The History and Evolution of Black Hair
Taking a closer look at black hairstyles
It’s no doubt that black communities have created and cultivated hairstyles that are unique to black culture. Although they are unique to black culture, these hairstyles can date back further into ancient realms. For example, in ancient Egypt, it was common for women to wear wigs. They were used to symbolize rank and royalty among males and females. Today, people, typically women, wear wigs as a protective hairstyle, as a form of expression, or simply because they like wigs and find it easier. I know I do. Aside from the connection to ancient culture, the hairstyles discussed will give insight into their impact on black culture and how it is seen in today’s society.
A hairstyle that is still popular today is Bantu Knots. This hairstyle is connected to African roots. The word Bantu translates to “people” among various African languages, which is used in categorizing a large number of ethnic groups throughout Africa. Bantu knots can also be known as Nubian knots or Zulu knots. This is because Zulu people were the ones who originated the hairstyle. They were also a Bantu ethnic group hence, the name.
Braids were unique in the sense that they signified several aspects ranging from marital status to rank within their community. It is another popular hairstyle that is widely expressed through various ethnic groups today.
Cornrows are tight braids that are laid along the scalp. They resemble the visual of a cornfield and upheld many purposes. Slaves wore cornrows to pay homage to where they came from, and because if they wore their hair in this particular hairstyle, it was said they’d receive better treatments. But keep in mind texture also played a role in this.
Locks are often associated with Jamaican culture; however, dreadlocks can be dated back to Hindu scriptures. Jamaican Reggae singer Bob Marley was popularly known for not only his amazing voice but his dreadlocks. He is part of the reason they became mainstream in the 70s. Today the preferred name for dreadlocks is locs due to the negative connotation associated with the word dreads.
Other hairstyles included Jheri curls, fades along with a clean shape up, and Afros.
Although these hairstyles are a part of black culture, members of the black community were often ridiculed and made fun of how their hair looked, which led to the use of harsh chemicals to make the hair straight and severe discrimination within the workplace because black men and women were not excepted for their natural hair. In the US Army, certain hairstyles are prohibited ties such as multiple braiding, headbands, and twists. But because it is the Army, no one seems to bat an eye because, in the military, everyone is supposed to look the same.
In today’s society, many people like to express themselves through different hairstyles. Although there is no fault in that, the cause for concern comes from cultural appropriation. Due to the tenacious history of black hair, the way we (African Americans) style our hair holds a deeper meaning. Now, that isn’t to say a non-black person is getting braids, can or shouldn’t get them, but should be more mindful and educated to avoid offending someone. There is nothing wrong with appreciating a culture or hairstyle, but there is a big difference between appreciating it versus appropriating it.
That being said, black hairstyles have been worn to make a statement. Black hair is unique and holds special meaning to the community. Our hair will continue to be used as a form of expression for years to come.