Monday, February 11, 2013

There's Nothing Wrong With Nappy Hair

A few years ago Don Imus, an American radio talk show host, caused some anger by remarks he directed at the Rutgers women's basketball team. He called them a bunch of 'nappy headed hos'!

Of course calling a group of talented ladies 'hos' (whores) isn't very nice but there also seems to be a suggestion that having nappy hair (a derogatory term for black hair in its natural state) isn't ideal and that's what we want to look at in this article.

Natural Black Hair

Natural black hair comes in a variety of textures - from soft and wavy, as can be found on the Fulani and Somali people, to the peppercorn textured hair of the Kalahari Bushmen.

Most Black people have hair texture somewhere in between, some of the characteristics of this hair type are:

  • it locks and tangles very easily which is why braids and cornrow styles work so well on black hair: they don't unravel
  • it doesn't grow as long and fast as other hair types which is good as it means new hairdos can be carried around for reasonable lengths of time
  • shrinks on contact with humidity/water

These characteristics aren't bad but they mean that natural black hair, if grown to a long length, requires more time and effort than other types of hair. This was never a problem in traditional African societies where everyone was happy about the way they looked, where they had the time to give their hair the attention it needed and where there were many solutions for keeping hair looking good and healthy.

Blacks in a White Society

But things were so much different when Africans were taken over to the Americas as slaves.

Being slaves, one thing they didn't have was too much time to themselves, certainly no time to maintain intricate braids and fashionable hair cuts. For many, the skills and knowledge needed to keep hair at its best would have been lost.

But worse than all this was the attitudes of the slave owners. Anything deemed too African was banned - music, language, religion and of course traditional black hair styles.

Europeans were assumed to be superior, the more like them a person looked (fair skin, straight hair) the more likely they were to be assigned the easier jobs in the master's house - a House Negro. The dark skinned, kinky haired Field Negro was bottom of the pile.

It is from this that the hatred of natural black hair has derived. So much effort went into devising ways to make Black hair look more European. Easy enough for those with 'good' wavy hair but for many Black women, trying to grow their hair long in the days before chemical relaxing and electrical straighteners, it would have been a troublesome nightmare.

Black Emancipation and the Civil Rights movement brought a growing pride in being Black and in the natural state of Black hair but it's still early days, the negativity towards natural Black hair still lurks in the background. Most high profile Black women in the States still prefer to relax their hair and you still get people bringing out those old insults.

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