BHM Blog Series: Those We Lost in the Natural Hair Movement

Post Image - BHM - Those We Lost

During 2014, we unfortunately lost three important women known for encouraging us to embrace our beauty and accept our curls. They each had their own unique style and way of inspiring us based on their personal experiences as Black women. Without them, 2015 will not be the same.

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Multiply Into Many

[Today’s post is based off the Zero to Hero Challenge, Day 16 “Make a Prompt Personal.”  Since I wasn’t inspired by the actual Daily Prompt for the day I will use the example given in the Zero to Hero article which is, Two plus two equals four: yes or no? I will develop a personal interpretation of this prompt and create my post based off my blog’s theme.]

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When I read this prompt, my thoughts immediately went towards the concept of how an idea can multiply and become normalized once one or two people believe it, start to promote it, and influence others.  Their ideas go from two people believing it, to four, six, eight, ten…until it becomes a part of our cultural fabric.  Depending on the goal of those ideas, it can have either a positive or a negative outcome.

Part of why I started the blog Honoring Our HAIRitage was to fight against the idea that African American’s hair texture was ugly, unsightly, unmanageable, and somehow wrong.  I chose the name to counter those ideas and instead honor our natural textures.  Those negative ideas about African textured hair started many years ago and spread by those with influence to become the predominate opinion of today.  They started out with a small group of people, which multiplied into many.  This was done in a variety of ways.  A historical quote by Martin Freeman in an 1859 article in the Anglo-African Magazine gives one such example based off the socialization process of young children:

“The child is taught directly or indirectly that he or she is pretty, just in proportion as the features approximate the Anglo-Saxon standard.  Hence…kinky hair must be subjected to a straightening process-oiled, and pulled, twisted up, tied down, sleeked over and pressed under, or cut off so short that it can’t curl, sometimes the natural hair is shaved off and it’s place supplied by a straight wig.”

Things have not changed much since 1859.  Freeman made this quote with the individual in mind, but it also takes structural racism to create ideas that weave themselves into the fabric of our culture and become normalized.  Examples of structural racism include hair discrimination in the workplace, school systems, and most recently in the military, which labels African textured hair as “unprofessional,” “against the dress code,” or “a safety hazard.”

Overcoming internalized oppression and structural racism can be hard to do.  However, William J. Wilson, gives us a way to triumph over them by writing in the 1853, Frederick Douglass’ Paper:

“We must begin to tell our own story, write our own lecture, paint our own picture, chisel our own bust, acknowledge, and love our own peculiarities.”

Honoring Our HAIRitage is my platform to tell our own story, re-frame those negative messages, and spread a more positive affirming understanding of African American beauty by starting with understanding our history.  I want other women and men of color to know that you are beautiful, you are worthy, you are perfect, just the way you are!  We can start with just a few of us, and together, multiply into many.

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Lupita Nyong’o and Black Beauty

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People magazine has just named Lupita Nyong’o as #1 on the “50 Most Beautiful” list!

I am thrilled that an African woman AND a woman with natural hair, makes this list!  Lupita has been outspoken about her journey towards accepting and loving her natural beauty and the challenges she faced growing up in a world that defined beauty as light skin and long straight hair.  Lupita is not just amazingly beautiful, she has enchanted us with her grace and courage.  I am proud of Lupita for her bravery and honesty in sharing her experiences.

Having a woman of color on People’s 50 Most Beautiful list, let alone being acknowledged in a popular mainstream magazine does not happen often.  Since 1990, there have only been two African American women (Halle Berry in 2003, and Beyonce Knowles in 2012) who have made the #1 spot on the list.  Magazine covers and other major media outlets play a huge role in influencing how we all think about beauty and what beauty looks like.  Traditionally, those same major media outlets have not recognized African American women’s beauty.  My hope is that People magazine continues to recognize women of color for their beauty, talents & compassion and use their massive platform to contribute to redefining beauty standards.

Congratulations to Lupita Nyong’o!

Photo by Lanigirod Photograhy

Photo by Lanigirod Photos

 

Source: The above drawing is provided by Lanigirod Photos.  He is available for commissioned work and is able to create using almost any medium of art requested from graphic design to visual artwork to photography to videography.  He’s amazing and also created by blog’s banner.

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Black History Month, Part 2: Sheep Tools and Bacon Fat

Fact #2:

Tightly curled hair can be challenging to comb and detangle which is why many Africans developed specialized tools and methods for maintaining their hair.  It could sometimes take hours or even days to create the lavish designs representing traditional hairstyles.  Once enslaved this was not possible, since working 12-15 hours a day under a hot sun left no time for maintaining and styling their hair.

In Africa, there were hand carved wooden combs with long wide teeth and rounded ends that could be used to detangle the hair.  In place of their treasured combs, slaves had to use a sheep fleece carding tool to groom their hair.  This carding tool had steel wire teeth, a wooden handle, and carried with it lice, ringworm, and other diseases that were passed on to the slaves.  It is no surprise that many photos of slaves show them wearing headscarves, most likely worn to cover up scabs, bald patches, and other hair problems brought on by the carding tool.

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Slaves wearing scarves working in the cotton fields.

It wasn’t until after the transatlantic slave trade ended in 1808, were slaves given one day a week, Sundays, to rest and attend church.  Sundays also became the day to style the hair and exchange tips for hair care.  Centuries in bondage without the traditional oils, butters, and combs used in Africa forced slaves to care for their hair using the only products that were available to them.  To replace palm oils, bacon fat and goose grease were used.  Instead of shea, cooking butter was used to condition the hair.  Even coffee and axle grease were used as natural hair dyes.  Thankfully, we now have products that are designed specifically to style, moisturize, and condition curly hair.  Over the years, more and more products were created that catered to African-Americans.

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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