In honor of Black History Month, I am going to share some facts about African American hair throughout history. During this month, we tend to focus on popular leaders and activists, the civil rights movement, and slavery. Very little of what we learn is about the popular fashion or the beauty standards in the African American communities of those periods. Just like other forms of art, hairstyles have always served as a representation of contemporary political and social themes. Looking at the popular hairstyles, styling methods, and social opinions of African American hair throughout history, can reveal a unique perspective on our past. So, I’ll be posting information specific to this topic throughout this month. See below for the first fact.
Fact #1: One of the first things slave traders did to those in bondage was shave their heads. This was done to immediately shame and dehumanize their captives. Africans held great pride for their hair. In many African tribes, hairstyles were used to communicate the age, religion, marital status, and wealth of its wearer. A large amount of time was spent, grooming, combing, washing, oiling, and braiding the hair for greater health and length. Hair was considered art with various styles and adornments such as flowers, shells, and features.
Hair held great spiritual significance to African people. Some even believed that since the hair is located on the highest point of the body, it is closest to the heavens, therefore messages from the gods and spirits must pass through the hair to get to the soul. Thus, African hair in its natural state was respected, worshipped, and treasured. To take away such an important part of one’s identity, by shaving their heads, served as an effective way to disgrace and humiliate those in bondage.
References: Byrd, A. L., & Tharps, L. L. (2001). Hair Story: Untangling the roots of black hair in America. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
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