As brown/sun kissed women in America we have been taught from tender ages that there are some aspects of our bodies that are unacceptable in their natural forms. Why hair shaming is a big deal, you might ask. You might even feel compelled to argue that it is not a race issue.
Growing up in the Caribbean island of Anguilla, I didn’t really think about hair. Hair wasn’t really the issue it is in America. I noticed the difference upon moving to America where I also learned that race was the topic of discussion as well. As a girl I was taught how to maintain my own hair, it was something you had to learn as a female.
The history of black hair issues have travelled hundreds of years into the new millennium and started when captives were taken from the continent of Africa and distributed between the Caribbean, North America and Europe to be slaves. They were stripped of their identity which means their standards of beauty as well. They were confronted with a new standard of beauty and prestige; they witnessed the privilege of light brown skin, straight hair and European features. To be a child of a slave master and have European features meant you were treated somewhat better than others who had darker complexions, wider noses and thicker lips and hips.
To fast forward into year 2015 and claim that straight hair and light brown skin is no different from the darker skin tones and curly hair is absurd. If you are insecure about wearing your natural hair in public, or you feel like your natural hair is not enough, not good enough or does not compliment your outfit like synthetic hair does then you are using the beauty standards of others. The chemical relaxer/ perms, synthetic hair has become so normal and a part of the African American culture that we have forgotten how to maintain our natural hair. Very few know how to braid natural hair; something that I considered rites of passage for myself and many others is almost nonexistent in America. Instead hair salons seem as common as corner stores.
Many African-Americans argue that imitating European standards of beauty was necessary in order to be accepted. Hairstyles and skin tones meant a possible job and for some a job promotion. For generations hairstyles and grooming have mimicked the dominant European culture. African-American hair was straightened, combed, or parted to mimic Western coiffures. These behaviors have been passed on for centuries as a survival tactic; today it is so normal that the very few who embrace their natural hair stand out in the crowd.
The natural curly African hair is seldom seen in America; therefore I understand the curiosity when many people ask to touch my hair but before you ask that daunting question please think long and hard about it. Why are you interested in touching my hair, it’s mystical and that is exactly why you cannot touch it, besides the fact that it is actual a part of my body and I am not a freak show nor am I an exhibit. So why did you want to touch it again?
You’ve probably heard by now about the Giuliana Rancic and Zendaya situation, I hope it is better understood why this was a race and culture issue more than a style issue and at the end of the day Giuliana took responsibility for her words.
Written by: Ilka Harrigan