By Alero Adisa
I love having deep meaningful discussions with mates about blackity-black things. One thing of importance being black hair. Black hair is oh so extremely controversial. And the policing of our hair has been an issue for decades now, due to colonialism and assimilation into white society and a world with a beauty standard based upon whiteness.
Black women’s hair seems to be a form of defiance, to have it out in its natural state of glory. On the day to day, seeing women with no manipulation is very difficult to find. I don’t see lots of black women walking around in pure natural afros. No edge control. Is there conditioning of some sort that manipulation (hair gel, braids) makes it look nicer or more kept? This is an extremely nuanced and complex conversation. Here’s why:
First of all, most afro hair, Type 3/4 requires much more care and maintenance especially in relation to length, thickness and coarseness. The more of this, the higher maintenance. Which is why protective styles are necessary whether it be braids, twist, cornrows, or wigs to protect from hair breakage as it is often the more tanglier hair type.
Secondly, we have to consider the policing of black hair – and no honey, I don’t mean physical jail – but rather a mental jail where there are systematic institutions in place that hinder and exclude the “Afro Type” hair from flourishing naturally. For example,, in the US 9/50 states have passed “Crown Act”. New York passed this in 2020 where Afro-Hair discrimination is now a crime. Deep it, 9 states.
I am from the UK, and the Black American experience is different. But it still holds to a similar standard, wearing natural hair in the workplace and schools can be an interesting experience for many black girls and women (and men and boys too).
My mate (shoutout Amelia) touched on this in her Vice Podcast: Vent, on natural hair in the world of swimming. Girls generally have to straighten their hair for image purposes or potentially face exclusion or unkind words not only from the media and trolls but even from black people too. There is a sense of second-hand embarrassment where some black people, when seeing black people being represented as the token on television/media, will roast them online if they’re not patterned to a certain standard. With Twitter being an exact example of this.
Gabby Douglas, a US gymnast during the 2016 Rio Olympics had straightened her hair with some natural undergrowth and dare I say it, “no manipulation” on her edges. People came for the poor girl, and you wonder why black hair is a touchy subject for so many black women.
Aside from natural hair, the touchiest topic of the lot: wigs. Everybody and their mothers have something to say about black girls wearing wigs, but never where the problems come from. Girls would have wigs and young boys back in the day will find a way to make fun of -or “off” – a girls wig as a challenge or game, even in university (y’all know who you are). Even to the type of wig, you’re wearing if it doesn’t look “right”, like “real hair”, referring to the more realistic type 1&2 hair. Then it’s a big big problem. If you watched the 2020 winter love island you know exactly who I’m talking about: Leanne. The wig shaming was relentless and a sight for sore eyes. If it wasn’t the height of the wig, it was the colour of the parting or its bulkiness. UK Black twitter did not rest. Like I said before, it’s no wonder why it’s such a touchy topic.
In that same vein, the wig business has taken off and has become a multi-billion pound industry market, many black girls have wigs these days and many young girls look forward to losing their wig-ginity. But one thing I wonder is: do we then believe wigs are nicer than type 3 and especially 4 hair?
The question will bring an army of defence as to why wigs are worn and the majority of these arguments are completely justified. Inadvertently, I am now ‘policing black hair’ by questioning the status quo. If wigs were to leave the earth, would the sentiment still remain in love and care for natural hair, or will there be outrage?
“One can say, well, there are natural hair wigs?” is a common argument, but not many people wear them due to maintenance. The discussion I had with my mate is that many of us, me included, are so accustomed to wigs. Explanations of herexperiences as a naturalista with no wig in her arsenal were eye-opening to say in the least. Rocking her un-manipulated natural hair, got her strange looks:from black girls. Having natural hair and no wig collection is seen as almost absurd.
This new era has been a wave for black women: Black Girl Magic, Melanin Queens and the likes, just embracing black women who have shown up and out, their talent, beauty and versatility. Where before, there wasn’t major appreciation worldwide …but has the deconditioning truly ended where other races of hair are deemed better and worthy of respect? Do we truly believe it ourselves?
Alero Adisa is a Business Management student at the University of Surrey.