The Politics of Natural Hair

 A short hair history

The tug of war that women of color have had with their kinky, curly hair dates back to slavery. When slaves were freed in 1865, White women looked at Black women who had straighter looking hair hair as well-adjusted. That legacy of the straighter the better has survived but not without interruption! Women from all points of the globe are now gathering by the droves to celebrate their natural hair, making the bold statement that their hair is just fine. In the process they have also made what has been regarded as political statements about what is acceptable, what is healthier for their bodies, what is acceptable at work and more.

The movement has taken off on YouTube, where Black women share the homemade remedies that they use to wash and style their hair, along with intricate hairstyles that can be created with their kinky hair, Afros, braids and locs.

What is a Relaxer?

A “relaxer” is a hair straightener. Most relaxers contain lye or a straightening agent that chemically straightens kinky and curly hair. Lye is so harsh that when put on the hair,  the chemical reaches a point where a woman feels a burning sensation. That sensation  means the curl pattern has been changed to straight and the stylist then washes it out.

While inventor Garret Morgan created relaxers,  Madame CJ Walker began selling relaxers and other products to women of color in mass in the early 1900’s. Her marketing strategies and business acumen made her the first Black female millionaire.

It was only in the ’60’s and 70’s that natural hair in the form of Afros became exceptionally popular.  Known as a “freedom” the natural Afro represented an acceptance of one’s self. By the 80’s many women relaxed their hair in hopes that would allow them to be a part of mainstream America.

For the past 5 years, the natural hair movement has displaced decades of notions about what is beautiful by wearing the hair that God gave them.


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