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In America, generations of Black people have internally suffered self hatred. This hatred has been displayed through the way that the majority of Black people style their hair. The oppression caused by early White society and the social construct of American caused Black people to style their hair using harsh chemicals and processes to have hair that is similar to White people. Black people without “tamed” hair are have a harder time finding employment, are discontent with how they look in comparison to mainstream beauty standards, and were considered inferior to other Black people.

Generations of Black people, specifically women, in America have dealt with the social struggle of meeting the ideal beauty standard lead by White people in this country. This includes the style of their hair. They battle between not being White, but trying to look as though they fit in socially with the Eurocentric beauty standards of this country has impacted the hairstyle of Black people.

To understand the social struggles of Black Americas, one must look at the history of hair during the times of slavery. To look similar to the White people, African Americans developed a hierarchy imposed on themselves where those with lighter skin and straighter hair over those that reflected more African features were regarded as more attractive and appealing (Donaldson, 2018). This idea was internalized by African Americans and thus considered the beginning of the idea of “good hair” and colorism among Black people as slave owners would compare Black hair  “wool” and considered it inappropriate (Bryrd and Tharps, 2001, p. 26). To softer kinky hair texture, butter, bacon grease, and even kerosene were used in their hair (Vissa Studios, 2012). As damaging as this could be to the skin and hair, they were willing to do it to meet the expectations of the time.

Post emancipation, the idea of “good hair” grew stronger as African Americans wanted to be of a higher social status, as Eurocentric features were still considered ideal. It was hard enough to  prosper in a society while being considered second class, it was even harder without trying to have straighter hair and “to gain access to the American Dream one of the first things Black had to do was make White people more comfortable with their very presence (Bryd and Tharps, 2001, p.26). Black Americans continued to follow the double duty of investing in two things to “fix” their differences between them and the White side of society: Skin bleaching and hair straightening. These were the two remedies to fix their differences. This was when Black women, and some men, used hot combs and a harsh, alkaline chemical with lye known as relaxer to tame their hair. Relaxers are known to be damaging for the hair and scalp and causes breathing problems, but people still used them. At the time, Black women were seeking long straight hair that is flat, sleek, and shiny, which they consider “good hair”.

As time went on, skin bleaching dramatically reduced as a practice, but still occurs, since it is has been seen as a ritual of self-hatred for their skin. Even though self-hatred is recognized, permanently altering hair texture continued to be a flourishing practice in Black communities and determine social status. In “Hair Alteration Practices Amongst Black Women and The Assumption of Self Hatred” by Chanel Donaldson, she writes about hair straightening being a form of self hatred and a way for Black people to emulate White people. Donaldson also writes about how White people caused the desire for Black people to want to physically assimilate and meet their ideal beauty standards. Black people had to put effort into minimizing the difference between themselves and White people.

Another issue arises when searching for a job. For years, even today, there are official and unofficial policies within a work place that make the usual hairstyles of a Black person unacceptable in a work environment. Afros, curls, and dreads are considered unprofessional, even when they are neatly groomed. Even if they did not want their hair to be straight, it became a choice between having what they want and having a job. Straight hair became a financial advantage and a necessity.

Even if they are not told that straight hair is more attractive on women, it is seem in the media as that. In “Hair Alteration Practices Amongst Black Women and The Assumption of Self Hatred” by Chanel Donaldson, she explains how there is a lack of representation for Black women with natural hair, “The preference for straight hair that originated in the days of slavery is especially highlighted in the media and advertisements. When thinking of Black female celebrities, it is a challenge to pick out any that have kinky hair”. From hair commercials to models in magazines and catalogs, for years we as Americans are exposed to predominantly White representation. Women, no matter what race, are susceptible to wanting to look like the model on the magazine cover or on the television advertisement. This is stronger within the mind of young Black girls because they have lacked the visual representation within the media for decades. The possibility of a younger Black girl looking like the beautiful women that are broadcasted is very slim. This leads to the feeling that their skin and hair are not worth being shown, to slowly morph into self-hate. The closest thing that they can change about themselves is their hair, which is chemically changed for unattainable aesthetics. Leading, again to the idea that the self-hate within the Black community is caused by the social construct of America’s predominantly White society.

Another cause for the desire to keep straightened hair is that fear of not prospering social and economically. It is widely known that if a Black person wears their hair in its natural state, they “belief that on some level their daily lives could be affected in negative ways unless they straighten their hair” (Donaldson, 2012). Groomed hair is a docile form of economic survival (Donaldson, 2012). Straightened hair is a Black women’s attempt at being attractive within the job market.

 

 

Byrd, A., & Tharps, L. (2001). Hair story: Untangling the roots of Black hair in America. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Donaldson, Chanel. “Hair Alteration Practices Amongst Black Women and the Assumption of Self-Hatred.” NYU Steinhardt, Department of Applied Psychology, 2018

Vissa Studios. “Back to the Basics – What Black Women Used During Slavery”. VS+. 2017

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