The History Of Hairism And What It Means To Be Natural

Welcome back! Today I want to discuss a topic that is very important and broad, though I will break it down. Though not an actual word, I will talk about hairism, and how it affects people’s day-to-day life, from normal conversations to the work environment. I will also talk what being natural means to me, and how going natural has changed my life. This might be a long one, so get comfortable.

The history of Hairism goes way back; all the way to the slave age. Black people were referred to as the “wool-haired race” by white people, a derogatory term referring to the kinky curly afro texture that the black race had. Black people, in reaction to this, started finding different ways to straighten their hair, so as to escape this derogatory word and be “beautiful”, in other words, more Eurocentric. They would attempt straightening their hair with hot pots and pans directly on their hair, usually causing third degree burns or permanent scalp damage. Owned slaves were sometimes urged by their slave masters to cut their hair very short or have it covered if they would not cut it, as an afro was seen as dirty and unkempt.

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Slaves in the Slave age. As you can see, people in this picture either have a cover for their hair, or very short hair.

There were also no available products for hair of that texture at that time, so slaves were usually left with frying grease to keep their hair moisturised. It was a battle to be Eurocentric, until Madam C.J. Walker, born to two slaves in Delta, La, popularised the straightening comb in America, making it easier for black people to straighten their tight curls without major damage on their hair. From there, it became an actual thing. Straightening your hair then was what having natural hair is today. Straight hair was not just straight hair; it became a symbol all over the world for black people or anybody with that hair texture. Straight hair showed wealth and social status. It was done by anybody that could afford it, and natural hair just wasnt seen as the favourable option by anybody to be frank.

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Madam C.J. Walker.

Straight hair was the standard, and even years after slavery, straight hair became the standard for most corporate jobs like accountants, secretaries e.t.c. Anybody seen with a full head of Afro hair was usually assumed to be a performer, A comedian, or any other job that had to do with entertainment. It was seen as a joke.

Then came the miraculous hair relaxer, even more ground breaking for black people, and discovered by Garret Augustus Morgan in 1909, while he tried to find a solution to ease the friction of his sewing machine. He tried it on a dog, and then came the relaxer to fix all the insecurities of Black people. It could and still can be applied by anybody using kits, or a cosmetologist in a salon. Now, i’m assuming that most of my audience already know what a relaxer is, but for the sake of those that do not, let me explain it to you. A relaxer is a creamy solution that alters, and essentially damages the protein bonds of strong curly hair, leaving weaker, straighter hair. There are different types of relaxers, and I will leave a video below for your convenience explaining this in more depth. I will also leave a link to a video about the damage relaxers are actually doing to your hair and your body, which include breakage, balding e.t.c.

Sadly, despite all this, Black people were, and still are so eager to get the straight hair look that they throw all these things to the wayside. Now, that being said, I am not against the use of relaxers, as everybody owns their hair and can determine what their hair should look like. I have also been a user of relaxers myself. However, it is important that people know what they are getting themselves into, because in African countries especially, this is a mass practice from as little as four years old. Anyway, I digress.

Now that this relaxer formula had been discovered, it was a more sustainable way for black people to alter the texture of their “nappy” hair, and finally be “beautiful” with their straight hair. Natural Afro hair was even more looked down upon as dirty, with the people keeping these textures, judged and scorned, and called poor and ugly. Jobs were still very biased to people who kept their natural kinky hair texture, as it was seen as unprofessional and not a good look for the work environment, forcing even those who didn’t believe in the relaxer to conform.

Fast forward to the jheri coil age in the 80s to 90s where curly hair slowly started to make its comeback, but not in the most suitable way possible. It was invented by Jheri Redding, and gives a looser, glossier curls look. It was achieved with an array of products, the most notable product being a texturiser, basically a watered down relaxer in my opinion. Different people were wearing this look, including Ice cube and the king of pop himself, Micheal Jackson, in his music video “Thriller”, released in 1982.

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Micheal Jackson in music video, “Thriller” wearing Jheri coils.

However, this did not, in any way, shape or form, make tightly packed Afro hair more acceptable. It further perpetrated this idea that looser curls were better looking than tight, kinky coils.

Fast forward to the present, where we are definitely not where we used to be, with individuals, including me, rocking an afro without a care in the world, but not where we want to be, with jobs still denying individuals a job based on their hair texture, and men and women with these hair textures even seeking partners with looser curls, to allow their children have looser hair textures for an “easier life”, passing on this insecurity if their child comes out with a ‘nappy’ hair texture. I know people who have had to relaxer their hair or wear a weave to secure higher paying jobs. Why? because apparently, an afro is still seen as a joke, with people wearing Afros for Halloween or clown costumes, as if afros are somehow funny or scary to the general public. Now, the people who do this usually have no bad intent, and just copy what is around them, so I have no bad feelings towards these people at all, and neither will I pay any mind to it if I see it. But really, why and how did this ever become a thing? I do not find clowns amusing, and neither do I find afro halloween costumes scary or purposeful.

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I will not yank off your afro wig at a halloween or birthday party, but I just find it strange, weird, and a little annoying, because things like this make it hard for people with afro textures to be taken seriously in the corporate world. Just wanted to share that. Its not a big problem, however.

Anyway, lets talk about natural hair for me. I had always been a relaxed girl for as long as I could remember, looking forward to relaxing days and blow outs. Infact, I had only discovered my natural hair texture about two years ago, november 2016, when I decided to go natural. I didnt even have the immediate intent of going natural; I just felt like cutting off all my hair because I was bored and my hair just kept on shedding. I got tired to be honest. Anyway, going natural has to be one of the best things I did for myself, because it allowed me to fully be able to understand my hair. If you want to know my full natural hair journey, how I take care of my hair, what you should know before going natural to see if it is right for you and how to go natural, leave a comment down below and let me know. I will do a seperate blog post for that, because it is not relevant to the topic and I have rambled enough. So, how has going natural changed my life? well, apart from the endless amount of products and time I put into it, there are a number of things.

For starters, why do most people assume that they can now dig their hands in my hair? Thank you for telling me my hair is nice. I appreciate it. Please do not touch my hair, or anybodies hair, disregarding hair textures. Its annoying and rude. Secondly, no, I am not trying to make a political statement. I just want healthy hair. Hair can most definetely be a political statement, but you cannot just assume that because I am natural, I am trying to shake some political tables. It is uncalled for. Also, I feel a sense of warmth, because I am part of a beautiful natural hair community where I can learn more about my hair and what works for it. However, the natural hair community can be very malicious, judging people who are not natural or do not have a coconut tree in their backyard and bodacious curls in their first few months of going natural. It makes it very hard for people discovering their hair to stick to it, and it almost made me go back to being relaxed, so if you are one of those people, please stop. We get it. You spend a fortune on your hair and you take five years to do your hair when youre going out. Not everybody has the time and the money to be natural. Please stop. Being natural is ideal for sure, but everybody has a choice on what they want to do with their hair. I have also learnt that natural hairstyles are not as limited as I thought. There are an array of hairstyles that look good, depending on the person.

What does being natural mean to me, you ask? The world. It means the world to me, and I never looked back. It makes me feel like I am truly comfortable in my own hair, which I am. I also find it more beautiful than straight hair. It is mine, and I dont have to burn it, fry it or mix it with chemicals. It is me, and I love it. If you have an Afro, you should too. Do not let anybody or group of people tell you otherwise. You hair defies gravity and gives you a built in crown! Isnt that just so cool? It grows out and up. What other hair texture does that? Look at you!

Thank you for reading! This was a long one but I hope you enjoyed it! Leave a like if you enjoyed it and comment down below or contact me if you have any burning questions!

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Viduu says:

    Loved the piece dude! Keep writing more pieces like this! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Shireen says:

    Amazing blog!! Loved it👏🏽

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! And thanks for reading! ❤️

      Like

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