Politics of Black Hair (part 2): Social Regulation of Black Hair Texture

This piece, on the social regulation of black hair is the second part of my Politics of Black Hair series that was featured in the Earlham College student-run newspaper.

Historically, Black hair has frequently earned a reputation of being “unruly” and “unmanageable” with specific focus on it’s oftentimes kinky texture. It is such labels that aided the development and dependency of many black women upon hair chemicals (a multi-million dollar industry1 ) that promised the popular and socially accepted Eurocentric ideal of “good hair”, albeit temporarily. Perpetuation of ideas on what “good hair” must look like and how far black hair is from this idea, has worked to produce much of the social bias that many black people face within the workplace, school and in daily interactions.

Although the natural hair movement, has helped to sensitize and draw awareness about the beauty of black hair, there are still inherent problems with the way black hair texture is viewed. Because acceptable hair texture has often leaned towards the Eurocentric ideal, hair that could at least somehow “pass” as mirroring or attempting to mirror this Eurocentric ideal has usually been accepted within societies, both black and white. In Chris Rock’s 2009 documentary, Good Hair, we are taken into the complex and oftentimes expensive world of Black hair care and the lengths at which black people must be prepared to go, in order to achieve a socially acceptable image of themselves and more specifically, of their hair. Although the natural hair movement, has helped to sensitize and draw awareness about the beauty of black hair, there are still inherent problems with the way black hair texture is viewed. Because acceptable hair texture has often leaned towards the Eurocentric ideal, hair that could at least somehow “pass” as mirroring or attempting to mirror this Eurocentric ideal has usually been accepted within societies, both black and white.

Regulation of Black hair in the workplace is one of the most blatant forms of discrimination against people of color but also against the natural state of Black hair. In their opinion editorial entitled, “When Black Hair Is Against the Rules2 ” (2014), Ayana Byrd and Lori L.Tharps, authors of “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America” (2001) demonstrate how the US Army’s decision to revise its appearance and grooming policy, disproportionately affected Black women and their hair. The 2014 policy was said to “refer to hairstyles like cornrows, braids, twists and dreadlocks” while “severely limiting or banning them outright.” Specific language within the policy also referred to these styles as “matted” and “unkempt.”3 Although the policy has since been revised, such action conveys a clear message to black people: The US Army will not accept your natural as it is, alter it or prepare to face the consequences. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is that social regulations on Black hair are perpetuated by Black and White people alike, who staunchly believe in the inherent inferiority of black hair. However, the best-kept secret still remains: Black hair should not need reform, rather it is the unhealthy ideals of Eurocentric beauty, unequal racial structures and power dynamics that need to be abolished.

 

Author: Iwalewa

Well, I've always had a passion for writing. I would describe myself as a feminist, a womanist and a humanist. Poetry is something I've developed a great passion for. Apart from that, I also spend time reading...although this might make me come about sounding like an introvert, I still like to think of myself as an extrovert! I love making new friends and meeting new people. I hope this blog allows others to share and enjoy my work and hopefully share their views and opinions about various issues :)

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