I recently came across an article about weave shaming by Shahida Muhammed. While it was refreshing to see a perspective that supported sisters who wear weaves, the article didn’t dig into the heart of the issue like I was hoping it would.
Muhammed comes close to going there when she makes the statement:
And it’s not just black women. What sets us apart is the highly political relationship we’ve had with our hair while living in a society that constantly upholds Eurocentric beauty standards.
– Shahida Muhammed
Politics of Black Hair
The politics of Black hair is directly related to the ways in which white supremacy has psychologically saturated Black consciousness. As we well know white supremacy by its very definition is about opposition and the creation of the “other.” In order for one thing to be superior to another the two must first be different. Once that difference is identified, then one only needs to assert the superiority of the one over the other.
In respect to Black hair it is one visible and distinct difference between Black and White people; the texture, the way that it grows, the way in which it is maintained, the way it is styled. Hair is no exception as a tool of white supremacy to make Black people feel inferior. This is how the standards of beauty were established to lean towards Eurocentric features: straigher hair, softer hair, thin lips and pointy noses. To take this a step further even as it applies to the workplace these standards have been affirmed in the ways that companies covertly (sometimes blatantly) decide what is a “professional” look. And, of course, more often than not things like afros, braids, locs, naturals and the like were frowned upon. I recall reading Oprah Winfrey speaking about her beginning days in journalism in the 70’s and having to wear a straight haired wig on air because the network disapproved of her afro. I can recall in the 90’s, when braids and locs were becoming a popular style choice in the Black community, Black college students and those aspiring to obtain “good jobs” were discouraged from wearing these styles for fear that they would not get hired in white corporate America. This is how Black hair becomes political because it becomes more than a choice of style, it becomes a determining factor of “success” and the ability to thrive.
Once Black hair became political in its mainstream function it became an issue within the community as it represented a Black person’s ability to thrive and/or be accepted by the mainstream. This is nothing new or revelatory as we see the same dynamic when it comes to complexion. What’s sad is that we, as a community, internalized these sentiments and use them against each other. Creating terms like “good hair” and “bad hair.”
The invention or prevalence of perms, hot combs and weaves allowed Black women to achieve the look of those styles that were once impossible for them. And now, decades later, perms, weaves, wigs and hot combs are a well known part of Black culture to the extent that most Black women will openly admit that they are wearing a wig or a weave with no shame. Conversely, as Black consciousness has evolved and attempted to transcend the racist connotations associated with weaves and wigs, the idea that a woman who doesn’t wear her hair naturally without extensions or chemicals is succumbing to Eurocentric standards of beauty and, therefore, does not love herself became prevalent.
The major problem with the politics of Black hair is the damage that it does within the community. It’s one thing for someone from another culture to divide the community based on specific standards of beauty which are historically not Black or African, but when we do it to ourselves it takes on an insidious kind of devilment that is vicious and unforgiving.
One point that Tatyana makes that is worth discussing is the fact that while we think that we are complimenting and doing a favor to those Black people that possess the features that make them more favorable to the standards dictated by white supremacy, we are in fact alienating them and causing them psychic trauma as well. When white supremacy rears its head in the Black community no one is spared pain.
While many people debate about the motivations behind some Black women’s choice to wear weave and whether going natural is some symbol of spiritual awakening, we neglect some very poignant facts. At this point in Black culture Black people are almost intertwined with America, even in some of its origins are rooted in Eurocentricities. Not all straightened hair is chemically relaxed and not all natural hair is healthy. AND neither of those points is more important than the fact that, while Black hair has its politics, it is an expression that women have many ways to achieve and their motivations for doing so are not always about feeling that whatever their natural texture or length is defines who they are.
At this point in Black culture hair is still very much significant; however, straight, coiled, weaved or loc’d every expression is not a sign of acquiescence to white standards of beauty. Because somewhere along the road our motivations changed. The intentions now are not what they once were; and intention is everything.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man