For years, African-American women have had to choose whether to leave their hair natural or to wear relaxers. This is because the notion that straight hair is the only socially acceptable choice has been ingrained in many black women since childhood. So much so, that many young girls automatically assume that a relaxer is a part of growing up. They don’t even entertain the notion of just caring for and wearing their locks the way that they were created. They view the “first perm” as right of passage, never even questioning the reason why they desire to change their hair texture.
Why does this happen? The media has a lot to do with it. Black women are typically seen with long, straight, flowing hair. Until recently, women who chose to go natural were often portrayed as eccentric. Or they were dismissed as being afrocentric. Also, some biased beliefs dating back to slavery still survive today. During that period of bondage, African-American hair was viewed as dirty and unkempt. So, many blacks were shamed by their hair and eventually found ways to change its state. After awhile, it just became the social norm for black women to have relaxed hair.
This has caused natural black hair to be viewed as an oddity. Often, a woman who chooses to maintain her true texture is considered to be going against the grain. Some even believe that this type of hair is not appropriate in the business world. Thankfully, there are laws in place to protect from this type of discrimination. But that hasn’t changed the negative perception that many have of African hair.
This was not always the case. For a brief period in history during the 1960’s -1970’s, natural hair became a source of cultural pride. The Civil Rights Movement caused many to esteem their heritage, including their locks. It was common for men and women to wear afros or other natural styles. However, as the Movement died down so did these displays of diverse African-American hairdos. Many returned to using chemicals or heat on their tresses to achieve a straighter look.
But today the tide is once again changing. Many women of African descent are returning to their natural roots. In recent years it has become more and more common to see blacks on television with cornrows, braids, afros, and many other culturally unique hairstyles. Women such as Macy Gray, Erykah Badu, and Kim Fields-Freeman wear their hair unapologetically.
And what is there to be sorry for anyway? It would be odd for Caucasians or other ethnicities to feel inferior because they were born with straight hair. After all, it’s natural for their hair to grow that way. That should also be the prevailing attitude regarding African textured hair. The way it grows out of scalp is the way it was designed to be. And once again many black women are realizing this fact and embracing what’s naturally theirs.
By Serfronya Wallace