Nakieah May, Criminology and Psychology student and member of ACS, has shared her blog with us this Black History Month on loving your natural afro hair.
Afro hair comes in a range of textures, coils, and curls. Maintained in an array of protective styles, like braids, dreadlocks, and twists amongst many others. Today, the diversity of afro hair is largely celebrated, on both an individual level and a socio-political level. This is largely due to the resurgence of the natural hair movement in the 2000’s alongside current organisations that are fighting to destigmatise the negative stigma surrounding natural hair. The socio-political work acts as a further enabler of freedom of hair expression, as it works to create a climate where natural hair isn’t frowned upon and can be fully embraced and loved. Sadly, though, many young and old black people find difficulty in accepting and finding the beauty in their natural hair, due both subliminal and direct discouragement from individuals and society.
Afro hair has historically existed as a symbol of identity, heritage, and wealth, where its maintenance was considered a high value activity. So, afro hair has always been a symbol of power for black people, unfortunately this means that there has always been mass restriction surrounding it to dehumanise and ‘other’ black people. For example, during slavery, the ‘civilising mission’ by enslavers considered afro hair to be closer to sheep’s wool and was often shaved to make Black people more ‘human’. The hatred of Black hair has persisted centuries later beyond slavery to today. More commonly today though is the favouring of looser hair textures over tighter coils. This is known as texturism. Though more significant a few years ago, it is still relevant even today, where looser curls are considered to be more ‘beautiful’.
The Natural Hair Movement originated in the United States in the 1960’s attempting to encourage those of the African diaspora to embrace their natural afro-textured hair, with its resurgence in the 2000s targeting the spike of relaxers and perms being used. Beyond this movement, various organisations have fought on a policy level to further enable freedom surrounding afro hair expression. Across the waters, America has the ‘CROWN Act’. An act created with the intent of ending hair-based discrimination, in 2019. Their goal being to “ensure protection against discrimination based on race-based hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles” (The Official CROWN Act (thecrownact.com)). In a similar vein, the UK has the Halo Code. Created in 2020 the code seeks to “fight the stigma and fix the law”. Succeeding in some of their goals by aiding in the adaptation of the 2010 equality act, making hair a key consideration rather than fitting it under the characteristic of race.
These movements and advancements highlight how much external work is being done to ensure there is space to love ones natural hair. Despite the heavy policing in the workplace and in schools, universities tend to have less restrictions, making university one of the perfect places to start, or continue, embracing your natural hair. With the freedom to experiment in university, experimentation becomes even easier. With the support from activists working to change policy, as well as support from those who acknowledge and appreciate your hair, university, again is the perfect chance.
Perfect chance, policy on your side, and hopefully your personal community, but how? How do you just love your natural hair?
There is no perfect formula, and you can’t just wake up one day and love it. But it is a conscious decision. You have to decide to love your hair wholly every day, even when it doesn’t co-operate. You must care for it, and nourish it, which is expensive but worthwhile. As ‘hair goals’ are not universal, the appearance of hair you love can drastically differ from another’s. Where one may find joy in length, another may seek health, another just hair that complies. Afro hair is diverse and so these appearances range depending on the hair texture, but all appearance of the expression deserves to be embraced.
Learning to love your afro hair, again is purely individualised. However, its helpful to take a day-to-day approach and actively appreciate your hair. From simply appreciating and complimenting your hair after investing in hair-care maintenance and style products, to watching YouTube videos surrounding hair care and love, to reading pieces about learning to love such as “from tolerating it to enjoying it” (How I learned to love my afro hair: ‘I went from tolerating it to enjoying it’ | Women’s hair | The Guardian). These are only suggestions and could or could not work for you. What’s important in what works for you. Whether this is growing, cutting, locking or braiding your hair. Learn and unlearn. Because hair is so much more than hair, because it is part of one’s identity, how it is loved is not universal. The premise of loving your hair is caring, no matter how you show it.
It is also not impossible to appreciate natural afro-textured hair even if you don’t have it. Be kind and compliment others hair. Tell somebody their hair looks nice or ask (respectfully) about the process of getting their hair done. Or on a wider scale support an organisation working to destigmatise the negative connotations of black hair, to enable change that makes it easier to live authentically with afro hair.
- Other – Othering: Is the act of treating someone as though they are not part of a group and are different in some way. In this context it refers to how afro hair was considered a dehumanising characteristic, making Black people with afro hair something ‘other’ than human.
- Texturism: The hierarchy of hair types, based on European standards of beauty.
- The Natural Hair Movement: The foundational principle of the Natural Hair Movement is that the hair curling from our heads is innately beautiful and should be free to exist that way without policing or prejudice. (Halo-Our History (halocollective.co.uk))
- The CROWN Act: CROWN, an acronym for ‘Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair’