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

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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?

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