Not all hair is created equal.
Hair in the black community has always been a controversial topic. Sadly, black women especially, know that the hair on their head is much more than, “just hair” and can be the target of oppression at work, school and many other places. In September 2016, Pretoria High School for Girls in South Africa was in the news because a group of students protested against the school’s hair policy. The school policy called for, “neat” hairstyles and forbid, “eccentric” hairstyles which equated to the black girl's natural hairstyles in the school.
This is not the first incident that we have seen like this.
In 2013, 12-year-old Vanessa VanDyke in Orlando, Florida was told she would need to either straighten or cut off her natural hair because it was a, “distraction”. The same year, second-grader Tiana Parker was kicked out of her school for dreads. In the Bahamas, Tayjha Deleveaux’s high school told her she would need to perm her hair because her ponytail puff was a distraction. She then created the hashtag movement #supportthepuff.
Around the world black girls are receiving the message that their natural hair is unprofessional, distracting and overall inappropriate. The long history of European standards on black hair is still being upheld today. Black hair has become politicized and targeted by racism for decades.
With the large number of black women beginning to embrace their natural curls there has been a great change in public opinion over the last few years. In America, and around the world there is still a long way to go to change the standard of beauty and decriminalize black beauty.
Whether in America, the Bahamas or South Africa popular perception and policies reinforce the idea that people of African-descent are “less-than” when they are their natural selves. When digging deeper into world culture it is clear that the racial climate in one country parallels many other countries. The younger generation has taken on the feat of changing the perception of black beauty. They not only take a stand in the efforts to be their most authentic selves, but they also work to change the way others see natural hair.
There have been great strides in the beauty world for people of color. Sundial Brands is the leading natural brand today led by CEO Richelieu Dennis. He and his family were forced to leave Liberia because of civil war and were left to figure out how to make a decent living in New York. Dennis’s mother sold bath and body products in Liberia so he used family recipes to sell these products in the streets of NYC. Twenty-five years later Sundial is one of the leading Black-owned businesses in the country. Their most popular brand, Shea Moisture, a natural hair product line, created the movement #BreaktheWalls to encourage stores to have more inclusive beauty aisles and many stores have taken steps to do that. Sundial not only aims to make the beauty industry more inclusive but also to sell products that are made ethically and cruelty-free.
Outside of the beauty aisle natural hair is also being embraced on the runway. Natural hair models are making their way on the runways in New York, Milan and Paris. Tailiah Waajid has also created a powerful platform for the natural hair community to have their own runway. Waajid runs the World Natural Hair Beauty Show in Atlanta which is one of the largest hair shows in the world. People from all over the world go to watch the show, shop for new natural hair products and learn about new trends in the natural hair world. Adults and kids alike have been supporting this show for 20 years.
Teaching the next generation to love their natural hair and beauty is key to developing a stronger cultural identity in the African-American community. There are more natural hair icons on television than ever before, such as Tracee Ellis Ross and Solange Knowles. Natural hair techniques are being taught in beauty schools around the world and the number of natural hair salons are increasing. There is also a wave of Black-owned business such as natural hair accessories and products that have had much success due to the increased demand in the community. The embrace of natural hair has given African-Americans an avenue to support and invest money back into the community, providing for greater economic growth and success. Increasing representation of natural hair in the media, providing more access to the resources of that community and stimulating economic growth are all important to the strengthening and resilience of the African-American community. It may seem oversimplified but by loving ourselves we can truly make a greater impact in our communities and on the world.