By Roseline Mugaruka — Click to download PDF
Let’s Talk about Black Women’s Hair
Growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I never thought my hair was “unique” or “different,” and I did not pay much attention to questions people ask regarding my hair. When someone asked me about my hair, the questions were not so much about how my hair “worked,” but rather how they can get the same style. I never thought I would explain to someone how “my hair works,” or the difference between different hair styles. Statements such as, “your hair grows fast!” or questions like, “did you cut your hair?” were questions I had never had to answer. However, when you live with people of different hair or people of different cultures, as in the United States, it is only natural to be curious. In this blog, I would like to address questions people might have regarding African American women’s hair and how to properly talk to people without offending someone.
As a starting point, it is important to recognize that a person’s hair is a part of their identity, but not the full identity. Centuries ago, when Africans were brought to the “ new world,” they were confronted with their first loss of identity. The beauty standard in “new world” was very different from what many had perceived as beautiful. The standards of beauty that they encountered were the privilege of fair skin, straight hair, and thin features, in contrast to "African" dark skin, curly hair, and wider noses and mouths. Some slaves had to get accustomed to the European beauty styles to survive (literally). African tribes would use hairstyles as a form of communication. Hairstyles could exemplify age, marital status, ethnic identity, religion, wealth, family background, tribe, and social rank. Traditional hairstyles could also be used to identify or communicate geographic region.When men and women were sold to the “new world”, slave owners would shave people’s hair as a way of stripping them of their roots as well as their identity.
Today, many African American women, as well as white women, are challenging the notion of what it means to be beautiful — challenging who represents beauty. I think it’s important to stop thinking of black women’s hair as unique or exotic, because it is not. Just because youare not familiar with something does not make it unique: it makes you uninformed. The best way to become informed is by asking questions. With this in mind, please ask questions that spark curiosity and conversation and not questions that undermine or upset people. It’s understandable that we, as humans, are constantly looking for boxes to put people in, in order to understand them better. However, if you are not a black woman, It is difficult to understand how African American women’s hair works, however it is not impossible.
I would love to take this time to tell you about the different types of hair. Each hair has a unique process in which it is done, and you are not always able to tell which hair is which. Here are few examples one can find on an black women’s head at any given time.
Natural Hair: Just like white women’s hair, black women's hair come in many varieties. One can choose to straighten the hair, but it is very harmful to one’s hair. It can take a person up to a day to give my hair the moisture it needs; this day is usually referred to as “wash day.” The process is usually very long and exhausting, but the result is always worth it. Imagine spending all day taking care of your hair, just to have someone place their hands on your head.
Taking care of our natural hair is usually not an easy process, many times people would run to what we refer to as “protective styles” these styles keeps your hair inside, away from the cold weather (which makes our hair extremely dry) and preferably moisturized.
Braids/Crochet: Braids and crochets are a type of protective style, they are very similar, except for a minor yet most important factor, time. Braids is when you group small pieces of hair combined with extensions to make the hairstyle longer. You can have braids in any color you choose, and any size you choose. People certainly do get creative with styles of braids, but it varies depending on one person to the next.
Crochet on the other hand usually takes less time to get done. This is when you already have hair braided on the side. With crochets, you’ll first get cornrows done, then you take the individual hair already braided and attached it in, with an instrument that’s similar to crochet.
Wigs: Wigs are the best protective styles in my opinion, because they give you an easy access to your hair. Most people know what wigs are, but in chase you don’t know, a wig is a covering of the full head. It is made from artificial or natural hair.;a wig is worn by many men and women. The most important thing to know about a wig is that it simply sit on your head, attached with few clips for and glue for others, please avoid touching people’s hair, not simply because it is rude and invasive, it also because you never know what on someone’s head.
Weaves : Extensions are often sewn or clipped on a person’s head. Usually when you have extensions on, your natural hair is braided into cornrows, the extensions are being clipped or sewn to your hair.
Black women’s hair as a long history in this country, it is important to realise that. I encourage you to think of a person’s hair as such, although part of one’s identity, however not the sole identifier. It is understandable that people will continue to have questions regarding black women’s hair, it is important to ask questions that sparks respectful conversation rather than judgement. There are so many different types of hair a black woman can have at any given time, and they are all beautiful, all professional.