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October 22, 2012

The Emancipation of Black Hair

 
by Kelcie Owens of Spiraled 

There's an old saying that people have quoted for decades: Variety is the spice of life. Yet for so long black women have been made to feel that wearing their hair in its natural state is unacceptable. As I was growing up I do not recall ever encountering even one black woman that proudly wore their hair in its natural state. Quite honestly, I never gave any thought to natural hair at that time until one day, when I was in the seventh grade, one of my female classmates wore her hair in its natural state to school. I remember her not being particularly happy (her hair was normally pressed). I must have asked her a question pertaining to her hair because I remember her responding to me by saying "I keep asking my parents to let me get a perm, but they always say no, not until I'm older." I remember thinking how strange that was. Relaxing my hair was so much apart of my life that I couldn't fathom a girl my age never having had one. I looked forward to relaxing my hair. My mother would buy the Just For Me relaxer about a week prior to giving me a touch-up, and I would impatiently rip the box open and pull out the cassette tape they always had in the box (do they still do that?), pop it in my tape player, and sing along to their infectious jingle. And after the relaxing process (which was long because my mother always left it on for 15-20 extra minutes to ensure bone straight hair) the cherry on top would be swinging my straightened, still damp locks in the mirror, feeling beautiful now that I had hair like "white people". This went on for nearly two decades.

Never in a million years would I have imagined going natural back then, yet that's what I am today. The ball started rolling for me around 5 years ago. I noticed that, similar to African Americans in the 60's toward segregation and Jim Crow laws, black women were beginning to lose tolerance toward societal views of how black hair is supposed to look like. More and more women were cutting off their relaxed hair and wearing it in it's natural state. For over a century black women had been relaxing or otherwise altering their hair texture for acceptance, to appear professional, and so that men would find them attractive. Now I see that more and more black women, including those that choose to relax their hair, are seeing their hair for what it is--hair! It can look appealing, professional, and visually pleasing whether relaxed or natural. Black women are finally getting to make decisions on how to wear their hair based on personal preference rather than societal pressure. Yes, their are still people, blacks and non-blacks alike, that hold on to the notion that natural hair is not acceptable. Some who have chosen to go natural have even had to face negativity from family and others who are close to them for their decision. However,with the passage of time, those voices are exerting less and less power over the decisions that black women make toward their hair and are being replaced by individuals who feel that healthy black hair is beautiful, no matter whether it's straight, kinky, or somewhere in between. And that, to me, is a truly beautiful thing.

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