Why Black Hair is Curly, Kinky, and/or Nappy


by James Collier of Acting White

The single biggest driver in human evolution was the challenge of matching the demands and capacities of our out-sized brain against the relative limitations of a weak physique. When researching the ‘whims of mother nature’, nothing is arbitrary. Sure, there are variances and distributions, but you can be sure that somewhere in the mix resides an objective mean – defining form and substance with a purpose.

Hair, like skin, is part of our genetically malleable, adaptable, outer layer, protecting us from the elements, the heat, cold, wetness, dryness, and utilizing the visible and not-so-visible light (energy) spectrum. Early primates and proto-humans had straight hair, which was an asset in low exertion foraging environs of ranging temperature, but not conducive to extending our physical endurance in the competition for food and survival, especially in mid-day Africa. Tightly coiled, moisture resistant head-hair created an enhanced barrier to ultra-violet (UV) radiation by turning many times on itself. This configuration also allows the release of perspiration droplets into a more optimal evaporative state whereby the droplets capture the heat of air moving around the coils before the perspiration rolls off and evaporates said heat away from the body. Presto! Cool scalp, cool brain, and greater endurance.

Conversely, straight hair was a liability, as it is more moisture absorbent, becoming heavy and causing it to stick to adjacent hair shafts and the scalp, effectively blocking the airflow required for heat exchange and dissipation. The straight hair of those precursors to modern humans would have made them less able to exert themselves for survival and advancement.

So with all due respect to Chris Rock, there is no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ hair. Curly, kinky, or nappy hair adaptation meant survival and prosperity as a species, in the birthplace of humanity. Moreover, just as coiled hair and pigmented skin conveyed advantage in Africa, straight hair, and light skin adaptation did the same moving north, in logical ways and for discernible reasons (more on this later). And for the record, Don Imus is a true moron.

39 Weigh in!:
LaMaraVilla said...

:blink, blink: . . . . That Don Imus remark was really random. What did it have to do with the article? Who cares if he called them nappy-headed? They are! The disturbing part was that he called them hos.

Cynthia Buchanan said...

Ok, so I'm not the only one that picked up on the Imus thing. *sigh*

What I dislike about our current culture is the fact that we often take individual occurrences & make them the body/substance of a thing/person. While I wouldn't venture to say Imus is a genius, I would characterize him as a smart person that does/says dumb things... much like... you? I? the author? We don't like being judge for our hair, skin tone, appearance, financial standing- so why do it to others when we don’t like what they say/do?

Being a ho would get you slapped; being nappy gets you looked at.

Advice: LISTEN to at least a week of Imus THEN formulate an opinion. At least it would be both yours and informed.

dayday said...

i think people should do reseacrh on the true meaning of the word nappy before they go about describing peoples hair as such.

the first 3 paragraphs made a lot of sense.

Kamilah said...

Don Imus used the word "nappy" in a mean way, he had no intention of being endearing and I, along with several of my friends were highly offended by hiss comment. I don't care what anyone says, hearing the words "nappy" and and "ho" together triggers a small something in every black woman, because it's meant to be offensive. He may be an intelligent man, but for that comment he is straight up IGNORANT, in my opinion.

Although I do not agree with the theory of evolution, this article does offer an interesting evolutionary explanation for the nature of our hair, however after seeing Good Hair, i don't think Chris Rock was attempting to define good or bad hair, he was trying to dissipate this idea for the sake of his young impressionable daughters so that they could grow up loving themselves and their hair.

Blutopaz said...

@ Cynthia---

Should I have been listening to Imus the week he called Gwen Ifill a maid? Or any of the other disgusting comments he has made throughout the years? And even if he did not have a history of making offensive comments, I personally don't need to be "informed" about him to know that a media personality who is stupid enough to do what he did is an idiot. It's not merely a matter of "we don't like what they say/do"--- When someone chooses to make offensive, ugly statements, better believe they should have the backbone to either stand by what they say, or apologize. Even his wife was angry at him; and he most likely would not have apologized if it wasn't for the pressure from sponsors. What kind of world would it be if people didn't get outraged by this lack of decency, all because some people think someone like Imus is "smart who says dumb things". Please.

But I will say, I don't really like the inclusion of the Rutgers team photo with this story-- I haven't clicked on Mr. Collier's site to see if it ran with his posting as well. I hate seeing the hurt looks on these young girls' faces, all because some old man's stupidity thrust them into the spotilight.

But aside from all that, this was a good article. I never knew the scientific reasons for tightly coiled hair as survival.

Anonymous said...

Wow...I don't know what the first 2 commenters are talking about. Maybe my comprehension skills are different. Thank you James Collier for defending us when it comes to Don Imus. Especially since woman have been complaining about men not coming to our rescue when the media hangs us. The entire comment was meant to be derogatory. Derogatory comments usually imply "less than."

Now to the article. Great article! It reminded me of the Discovery channel "Life" special that is narrated by Oprah. Nature adapts to its environment.

Indigo

Anonymous said...

Nappy-headed hoe is offense. period. I cant believe the first comment that was put here. Thats insane. That whole entire phrase is offense. Don Imus is an idiot.

Anonymous said...

This person seemed to have missed the whole point as to why Chris Rock named his movie "Good hair". Though this article is interesting, it contains a lot of points that need to be elaborated to be stronger.

MommieDearest said...

@Anon 6:34 and 6:37- Thank you! After the likes of D.L. Hughley co-signing with Imus, it's refreshing to see a black man go to bat for us in the media.

I was already aware of the reasons why sub-Sarharan African hair is tightly coiled and why European hair is straight, but it's always nice to hear it articulated elsewhere. I'm looking forward to reading more from Mr. Collier on this subject.

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate Chris Rock for using a phrase like "Good Hair". The term was in play long before he produced the movie. If the goal of the term was to make people stand up, get angry, question why, etc, then it did it's job.

I have read that tightly curled hair was a fairly new evolutionary development in man. It is effective at protecting the scalp and allowing air to move within the hair. I have also read that most super curly hair doesn't have a medulla - which would make sense if it did develop in response to extreme heat or sun exposure. The medulla can theoretically provide more insulation - ideal for cold climates.

So like all things - good for some, good for others. The term good hair or nappy hair is probably not in context in the wonderful description you provided. I really like what you wrote but felt the way you referenced Chris Rock and especially Imus (?, who cares) took away from the power of your wonderful writing. For me anyway. Regardless, thanks so much for the post!

Anonymous said...

@Dayday: Thank you for bringing that up.

Why do Black people insist on calling their OWN hair nappy yet get upset when a person outside of the race calls their hair nappy? In Biology class, did we not learn the hair types? I don't recall NAPPY being one of them. It's tightly coiled or curly. SMDH...Thank you for posting this article. Now for people to actually read it and UNDERSTAND it is a different story.

Melody said...

We don't have nappy or kinky hair, we have KINGLY hair! That 9 Ether hair. Is it a crown that grows UP towards the sun, and not flank and lifeless growing towards the ground. EMBRACE KINGLY HAIR!

Hotep.

Anonymous said...

Why does Imus take all the blame? Especially since he was obviously imitating what he saw/heard from School Daze. If people see us treating each other a certain way, why is it an outrage if someone else (who doesn't look like us) treats us that very same way?

How about we stop winking at how we treat each other?

Liz C. said...

Great article till the Chris Rock & Don Imus comments. The title of the Chis Rock movie was ironic, so if the author had seen the movie he would have known that, also what does Don Imus have to do with anything?!

Daphne said...

I don't think Chris Rock coined the term "Good Hair". Black people have used the term "Good Hair" for as long as I can remember to describe hair that is not kinky/coily/hard to comb.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:20

It really concerns me when people think there are acceptable reasons to treat someone badly. If I treat myself like crap, that does not give you permission to do the same. If you go to a neighborhood that is decorated with litter, does that make it okay to litter especially if you would never litter in your own neighborhood?

There is a story about how rescue workers in Africa were suppose to protect the children from rape. Eventually, the workers began raping the children they swore to protect. So, I am assuming that this behavior would be okay with you because their own people were raping the babies so why not.

I think there is really something wrong with people who adapt the mob mantality (a bunch of hands with 1 or no brain) or the jump-on-the-bandwagon position. Your morals should not change depending on the situation.

Chocolate Mom aka Blupoetres said...

My whole issue with the Chris Rock movie was that so much time was spent on perms, weaves, wigs, and extensions, with really only one sister holding the natural card. If the idea was to open people's eyes then why not do it across the board. Where were the afro puffs, the twists, the locs, and the sweet natural roots??

That was my problem. My daughter's looking at it seeing Raven Simone rave about her weave, that's supposed to inspire someone's child? Confused much?

LBell said...

I'm surprised that people are fixating on the last paragraph. I'm also surprised that only one person so far has mentioned being against evolution theory. Some of the most virulently anti-evolution folks I've ever met are black...anyway, ignoring the cultural references in the last paragraph, the post makes a lot of sense. If you actually go to the guy's blog, it looks like he's continuing an ongoing conversation...turns out his prior entries are on skin color, specifically why black people are black and white people are white. It's an interesting blog in general...*adding to my bookmarks*

Anonymous said...

The hair theory about black Africans needing tight hair coily hair because of heat is plausible, but how would one explain that others, such as Native Americans near the equator, have the same dark skin, but not the distinctly coily hair.

James C. Collier said...

Hello Sisters, I appreciate all of the feedback. I originally wrote this post for my blog and would have otherwise left off the comment about Imus for you all, as a true guest blogger. However, as a man I would have like to whip his a_s, but I understand you don't come here to hear that. Anyway, it's one thing for folks to have pride in themselves, but another to know that there is serious 'good' about what some folks thinks of as bad - re: hair, skin, lips, thighs, and so on. As always, I will endeavor to say it better next time, but I hope at least some of you are feeling where I'm tryin' to come from. Thanks for the space Nikki.

To Anon 10:35, skin and hair are both genetically adaptive, but not at the same rate or degree, with skin far in the lead and more critical. Also, indigenous people have lived near equatorial America for a much shorter period of time than our people in equatorial Africa. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:35

Native Americans migrated and that is why their apperance reflects that. Their eyes are like Asians and skin tone represents a people from warmer climates. They have characteristics from several different cultures...

Ann said...

To the comment at 10:35, the environment in parts of Africa near the equator and the Americas near the equator are not identical. Furthermore, Africans have been around longer and have had more time to adapt to their environment. Native Americans traveled across northern Asia and into the Americas "recently". Also, they have a different genetic history, meaning they don't share identical ancestors. I find this fascinating! ^__^ There are many reasons why some people look one way and others another way. And sometimes, there's no good reason! Sometimes a group of people with a trait die without passing on those traits.

And to Melody at 8:09, I don't think it's fair to insult others for how they are born. If the situation were reversed and you were white, insulting coily hair, we'd all have a fit. You can love your hair without hating the hair of others. All hair, skin tones, body types, eye colors etc. are beautiful. God doesn't have a favorite race. We shouldn't have to tear others down to lift ourselves up. That is what the evil people of the past have done. Aren't we, as modern, global people, better than they are? :)

Anonymous said...

thanks to Anon and James for explaining how other ethnic groups/races who live close to the equator may have straight hair but dark skin. I have often wondered that.

I was also reading somewhere that albinos or those with mild cases of albinism in Africa may have migrated north to more moderate climates where temperatures where cooler and there was less sunlight. I also read an article on TIME that talked about how the neanderthal genome was present in samples from populations throughout Europe and Asia but not in populations in West Africa. It made me wonder if albinos and neanderthals may have procreated to create caucasians and Asians as both groups are said to have a common ancestor that West Africans did not have. There is a black Brazilian family who have one or two black children and two albino children. The black children have kinky hair and dark skin, the albino children look Scandinavian with pale skin, straight or ringlets (looser than Shirley Temple), pale blond hair and blue eyes. I've seen Scandinavian people with "frizzy" hair or with features that closely resembled an albino's. The Brazilian albino children looked like Scandinavian people who have pale skin, blonde ringlets and blue eyes. Also there is the recent case of a Nigerian family having a white baby who doctors say is not an albino. Genomes samples from West Africa are more varied than genome samples from any other region, there is no telling how many phenotypical combinations came from black Africans. Also of note is the likelihood that neanderthals not only procreated with homo-sapiens but were also wiped out by them over time suggesting interaction between the two groups. If neanderthals had straight hair then their interaction with homo-sapiens could help explain the prevalence of straight hair in populations outside of Africa. Since albinism is hereditary the features can be passed down, can skip generations, etc. Breeding with neanderthals would've helped albinos to become sturdier, more adaptable to different climates and able to withstand greater amounts of sunlight. It would've also helped eliminate strabismus (crossed eyes) which is common in albinos because of their weakened eye muscles.

East Asians are also descended from Africans and the Japanese language retains many similarities to Nigerian languages although the similarities are masked with kanji, hiragana and katakana. The Japanese language is certainly an African (likely Nigerian) derived language suggesting that Africans, as they migrated east, may have procreated with different peoples along the way (neanderthals, possibly albinos, neanderthal/albinos) while maintaining many aspects of their spoken language.

Okay, that's alot but yea, its a combination of much research, thought and speculation since I'm not a geneticist or scientist of any sort. Please excuse spelling errors, I am trying to eat and type.

Melody said...

To Ann at 11:11
I actually wasn't insulting any other race but it's interesting that you interpreted it that way. I understand where you are coming from. Trust me that comment was coming from a good place with no intention of insult. It is true that we associate life with things that grow UP towards the sun and not down towards the ground. I wasn't trying to say that white people's hair is terrible but it was just a comparison to that race. (subsequently the very reason why ideal beauty is extremely skewed in, but not limited to, the black community.) We should wear our hair as a Kingly coiled crown. ...google "9 Ether" and you will see what I'm talking about! Not trying to bring anyone down, just stating facts!

Sharmer said...

Ummm, the first teo commenters are seriously tripping. How can you defend anything that man said. As for this article, I'm a Christian, God fearing woman so I do not believe in the evolution theory. I do however understand the point he was trying to make.

Anonymous said...

It frustrates me to hear/read when some African Americans use the word nappy as if is just acceptable nomenclature for our MANY VARIANT hair types. There is nothing endearing, nice or loving about the word. I fail to see how embracing certain words will redefine them and make what was once negative, positive. IMO, the article should have been titled "Why Hair is Coiled" because "Blacks'" are certainly not the only ethnic group with coils. The texture of the coils I would argue is due to climatic/environmental differences. Fur on an animal remains fur whether they are in Africa or the Anartic but what changes/adapts/evoles is the color and texture of that fur to suit the surroundings. Think about animals in the Anartic vs. those of Savannahs and jungles. A bunny in any of the 3 environments is still a bunny but what has changed is its fur.

LolasCurls said...

The only mistakes I see in the article are that hair was originally straight....sorry, but the large genetic variety in Africa has already pointed to the fact that the human race originated there.
Furthermore, there are more genes for darker skin and lighter skin is the evolution from our darker skin types as man moved to cooler climates. So the evolution stated in the article is backwards: scientifically speaking!

Otherwise, yes, our hair is perfect for the hotter environments from which we came. And it is perfect for hunting and stalking prey over long distances.

LaMaraVilla said...

:rollseyes: I am not defending Don Imus. I have no opinion about the man one way or the other. That last comment just didn't fit with the rest of the article and came completely out of left field. I don't understand what Don Imus being a moron has to do with the evolution of Black hair.

Anonymous said...

I actually thought the reference to Chris Rock and Don Imus were both random. Like points thrown into an essay because you didn't quite make the required 200 words. LOL! Don Imus was trying to be funny, but not many laughed. Chris Rock's movie was obviously never viewed by the writer otherwise I don't think he would have offered his "due respect" for the reasons provided. Good/bad hair concepts exist for reasons not addressed here. And that's cool.

As for what he offered... Yeah. Maybe. I like hearing people explain evolution. Who knows if they are on the money or not... Maybe it'll evolve again for those of us who are far removed from Africa. But probably not. Either way, I love my hair as much as I love the rest of me. No explanations needed! ~ Poetic

Anonymous said...

GGreat article!

Anonymous said...

oh and Imus is a moron! Thanks James for your explanation!

Anonymous said...

Just for clarification (yes, this is me clarifying someone else's words when I know nothing about them. bold, i know)...

anyway, for clarification, most often when Christians say they don't believe in evolutionary theory, they are referring to the old earth/big-bang theory that many atheistic/agnostic scientists and naturalists ascribe to. Let's just be clear that evolutionary theory is a THEORY and not fact/not provable AT ALL.

most of what JC is speaking about in the guest post is NATURAL SELECTION, which is DIFFERENT from evolutionary theory but on which evolutionary theory gets some of its hypotheses. NATURAL SELECTION is a valid theory, as we can see it happening before our eyes/can be tested empirically and doesn't have all of the problems that evolutionary theory has.

Most Christians - if they look closely - will see that they agree with the theory of NATURAL SELECTION.

sorry, i know this comment is sort of off-topic, but it had to be said.
Thanks James, for your discussion on African hair types/skin phenotypes and how we were naturally selected for our environment. God in His heaven still knows what He's doing! Even when we get it twisted.

~ Ivy

sarah said...

wow! this is, hands down, one of the most fascinating debates i've seen on this blog. the comments are blowing me away!

also, don't hate on Chris Rock, y'all. he was approaching the docu from a man's perspective, and we all know the MOST men know about our hair is that we either perm it or put a weave in it.

Anonymous said...

sooo...Chris Rock's 'Good Hair' was not about us having bad hair because of the coils, naps, etc. that comment kind of ruined the valid point this article had.

Anonymous said...

Hair texture and skin color have nothing to do with " Evolution". The author is very inaccurate really needs to do some in depth research before attempting journalism .

Anonymous said...

Another "common sense", "this makes sense to me" unsubstantiated article on the web. A lot of theories can sound right/logical and be wrong. Please think about the credentials of an author before you post articles like this. This article reads factual when several of the "factual" things are not not only debateable but wrong. Humans started out with straight hair... really? Coiled hair is coiled due to allowing perspiration to drop from the coils more effectively, really? Tight coils hold whatever moisture is present and prevent it from escaping. Thats the whole point to keep the scalp cool, not allow for optimal release of persiration. Our integumentary system is uncompromising. Are the hairs on your arms, legs and eye brows coiled? Are your eye lashes coiled? And lets not even get into scent releasing and pheromones. THERE ARE MANY reasons why hair is the way it is and those reasons have everything to do with origin of species, the human species; not just Blacks.

I hope the readers do not take this article as factual.

Once upon a time said...

Do we really know for a fact that 100k years ago, the first people to leave Africa had curly/kinky hair? Is it possible this was a more recent genetic change?

Anonymous said...

ok i usually just sneak around on here but as a scientist, as a black woman and as a natural i just had to comment on this. what is up with ppl trying to justify what we got? now we using genetics and pseudo-darwinism. honestly unless this person is up for a nobel prize in genetics i call bs on this entire article. it scares me that with one read so many ppl will say "oh this makes complete sense to me." really? com'n son! lol.

I know it might be hard for some of us to comprehend but there are black ppl in the world who are born with straight blond hair and blue/green eyes. all this talk about adapting to standards of beauty vs nappy headedness and what characteristics belong to which race (an arbitrary concept to begin with) is such a black and white discussion it ignores all the shades of grey in the world. i cant tell u how many times i've encountered naturals who seem to think white ppl have a monopoly on certain features. if we are to believe that all folks originated in africa, the features they have must have originated there also! why all this extra stuff to somehow feel like we better than somebody else? cuz honestly nobody else cares and it really is starting to get tiresome.

because most AAs are familiar with features of west africans from whom most of the slaves originated, we think all africans look like that. i've even seen some naturals in forums saying nappy hair is supposed to be short, im sure there are lots of africans who would be surprised to know that. lol.

africa is a huge continent with so much history we cannot begin to understand all of it. simplifying that history for the sake of a hair argument is borderline trifling. as for the word nappy, its like the word black. yes ppl have used both with negative connotations in their ignorance, that doesn't mean that the characteristics these english adjectives describe are bad. i for one am nappy and proud but i sure aint no ho. lol. ok rant over

Anonymous said...

It is awesome that this topic has been brought up. Being that hair and skin today is only associated with beauty, It is very hard for many to understand that black versus white and kinky versus straight boils down to genetic adaptation and human survival of our ancestors. Coming to a deeper understanding of this allowed me to better appreciate the complex design of all human beings.

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...