Militant Hair: How Afro-Textured Hair in It’s Natural State Is Viewed As A Socio-Political Statement

by Cherise "Reese" Charleswell

In October 2011, E! Entertainment News fetured an interiew with actor Isiah Mustafa, famous for a series of Old Spice commercials, where he expressed how deeply he was repulsed by naturally curly-kinky or “nappy” hair, despite the fact that, it is the type of hair that grows from his own scalp; made me shake my head in disgust.

Mustafa goes on to explain his preference, “ Yes, it does have to be real hair. I want my kids to have nice hair so she better have good hair. Cause, I don’t know if you’ve checked my hair out lately. Aside from today it’s normally nice. Today it’s slightly nappy”. Ultimately, his comments are derogatory to the vast majority of women of African descent who have hair with a tighter curl pattern. He later provided the obligatory and insincere apology for his ignorant statement. Sadly, his statement was actually due to stupidity and self hate; which are fostered by a society that puts Eurocentric phenotype characteristics, such as straight hair and pale skin, on a pedestal. Despite these lingering messages and images that uphold the ideology, of the superiority of Caucasian beauty, which harkens back centuries ago to African colonialism and the Transatlantic slave trade; there is a second wave of the natural hair movement. African women throughout the Diaspora are embracing their natural chemically-free and unaltered hair textures.

The first wave of the natural hair movement actually took place in the late 1960s, when the afro became an emblem of the Black Power movement, and even the instrument used to maintain these afros, the “afro pick”, was adorned with a fist. Fast forward 40 something years later, and those who wear afro-textured or natural hair styles are still labeled as being the stereotypical “revolutionary”, “radical”, or “militant”. When all that they are trying to do is be themselves.

The July 2008 New Yorker cover, released prior to the election of President Obama, serves as a prime example of this stereotype. The magazine cover depicts First Lady Michelle Obama, who thermally straightens her hair, wearing a voluminous afro, camouflage, military boots, and carrying an AK-47 assault rifle. Here, she is the epitome of the militant, angry, dangerous Black woman. The cartoonist that created the image claimed that it was simply satire, but it was much more than this; it played on the fears of many Americans, particularly White Americans; and served as a reminder of the persisting stereotypes that are purely a racist reaction to the choice of Black woman to wear their hair in its unaltered state.

It seems that Black women are the only women penalized for doing so. For some reason, our hair is viewed as a political statement, and may also be a liability and barrier to career advancements. An example of this lingering corporate discriminatory practices against those wearing their hair in its natural texture, was the 2007 remarks and eventual ousting of Glamour editor Ashley Baker. Baker was an invited guest speaker of a New York law firm, to discuss the “Dos and Don’ts of Corporate Fashion”. She utilized a slideshow to chasitize “offenders”, zoning in on the image of a Black woman with an Afro, and declared that it was “A real no-no! and dreadlocks were truly dreadful!” She went continued on her ethnocentric rant stating that it was, “Shocking that some people still think it's appropriate to wear those hairstyles at the office. No offence, but those political hairstyles really have to go."

Once again, her sentiments falls inline with society’s view of afro-textured natural hair as a political, rather than personal statement. Black women are the only women in the world burden by this notion. Personally, I can recall numerous conversations, where it was suggested that I buy a straight hair wig for interview, when I relocated to South Florida. I never took the advice, and landed two jobs, despite the curls, kinks, and twists that I wore proudly.

The surprising exception to this is the fashion industry, where natural hair seems to be the preference. However, fashion is fickle, and it may be that afro-textured, curly, and kinky hair is looked upon as being “In” fashion. The exploding plethora of ad campaigns, featuring only natural-hair models, will support this contention. Perhaps natural hair models are being typecast and viewed as exotic, different, and as “The Other”. The long list of natural hair models include: Roshumba, Tomiko Fraser, Alek Wek, Ty Stales, Bre, Yaya Da Costa, Eva Marcielle-Pigford, Wakeema, Fayruz, Nerissa Irving, Shea Rose, and Jessi M’Bengue.

Wearing one’s hair in its natural state, shouldn’t be viewed as a political or social statement, that has some hidden agenda. Hopefully, the time will come, especially due to this current second wave of the natural hair movement, which seems to be embraced by those of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, where there is a full acceptance of afro-textured hair; especially including acceptance in the Black community.

Militant Hair: How Afro-Textured Hair in It’s Natural State Is Viewed As A Socio-Political Statement by Cherise "Reese" Charleswell

© Eclectic Life Books 2011. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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