Picture by Jessica Felicio on Unsplash

Returning to Your Roots

Blossoming out like a beautiful wild sunflower,

My afro is a symbol of Black pride and power.

– Philisha Reid-Kanon

I’ve worn my hair naturally for all my life – I absolutely love it! My hair plays a massive part in my identity as a young Black woman. Appreciation for my natural roots stemmed from my childhood; my mum would send me to school with hairstyles varying from effortless to elegant. Compliments and comments about my hair ranged from “Wow, your hair looks really nice” to “I never knew Black people’s hair could look this good!” The fascination that surrounded my hair from Black and White children made me remember a conversation that has and will continue to ravage the Black community. When I reached secondary school, I was burdened with “You always wear your natural hair, why don’t you straighten it?” I remember recoiling at such a question. Why should I feel bad for embracing what God has given me? I was not bothered with straightening my hair, since I had no desire to. I felt unique to flaunt the crown I carried on my head, and I wished fellow Black girls loved their hair as I did. I was aware, though, that they might not have reached the same level of self-love and acceptance as I did. Ultimately it was not their fault. Why would you want to wear your natural hair if society always celebrates long, straight hair? Why would you even consider it when few Black women that do appear on screen conform to this very sentiment?

There have been many waves of the natural hair care movement – The Black Panthers during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in the USA came from a political standpoint. Marcus Garvey’s statement encouraged flaunting one’s natural hair and it reverberated through the minds of the young activists, “Do not remove the kinks from your hair – remove them from your brain”. Angela Davis and Kathleen Cleaver wore their afros with pride, signifying cultural independence. This later inspired contemporaneous celebrities to follow suit and the movement adopted a wider influence that is present today. The championing of natural hair at red carpet events by Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis highlight the versatility of afro hair. However, the internet transformed a new wave of the movement into a personal agenda – having a direct impact on the accessibility of information about Black hair. The notion that stands out the most is the visibility of other Black women sharing their stories.

“Do not remove the kinks from your hair remove them from your brain.”

– Marcus Garvey, 1940

It is delightful to see that more Black women are no longer going to extreme lengths to conform to Eurocentric beauty ideals. The vast amount of Instagram and Twitter accounts alongside YouTubers are encouraging Black women to embrace the Blackness that for years we’ve been trying to escape. The strong visibility of Black vloggers has allowed people to understand their hair texture and porosity as well as the products needed to care and maintain it. Above all, it showcases that there is nothing wrong with this hair. The internet has created a space for the Black community to find solutions to their problems; everyone’s hair is different and therefore needs different attention.

Naptural85 (aka Whitney White) is a vlogger who has amassed 1.19M subscribers on Youtube over the last 11 years. Whitney denotes that “It’s refreshing to just be able to live as I am naturally, and it be normal and accepted”. She, like many other vloggers, made it possible for women to reach this level of self-acceptance in their own lives, by changing negative views about natural hair into more positive ones. This is only made possible by creating a safe environment based on a parasocial relationship between the viewer and vlogger. White substantiates this sentiment by recalling in 2009 when she first started vlogging, “We weren’t given support in our traditional hair care establishments which is why we started sharing information online”. As the nation was forced into lockdown, the natural hair movement was forced onto Instagram with #QuarantineCurls. Even Gabrielle Union and Cardi B joined in on the wave. Women were inspired to wear their natural curls. 

The natural hair movement allowed women to reject harmful practices by replacing toxic products for ones that contain natural and organic ingredients. According to a 2018 Mintel Report, 70% of Black women are more likely to read the ingredients within haircare products in order to avoid harmful chemicals. This is not surprising as most hair products made for Black women are very toxic, especially relaxers which are responsible for causing fibroids (tumour), inflammation and reproductive damage. The internet has encouraged the natural hair movement to spread like wildfire across the globe at an exponential rate, forcing the mainstream to acknowledge its existence and how to cater to the people following it. Dark and Lovely have traditionally made relaxers and hair dye but have now released a line of products that cater to natural African hair. Brands revising their marketing strategy are indeed stepping in the right direction, but this simply is not enough! Large companies that fail to or are slow in catering to the needs of Black women – despite Afro-Caribbean women spending six times more on hair products than other ethnicities(!) – are left in the dust as they allow the birth of Black-owned brands to take centre stage.

Black entrepreneurs are creating a distinctive grassroots movement, taking matters into their own hands and filling the gaps in the haircare market. This is imperative in creating Black faces in White-dominated spaces to shake up the haircare industry. Jocelyn Mate and Rachael Corson founded Afrocenchix, an award-winning British brand that creates products with natural ingredients for afro hair. They are stocked in Holland & Barrett and Whole Foods Market in London. The substantial publicity and popularity surrounding Afrocenchix has been absolutely phenomenal. A Black-owned company whose values align with their community’s needs and products that are sustainable and safe to use? This is the answer to all our prayers! Creation of Black-owned hair products have provided a wider range for Black folks than ever before, yet, even so, there is still an issue of accessibility in mainstream stores. 

Photo by Leighann Blackwood on Unsplash

African hair practices which were lost during the transatlantic slave trade, have been revived by the natural hair movement evidently through the popularity of Fulani braids and Bantu knots. There is now a lot more freedom than a few years ago in wearing braids and faux locs and, moreover, the acceptance of wearing wigs are power symbols of the movement. Earlier, the definition of natural hair was stricter: it entailed no relaxer and no colour but now it expansively suits personal preferences. Black hair is becoming more celebrated within the Black community – but it’s a real shame the same isn’t happening within society. Stereotypes of natural hair being unprofessional in the workplace and a disruption to education has been exacerbated by exclusion and discrimination. Schools react negatively towards natural hairstyles worn by people of African descent by punishing them for not conforming to “standards”.

In 2018, Chikayzea Flanders was told by Fulham Boys School to cut off his dreadlocked hair or face suspension. His mother argued in a campaign that his dreadlocks signified his Rastafarian beliefs. This subsequently forced the school to back down as the campaign was supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Halo Code 2020 legally protects Black people from discrimination for wearing their natural hair or protective styles within schools and the workplace in the UK. It is imperative to acknowledge that the Halo Code addresses the blindspot of the Equality Act 2010, that is, of hair being a ‘protected characteristic’. It is great to have these laws protect us, but I’m shocked that the need for such laws even exists!

Social media has become a fundamental tool in progressing the natural hair movement and boosting the self-esteem, acceptance and love of Black women. It has had a massive impact in destroying Eurocentric standards of beauty and rewriting one’s own roots. Continued celebration of natural afro hair will inspire the next generation to take the movement to new heights within the Black community and wider society. Everyone has the choice to be natural or not; simply express yourself in a way that makes you comfortable. Your kinks, coils and curls will always be a part of you worth embracing and that in itself speaks volumes.

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