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A Tragic Love Story:

Uncovering the Beauty of Black Hair

Kailah J Jones

Dr. Sara Little John

Capstone Research

April 20, 2019

Word Count: 2075

A crown that grew from my roots passed down through lineage, one that

introduced itself before my lips could part. A crown made up of curls an coils that dressed

so tightly into what you would call a mess. My crown is much more than a ball of

unorganized, unkept, and “nappy” hair. My crown is me, it is my ancestors, my history, it

is my story.

Since I was little the importance of my hair and its presentation has always been

seen as baggage. From the constant burning of flesh from the hot comb, the painful

headaches from the tension my braids caused, to the continual fear of leftover scabs from

the chemical perms that were smeared onto my kinky coily hair in hopes of a more

“manageable” condition. For years this went on, I became comfortable with my altered

image often avoiding my natural state concluding my natural state was an unacceptable

presentation of myself. Weaves, perms, and heat became what I depended on to define

my beauty. Often avoiding water in fear that my hair would revert into an afro that I often

referred to as a “nappy tumbleweed”. The word “nappy” easily slipped my lips and the lips

of my peers as an accurate way to categorize natural black hair. Submerged in my

ignorance and Afrophobia I began to hate my self-reflection and all the things that made

me different, that made me Black, that made me a woman. It was not until I became older

and media representation of natural black women grew, that I reflected on how much

internal hate I had for myself and the black community. I, like so many other Black Men

and Women forcefully adapted their image in hopes of fitting into an Afrophophic Culture.

This Afrophobic culture emphasizes a single beauty, one that does not stretch to include

my dark skin tone, my full lips, and my misrepresented “nappy-kinky” hair. I

Growing from roots nourished by remedies passed down from generations

protected by styles, oils, and prayer- hair is what connects us to our lineage. Hair may be

perceived as such a dull topic, but it has such rooted implications for how African

American women experience the world (Jacobs-Huey 3). Black women in this society

depend on hair as a way to weigh their beauty. According to Ingrid Banks, author of Hair

Matters: Beauty, power, Black Women’s Consciousness, to determine what is considered

“desirable and undesirable hair is based on one's hair texture”. What determines the

desirability of hair is measured against standards of beauty, which include long straight

and usually blonde, excluding hair that kinky or coily. Consequently, Black Women’s hair,

in general, is excluded from what is considered desirable within mainstream society

(Banks 2). Furthermore, it is historically seen how black hair has “presented an array of

challenges, epitomized in debates concerning Black hairstyles as indicators off racial

consciousness, the suitability of Afrocentric hairstyles (e.g., braids, dreadlocks, Afros) at

work, and the extent of good versus bad hair continue to privilege Eurocentric standard of

beauty” (Jacobs-Huey 3). It Is because of the impact slavery had on African Americans

that destroyed the black hair image.

The history of Black hair started where everything began, in Africa. Before the

mass cultural assassination caused by slavery. The variety of African hair textures ranges

from the deep ebony, kinky curls of the Mandigos to the loosely curled, flowing locks of

the Ashanti. Although there are many African hair textures the main constant they share

when it comes to hair is the social and cultural significance intrinsic to each beautiful

strand (Bird and Tharp 1). Hair Within the Black community was used for more than just

for design. Hair was used as a method of transportation, an indication of financial and
social status, along with their religion (Bird and Tharp 2). While the importance of hair

played a great social significance for African people, the aesthetics of hair were equally

important. Sylvia Arden Boone, an anthropologist specializing in the Mende culture of

Sierra Leone wrote that “West African communities admire a fine head of long, thick hair

on a woman. A woman with thick hair demonstrates the life-force, the multiplying power of

profusion, prosperity, and a ‘green thumb’ for raising bountiful farms and many healthy

children” (4). Hair and its quality is a factor that men looked for when deciding on who to

marry. In fact, a particular hairstyle could be used to attract someone of the opposite sex,

signal a religious ritual, or a symbol of preparation for war (Bird and Tharp 3-4).

African hair was used to emphasize one’s devotion to a certain god or gods under

the perception that hair’s value and worth were “enhanced by its spiritual qualities”. Both

male and females depending on your worship of certain gods were required to maintain a

certain hairstyle. It is because of the “hair being the closest thing to heaven to the heaven,

communication from the gods and spirits was thought to pass through the hair to get to

the Soul”(Bird and Tharp 4-5). It is important to understand the power of hair, as it was

used and still is being used as a way to seek control. “Spell and chants that could be used

to bring hard to another person by acquiring a single strand of their hair(Bird and Tharp

5).” it is said that within the Woolf tradition, an ancient tribe in West Africa, that “ women

had the power to make men crazy for them by calling on the power of genies and spirits in

their hair(Bird and Tharp 6).” Hair and its significance had an impact on every part of

African traditions. In many ways, Hair is responsible for the survival of many tribes and

When the Europeans ships arrived in Africa, many people were captured and even

more was slaughtered. What many fail to understand is that it was not just random

Africans that were captured. Many powerful figures within these communities such as

chiefs, kings, and queens were captured. This not only created the feeling of inferiority

within the minds of the African slaves but also influenced the overwhelming feeling of

fear. According to Black then, “ When slaves were captured, their hair was cut off, to

begin the process of eradicating their sense of culture and identity. They were then given

head-wraps to use as protection against harsh weather and the spread of head lice.

When hair grew back, there was no time to form elaborate hairstyles. Initially, these head-

wraps were given to both sexes but later were used exclusively by women. In some

places in the South, women were required by law to secure their hair in these wraps.”

Although the hair wrap symbolized inferiority and poverty to white people they became a

sense hope for those enslaved. The hair wrap was style in different ways depending on

the location and the plantations resources. The head wrap was strategically tied in a form

that allowed the wearer to express and give herself a sense of freedom and


As time progressed slave ships ceased in capturing laves in Africa, it is because of

this that the value of slaves increased. Furthermore, because the religion of Christianity

was forced on those encaptured this allowed them to be able to rest on the Sabbath day.

Give this day of rest this allowed slaves an opportunity to tend to their hair. According to

Blackthen, “During the week, they would continue to cover their heads with the wrap but

would remove it for church. However, they were still unable to regress to the African

styles as the combs they had previously used, and palm oil was not available in America.
Instead, women had to wash and condition their hair using butter, kerosene and bacon

grease and brushed it with the carding combs used for the sheep.”

After two centuries after bondage, the invention of a more specific hair care system

known as a perm had arrived into the Black communities with the main goal of destroying

Black hair with the hopes of getting a result closer to a more socially accepted texture,

white hair(Bird and Tharp 16). According to Mary Phillips Author of Black Hair Politics in

White Academia: With Reference to Black Studies, In the 1980s and 1990s, many black

women endured heavy criticism and condemnation in the workforce for wearing their hair

in braids and other natural hairstyles(98). Banks (2000) mentions that “in the late 1980s,

black female employers went to court to challenge a policy by Hyatt Hotels and American

Airlines against wearing braids. These companies couched their policy in terms that

related to ‘appropriate’ grooming practices, which they argued braids violated” (p. 16).

Sadly, cases similar to this one are still occurring today. In 2019, approximately 159 years

since slavery and 55 years since segregation, a law was passed in New York city making

it illegal to discriminate against Black hair.

In today’s society, it is more acceptable for one to appropriate black culture than to

be black. The appropriation of Black hairstyles such as braids, locks, and afros are

deeper than what others struggle to understand. For example in the media we see

famous non-black celebrities appropriating hairstyles that have been in the black

community for years. For example, a popular hairstyle within the Black community are

braids. Nowadays, braids are a protective and creative style women use to show off their

personal style, their creativeness or protect their hair and scalp. But centuries before,

braids were much more than just a hairstyle. Braids are a part of the tribal customs in
Africa. The braid patterns signify the tribe and help to identify the member of the tribe.

The cultural significance and roots of braiding can be traced back to the African tribes.

According to Black, “Braid patterns or hairstyles indicate a person’s

community, age, marital status, wealth, power, social position, and religion. And in some

cases, braids were a form of survival. Depictions of women with cornrows have been

found in Stone Age paintings in the Tassili Plateau of the Sahara, and have been dated

as far back as 3000 B.C. There are also Native American paintings as far back as 1,000

years showing cornrows as a hairstyle.

As stated before, It is through the black community's worship of European beauty

standards, the demonization of natural hair in the media, and cultural appropriation that

allows this internal hate for one's own natural black hair texture to prevail. Black people

more specifically, black women, are more subjected to a western standard of beauty.

Forcing them to conform to the many guidelines that help shape what beauty is within

society. The consequence of this is that it ultimately leads to internalized racism and

insecurities. Behind every braid, loc, coil, and curl there is a black person with a sad truth

about their hair, either through experiences, facts, or the media. For centuries within the

black community, hair has been a quality in which can determine one's beauty,

professionalism, and character. I am interested in this topic because it gives me a voice to

start the conversation about black hair and its beauty. In order to break the barriers that

are placed on black hair, it is imperative that I address the history and evolution of black

hair’s history while analyzing the controversy that comes with it. I argue that the spread of

Europeans ideologies is what allowed the standards of beauty on other ethnicities to rely

on European standards.
Works cited:

Byrd, Ayana D., and Lori L. Tharps. Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in

America. St. Martin's Griffin, 2014.

Hooks, Bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. New York: Routledge, 2015. Print.

Howard, Schillica. "(De)Tangled: An Exploration of the Hierarchies in the Natural Hair

Community." CORE. Минск: БГУ, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 28 Feb. 2019.

Jacobs-Huey, Lanita. From the Kitchen to the Parlor: Language and Becoming in African

American Women's Hair Care. Oxford University Press, 2006.

Lane, Derrick. “More Than A Hairstyle: How Braids Were Used To Keep Our Ancestors

Alive.” BlackDoctor,, 28 Nov. 2018,


Thompson, Cheryl. “Black Women, Beauty, and Hair as a Matter of Being.” Women's

Studies 38.8 (2009): 831–856. Web.