Name: Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America
Brand: Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps
Price: $16.99 (but can be bough for much less on amazon 😉 )
Two world wars, the Civil Rights movement, and a Jheri curl later, Blacks in America continue to have a complex and convoluted relationship with their hair. From the antebellum practice of shaving the head in an attempt to pass as a “free” person to the 1998 uproar over a White third-grade teacher’s reading of the book Nappy Hair, the issues surrounding Black hair linger as we enter the twenty-first century.
Tying the personal to the political and the popular, Hair Story takes a chronological look at the culture behind the ever-changing state of Black hair-from fifteenth century Africa to the present-day United States. Hair Story is the book that Black Americans can use as a benchmark for tracing a unique aspect of their history and that people of all races will celebrate as the reference guide for understanding Black hair.
Being the ignorant Caucasian girl that I am, I had never realised how different black hair is from other types of hair, what the deal about going natural was, or how much kinky locks can define someone’s identity. But after reading Hair Story by Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps, I now have a new-found respect and appreciation for black hair.
Hair Story focuses on the story of black hair in the US. A story that begins in Africa, where hair was used to convey social and cultural messages. Different hairstyles indicated someone’s marital status, age and rank within the community, while unkempt and dirty hair was often considered as a sign of bad morals or insanity. Women were very proud of their hair and spent a lot of time taking care of it.
But when the first Africans, both free and enslaved, arrived in America, they found a culture that was hostile to them, and to their black, kinky hair too. Black and kinky hair and dark skin were the opposite of the Western standard of beauty, which glorified, and still does today, fine and straight hair and white skin. Black people were made to feel inferior for the way they looked and many decided to conform and adopt Western hairstyles.
But even after slavery was finally abolished, black people continued to spend a lot of time, and now money too, straightening their hair, using harsh chemicals that could be quite dangerous. It wasn’t just for beauty, though. Black people with straight hair found it easier to find better jobs and be accepted by the communities they lived in. Things were starting to change, though, and during the Civil Rights era, many young black people started going natural, and wearing Afros, cornrows and other typical African hairstyles, which often scared white people and cost quite a lot of African Americans their jobs.
During this time, the way you wore your hair was a political statement, creating a schism between team natural and team relaxed. Although the debate has calmed down somewhat, and natural hairstyles have become common, the issue is still a sensitive one. When a black celebrities decides to go natural, for instance, her hair always sparks a bit of controversy. Even kids aren’t immune to it. Just last year, Beyoncé was criticized for not choosing to tame her daughter Bluebell’s locks. Black hair may now have found a place in mainstream culture, but the prevalent ideal of beauty still privileges straight hair.
Black hair, however, has also always given black women a way to support themselves. Madame C J Walker, for instance, started selling her homemade hair concoctions door-to-door and soon created an empire that employed thousands of black women, giving them financial independence. Even today, a lot of African American women decide to create products for their locks and sell them online, although the market is now mostly dominated by big multinationals owned by white men.
I was also fascinated by the mechanics of kinky hair, the many textures black hair can have, why it developed that way, and how to take care of it. Hair Story is a fascinating read. It gets a bit repetitive at times, but it explains in a very straightforward and engaging way the complex relationship black people have with their hair, why too many of them still hate their natural locks, and the impact kinky hair has had, and still has, on the history of the US. Everyone should read it.
Available at: amazon
Hair Story by Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps tells the fascinating story of black hair in the US. You’ll learn why many black people still find it difficult to accept their natural hair, how black hair has impacted the history of the US, and the mechanics of kinky hair. Informative and engaging, it’s a book everyone should read.