressive. Unless you're white, young, blond and thin, you're not considered beautiful. I think that this is especially true for women. We're expected to spend loads of time and money making sure that our skin, hair, weight, and a million other parts of ourselves conform to societal standards. We need to all let go and just let our bodies/hair/skin/etc. be what they are naturally.

  13. I'm glad that you like your hair in its natural state. And I'm happy when I see a sister making a choice that works for her. I think what I'm happiest about is that we have the ability to now make the choice that makes each black woman happy...not what history dictates...or society dictates...but what makes us happy.

    I've worn my hair straight like yours in my school pictures. I've worn my hair natural - short and large afro and it's now in a straightened state. I don't ascribe to the perm every 2-3 months theory but I do relax my hair once every six months.

    Black hair like all other aspects of being Black in America have a very complicated history. I'm just happy that we live in a time when we can choose to dress, wear our hair, live and work in the fields that we choose without retribution, constraints or legal (lawful & unlawful) actions.

  14. Hi Carolyn,
    Im just revisiting this post :)
    I actually dont agree that: "we have the ability to now make the choice that makes each black woman happy...not what history dictates...or society dictates"

    Im not a very PC person, and Ive heard this a lot. When I hear it, I think back to the film Black Hair and Al Sharpton saying, "We comb our oppression every morning," referring to straightened black hair, but then, at the end of the film, he talks about straightened hair being as much as black culture as natural, and that there is nothing wrong with that. Im not saying it is, but to be that blatantly hypocritical just because its easier to explain away an institution (hair straightening) that he has come to like, does not make it any less of an institution that is oppressive.

    I grew up as most black women did where if you didnt straighten your hair you were not going to get a man, you were not going to get a job, you were not going to be taken seriously. But internally, black people have institutionalized it to, "We can be happy with what we choose," rather than facing the reality of why we choose what we choose.

    In perspective, mainstream has caught up in many ways, where we are seeing more and more people of varying skin tones and facial features, but when it comes to black women in this new mainstream, most often they are either shown with pencil straight hair (or pixie straight hair), or the long wavy stuff down their back. I get it, thats mainstream attractive, but its farce.

    Or on the flip when you *do* see a black person with natural hair, they are long braids to simulate straight flowing hair, or a monster afro. Yes, because all black people who wear their hair natural wear afros.

    So while its safe to say we get to choose what we want on this topic, we dont. Yes, the history is complicated, but acknowledging it vs ignoring it (which I know a lot who do) is the difference.

  15. My take on Madame Walker is that she was creating a product to satisfy a market that was already there, but was fumbling around to find what it wanted to fill its demands.

    I was always under the impression that women were already trying to straighten their hair, and that her treatments were an improvement over what was available at the time. (By "improvement" I mean that they straightened more effectively, not that straightening is an improvement over natural hair.)

    I think I first read about her when I was maybe six or seven, and not being entirely sure what to think. I was totally impressed by her drive, smarts, and entrepreneurial spirit, but I was a little weirded out by the push to "perfect" one's hair.

    I had the opposite problem: I was always encouraged to have my hair permed because it's so straight, fine, thin, and limp that, Aquanet be damned, it won't hold a style at all. I can do a mean Louise Brooks bob, but nothing else. Ever seen collapsed victory rolls? Hilarity.

  16. Wow, this is the first post I have read that truly has had me thinking. I have just found 'you' tonight while searching for a 40's playsuit for my daughter in her size and began reading through your past posts.

    I think I may understand a small portion of this, I myself have 'curly hair'. As a child I remember the pain of having my hair 'done' It got so bad somethimes where I am sure I went to school as my mother couldnt face another bout of tears. Of course this lead to name calling etc. When I was older and had a choice I would have my hair cut so short only for it to curl in parts (not a good look ether). I have had it chemicly streighten and I looked far worse, in fact I looked downright odd.

    I have been to so many hairdressers who say how hard it is to cut curly hair, as it curls different every day, so day one its cool, the next day its curled different and looks a mess. And I had even been told told my hair was more black than white (while to be honest I didn't have a clue what she meant)

    One day a friend recomened a certain hairdressers, who specialise in black hair, I must say those ladies knew exatly what to do for the first time in years I actually felt proud of my hair (it's a big step in accepting who we are.)I am in the process of growing it and proud of it.

    Now all I have to do is wait for my daughter and son to forgive me for passing on the curly gene and their father for the ginger gene. As my daughter says of all the genes out there she got the worse of the gene pool, curly and ginger, Sorry babe.

  17. Your "hair" posts -- and the comments -- are excellent. Growing up in the 1950s -- oblivious to de facto segregation in "liberal" California -- I simply did not know anybody who wasn't white like me. I was in my 20s, teaching high school, before I heard the phrase "good hair" and had it explained to me by a fellow teacher who was very amused by my ignorance. (She had just remarked that her 4 year old son didn't have good hair; I though she meant that it was too fine, or dry, or broke easily -- which are also problems with "white" hair. She laughed.) Later I learned about the skin-burning straighteners and harsh chemical treatments even children suffered as a matter of routine. But the worst for me is the thought of the pain of generations of women (and men) unable to see their own beauty. Most women I know are super-critical of their own appearance -- including me. ( I don't even use my own photo online -- it's my mother.) Perhaps it will amuse youyr readers to know that she gave my straight hair its first permanent when I was about three, and burned my head with a curling iron heated on the gas stove almost every day of my childhood, because her ideal child had to have curly hair. It's not suffering comparable to what you endured, but I enjoy the irony: all of us were pursuing a crazy ideal. -- Hurrah for you; you look not only wonderful, but at ease with being real.


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