It should go without saying that someone’s culture should NOT be treated as a fad or a trend! And that is especially relevant to our hair. A lot of non-black individuals believe that the way we wear our hair is simply a trendy style, instead of actually acknowledging the history and importance of each style we choose to sport that week. Of course, these styles are beautiful and immaculate, but they are not JUST hairstyles.
Braids are one of the most appropriated styles outside of our community. No, not just normal Dutch braids or pigtails, but braids that hold cultural significance to black women and men. Such as Fulani braids, which are derived from the Fulani tribe which are mostly concentrated in Nigeria, Mali, Guinea, Cameroon, Senegal, and Niger. These braids represent more than a cute pattern, but an entire lineage of women. Cornrows were even once used as maps for escaped slaves, literally mapping out freedom through the kinks of our hair. So, when you go to your salon and ask for “boxer braids” or “Kim Kardashian braids” you are erasing an entire section of history and ancestry.
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Our hair is one of the only things besides our skin, that identifies and connects us as a culture across the globe. A small girl, simply seeing a woman with curls and kinks like hers when she’s at a new school brings a sense of relief and comfort to her. When a mixed girl, who may be surrounded by Eurocentric beauty most of the time, sees someone with big frizzy hair like her own- it brings her a little closer to herself. Our hair is more than this week’s hot style. It is the language stripped from us as we were enslaved. It is how we communicate with one another and with the world.
From barber shops to hair salons, we find ourselves bonding over our hair. Our stylist in most cases are like our therapist, we speak to them about a lot of issues openly. They know our hair down to the density, and as they style our curls we often find those moments as not only intimate but sacred for our mental health at times. Everyone knows barber shops, are often places where our men are able to not only be themselves unapologetically but also a place where they can be open about a lot of problems amongst them personally and societal. Many of them are taught to hold in a lot when faced with even the smallest adversities, so the shop is often the place where they release whatever emotion they pint up that week while getting a fresh cut. They leave with their heads held higher and shoulders a bit lighter.
Our hair being treated as a trend is one of the many slaps in the face we endure living in the country every day. Wearing our hair, the way it grows, in braids, or in dreads are viewed as ghetto and unkempt. However, if Karen chooses to wear “boxer braids” to her job, she’s so “trendy” and “edgy”. Becky gets an entire Vogue spread wearing an afro wig, yet models and actresses who have kinks growing from their scalps towards the sky can’t even get a shoot FOCUSED on black culture!
We are often sent home and even fired from our jobs simply because of the way our hair naturally grows. The Military for decades didn’t even allow black women to wear even protective styles that weren’t straight, that means twist, braids, and even dreads weren’t prohibited. We’re talking about the way someone’s hair grows NATURALLY wasn’t allowed in ‘professional’ spaces.
So, the next time you want to shut someone down on whether your appropriating someone’s culture for a trend or when another black person defends “boxer braids” by saying “it’s just hair”, think about Angela Davis and how simply because her and women alike wore their hair natural they were seen as rebellious and a threat. Think about white people with dreads are seen as earthy while black people who hair dreads naturally, are seen as thugs or unkempt. It affects us in the workplace, socially, and even how we’re seen in society.
My hair is not a trend, it is more than the explore page, it is more than a Coachella weekend, it is a huge part of my identity. It is my connection to those before, around, and after me.