Black History Month, Part 7: Today’s Black Hair

IMG_20140209_174821_995

I’d like to end my Black History Month series on African American hair history by briefly writing about Black hair today.  I can’t talk about today’s popular hair styles without mentioning the hair weave.  Many African American women and Black celebrities wear hair weaves.  Beyoncé, Halle Berry, and Janet Jackson are just some.  Tyra Banks even challenged herself to go weave-less for a period to showcase her natural hair.  Chris Rock produced the documentary, “Good Hair,” which was all about African American women’s hair habits, highlighting of course, the weave.  My sister, Margie, is a licensed cosmetologist and according to her, her top selling hairstyle among her African American clients is the sew-in (another name for hair weave).  This style is so popular that she does at least three a week, while only working part-time.

The hair weave has existed for thousands of years and was fashionable throughout history.  It took off in popularity during the 90’s and is still thriving today in the 2000’s.  The human hair import industry was once dominated by Jewish merchants, but today it is mostly Korean immigrants who import and sell hair weave products.  With a network of other Korean business owners who created credit associations in order to provide the start up cash for their partners, more and more Asian storeowners began popping up during the 90’s.  According to the book, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, Asian companies represent 50-60 percent of the total distribution of Black hair-care products.

Many people see the hair weave as just another fashion statement, but what I’ve learned during my journey to understand my history is that our hair and how we wear it, is much more than that.  My history has shown me that Black hair is significant.  It has been celebrated, attacked, ridiculed, and upheld as one of the most important signs of beauty.  It has been taken too seriously, and not taken seriously enough.  The Afro came to be seen as a political statement of Black Nationalism.  The relaxer has been seen as a statement of self-hatred.  The natural has been viewed as a statement of radicalism.  They are all statements about meaning and identity.

I challenge my readers to think about what it means to you to wear a weave or chemically straighten your hair.  Further, think about it within the context of our African American history and within the context of a society that still needs to come to terms with Black hair.  When you take all of that into consideration, ask yourself the question again.  So now, what does it mean to wear a weave or chemically straighten your hair?

Don’t forget to Subscribe to never miss a post!  

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter

Feel free to Like, Comment, or Share below!!

Black History Month, Part 6: The Jheri Curl

To me, the funniest moments in the movie Coming to America with Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall include the scene where Daryl’s parents leave oil stains on the sofa from their Jheri Curl!  This was the reality for many people who rocked the Jheri Curl and suffered the consequences of “Jheri Curl Juice”; ruined sofas and stained clothes, all to achieve the slicked and curly look of the Jheri Curl.  I’ll never forget the Soul Glo commercial!

The Jheri Curl became popular in the 80’s after Willie Lee Morrow, developed a process that changed kinky hair to a curly “wet” look.  He was a Black hair expert who also created the first mass-produced plastic Afro pick.  In 1977, Morrow began traveling across the U.S. selling what he called The California Curl to hair stylists.  Eventually it became the Jheri Curl, named after Jheri Redding, a White man who created a similar process initially only for straight hair.  Once the Jheri Curl became popular among the African American community, manufactures began developing their own versions of it.  Soft Sheen created the Care Free Curl relaxer, Pro-Line developed the Curly Kit, and Sta-Sof-Fro create Jheri Curl moisturizers and scalp sprays.

The Jheri Curl required a ton of maintenance including salon visits and various curl activator products that maintained the “wet” look.  During that time, it could cost $80-$100 for the process and additional costs for conditioning products.  It was so profitable in the 80’s that the hair care industry experienced unprecedented profits and salons were booming with customers.

My mother wore a Jheri Curl for over 20 years!  According to her, the Jheri Curl was so popular because it was an easy style to maintain because all she had to do was spray her hair with Sta-Sof-Fro’s Hair and Scalp Spray (which she still uses today), comb it through, part her hair on the side and go.  She also revealed how difficult it was because the curl activator would drip off her hair and onto everything!  She had to constantly buy plastic caps to sleep in at night!  Not surprisingly, the style lost its popularity during the 90’s and was replaced by natural styles, hair weaves, and extensions that didn’t have the messy consequences of “Jheri Curl Juice.”

Don’t forget to Subscribe to never miss a post!  

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter

Feel free to Like, Comment, or Share below!!

Black History Month, Part 5: The Afro

This look was made iconic by popular figures such as civil right activist Angela Davis, entertainers Nina Simone and Jimi Hendrix, and actors such as Pam Grier and Cicely Tyson.  The Afro gained popularity in the early 1960’s on college campuses by young adults who studied their own history and developed a nationalist point of view in order to reconnect with their African heritage.  With the help of movies such as Foxy Brown, and Shaft, TV shows such as Good Times and The Jeffersons, and musical groups such as The Jackson 5, the Afro grew in popularity from the dorm rooms to the masses.

According to my own mother, who rocked a “curly fro,” you can achieve the look by braiding your hair at night, then taking the braids out in the morning while you shape it out with an Afro pick.  She would also cover her head with a silk scarf tied at the back of the neck, to help give it the perfect round form.  Most African Americans can achieve the look with their natural texture; however, there are some African Americans who have finer hair.  Not to be left out, a way to “nap up” the hair was developed in the 60’s.  Those with straight hair could get a curly relaxer with perm rods in order to simulate the Afro.  Home remedies using beer, vinegar, and Borax cleaner were also created.  Another method involved cutting off all the chemically straightened hair then washing it with Octagon laundry soap!

The style of the afro began as a fashion statement but also as a representation of political and cultural pride.  In the 1960’s the Afro became a statement of Black power and a symbol of rebellion against the idea that curly hair is somehow less attractive than straight hair.  As political as it was personal, African hair had been systematically labeled as inferior throughout history.  For African Americans, reclaiming a sense of pride in one’s hair became a major factor in reclaiming one’s pride in oneself.  The Afro was the image that represented a movement towards a new aesthetic that embraced African art, literature, fashion, education, and politics.  The Afro was and is a celebration of African textured hair and the African American community.  Black is Beautiful!

Don’t forget to Subscribe to never miss a post!  

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter

Feel free to Like, Comment, or Share below!!

Black History Month, Part 4: “The Black Mary Kay,” Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone

Image

Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone

Many people know the name Madam C.J. Walker, but few know Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone.  Turnbo Malone, born in Illinois in 1869, was the first successful hair care expert for the African American community well before Madam C.J. Walker.  During Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone’s time, there were very few products available for the African American community to help solve many of the hair problems.  So, in 1900 she created the Wonderful Hair Grower which claimed to make African textured hair grow.  I like to call her The Black Mary Kay because she began selling her products door-to-door and eventually trained other women as “agents” who would also begin selling her products for a percentage of the sales.

Her company, called Poro (which is a Mende word meaning “devotional society”), was so successful, her products were sold in the North and South Americas and the Caribbean.  Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone not only made a fortune in the hair care industry, she made sure to give back to the Black community.  She regularly donated money to Black businesses, churches, schools, and community based organizations.  She even helped start an orphanage in 1888 which is still in operation today.  In 1917, she created the Poro College in Saint Louis, a massive complex and the first U.S. school that trained Black hairstylists.  The Poro College was also a place where African Americans could come together as a community when most places were still segregated.  It housed a theatre, chapel, community center, and gymnasium.  Let’s pay homage to Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone during Black History Month for her commitment to African American hair and the Black community.

Don’t forget to Subscribe to never miss a post!  

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter

Feel free to Like, Comment, or Share below!!

“Those who have…

Quote

“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.” – Carter G. Woodson

Carter G. Woodson, was a civil rights leader and the “Father of Black History” who founded the Black History Week back in 1926.

Don’t forget to Subscribe to never miss a post!  

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter

Feel free to Like, Comment, or Share below!!

Black History Month, Part 3: The First Hair Relaxer

Fact #3:

Having their heads shaved, being forced to use sheep’s tools to maintain their hair, and having their traditions stolen from them left those enslaved feeling shamed, demoralized, and humiliated.  These methods of dehumanizing slaves were just the beginning.  Now in a foreign land controlled by people with fair skin and straight hair, African textured hair was attacked socially and labeled as inferior and repellent.  In the 1700’s, advertisements, slave auction posters, and even the scientific community referred to African textured hair as “wool” as though it were not even human hair.  This dehumanizing language served to validate the lower-class status and enslavement of Africans.

This racist rhetoric was internalized by many slaves but was also a requirement for some slaves such as laundresses, chauffeurs, cooks, and housekeepers.  Those who worked inside the plantation houses had to present a look that appealed to their slave owners.  Both circumstances lead to the creation of the first hair relaxer in order to straighten curly hair to appear more European.  This concoction was a mixture of lye and potatoes.  The potatoes were used to lessen the harsh effects of the lye.  This early form of a relaxer was effective at straightening the hair for a period, but would often burn the scalp and damage the hair.

Image

Today, there are a variety of hair relaxers available over-the-counter.

Today, many of the hair relaxers you can find over-the-counter and in your local beauty shop still contain lye and have the same damaging effects on the scalp and hair.  It is also revolutionary that many products today are designed not just to straighten the hair but to bring out the natural curly texture as well.  When I went natural five years ago, I was amazed by all the products available to me.  Check out some of them under the “Jane’s Hair” tab!

Don’t forget to Subscribe to never miss a post!  

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter

Feel free to Like, Comment, or Share below!!