Black hair is an integral part of black history, from African tribal styles to dreadlocks and Afro. As the Liverpool exhibition explores the importance of hair in black culture, 54history will discuss some of the key styles.
In early African civilizations, a hairstyle could indicate a person’s family background, tribe, and social status.
“You can learn almost everything about a person’s identity by looking at their hair,” says journalist Lori Tharps, who wrote the book Hair Story on the history of dark hair.
When the men of the Wolof tribe (in modern Senegal and Gambia) went to war, they wore a braided hairstyle, he explains. At the same time, a grieving woman would not “comb” her hair or adopt a moderate style.
“Further, many believed that the hair, since it is located near the sky, is a conduit for spiritual interaction with God.”
Slavery and Emancipation Era
An estimated 11,640,000 Africans left the continent between the 6th and 20th centuries as a result of the transatlantic slave trade.
These slaves took away many African customs, including their specially designed combs.
“Your key is the [greatest] width between the teeth because African-type hair is very fragile,” says Dr. Sally-Ann Ashton, curator of the Afro Comb exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum 2013 in Cambridge.
“Of all the different [hair] types, it’s probably the smallest, so if you pull a comb with fine teeth through your hair, you’ll do a lot of damage.”
In the 19th century, slavery was abolished in much of the world, including the United States in 1865. However, many blacks felt compelled to fit into the ruling white society and to adapt to their hair.
“Blacks felt compelled to straighten their hair and texture to better integrate and move better in society and to be almost camouflaged,” explains the producer of the show Aaryn Lynch.
“I called the after Emancipation Era the ‘Great Oppression’ because then black people had to go through really intense hair straightening methods.”
“Both men and women would put their hair in a hot chemical mixture that would almost burn their scalp, so they could style it and make it look more European and silky.”
The industry grew to the extent that black entrepreneur, Madame CJ Walker, selling hair growth products, shampoos and ointments targeted the African American market, Guinness World Records recorded it as the first independent millionaire in the United States.
Civil Right Era
The afro hairstyle, which first appeared in the 1960s during the civil rights movement, was “a symbol of rebellion, pride, and empowerment,” says Lynch.
As blacks protested against racial segregation and oppression, an amazing style began: the assertion of black identity as opposed to earlier trends inspired by conventional white fashions. And with it, the African (or afro) comb reappeared.
“Of course, it has never been lost in Africa,” says Dr. Ashton.” ”But that was with the advent of black power and politics.
“Afro hairstyles have become very popular, and for that, you need a long choice … it’s high maintenance.”
In response to the racial politics of the day, the fist comb, with a black saluting handle, was designed in the 1970s.
“A lot of people born in the ’80s and’ 90s think [the greeting] was related to Nelson Mandela, which is not. He used this greeting when he was released from prison,” says Dr. Ashton.
In the 1930s, Rastafarian theology developed in Jamaica from the ideas of Marcus Garvey, a political activist who wanted to improve the status of his black fellow citizens.
It is forbidden for believers to cut their hair instead twist it into dreadlocks. We don’t know where this style comes from, although they are mentioned in the Old Testament and are sometimes represented by the Hindu deity Shiva.
The profile of religion increased dramatically in the second half of the twentieth century, as the “root” movement developed, dating back to the origins of Afro-Caribbean culture.
Its profile grew after musician Bob Marley’s success in the 1970s, and dreadlocks became a common sight in British cities.
Along with Afro, dreadlocks remain the most common black hair among other ethnic groups.
“However, the problem remains that while we may style our hair to reflect our personal choices, our hair is still interpreted with a dominant white look, and this interpretation is often inaccurate and racist,” says author Ms. Tharps.
“Too many people still think that Afro involves some form of activism or that the use of dreadlock signifies a propensity to smoke marijuana.”
Black hair care is now a major industrial activity, estimated at around £ 530million ($ 774million) last year.
However, it is often debated whether certain trends still symbolize a desire to fit into the mainstream Western view, Lynch says.
“Do we still feel connected to a proper white culture, or is this an option now, whatever’s convenient, whatever in vogue?”
Hair extensions known as weaving are popular among women, but a natural hair rebirth has also been reported, generally interpreted as styles that have not been altered by chemicals.
“This is a vast movement happening, and it’s a lot bigger in the United States than here,” says Dr. Ashton.
“So if you go to the United States, you see a lot of African Americans with natural hair; in this country, you start to see more, but Britain still doesn’t have the same number as the United States.”
Many are browsing online to learn more about natural hair care, knowledge of which declined among black communities in the West after slavery.
However, changes in working methods over the past 60 years, especially for women, mean there will be less time to maintain, says Dr. Ashton.
“I think one thing a lot of non-black people don’t realize is how much African hair is needed for maintenance. If someone says I’m washing my hair tonight, it can be like a three hours job: it’s an excuse not to go out. “