It’s not ‘just hair’ – Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Black women are still discriminated against for natural and traditional hairstyles


Nick Archambault/Daily Collegian (2022)

The subject of hair could never be left out in a discussion of black femininity. Hair is such an impactful part of a black woman’s identity – some of my earliest memories include having my hair done in braids with colorful barrettes at the ends every Sunday. As I got older and became more aware of my surroundings, I noticed that very few people looked like me, let alone the texture of my hair.

Starting in fourth grade and throughout middle school, I felt immense pressure to straighten my hair, and once high school rolled around, I did. I straightened my hair regularly during my sophomore year, and anyone who’s ever straightened their hair knows how painful it is. The chemicals you apply to your scalp cause a burning sensation and are extremely damaging to textured hair.

Now that I’m in college, I prefer to wear protective styles, which include box braids, faux locs, and passionate twists. I remember feeling such pride the first time I had braids because it was essentially another form of creative expression for me, a way of throwing off the standards I felt compelled to uphold for so many years. long time.

The conversation about whether non-black women should be allowed to wear black hairstyles became a recurring source of controversy from the early 2000s through the 2010s. The first time I remember this happening, it was when Kim Kardashian wore Fulani braids (a style originating from West Africa) at the 2018 MTV Movie and TV Awards. Although she faced backlash, she also received good support from people who couldn’t understand why so many black women were so upset about it. A few years prior, Zendaya wore locs to the Oscars and had a racist and offensive remark made about her by former fashion commentator and journalist, Giuliana Rancic, who joked that the hairstyle made the actress look to “smell the patchouli oil”. or weed. I bring this comparison to explain why black women feel the need to “keep” certain hairstyles.

The slurs “hoodrats”, “rachet” or “ghetto” are often hurled at black women for wearing their hair in Afro-centric styles. When it comes to non-black women wearing these same styles, it’s often considered “trendy.” This is why there is an incentive to “keep” these hairstyles, or protect them for black women. Something used against us and demonized for so long is now widely accepted because non-black women have started taking an interest in it.

Even in professional or corporate settings, black hair is considered “less professional”. This summer, the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act), a bill created in 2019 to combat hair discrimination in work or education, was passed in Massachusetts. This bill has yet to pass in several states, which means that in many parts of our country, black women can be fired, reported, and sent home simply for the way they choose to do their hair. In Massachusetts, two black girls were punished by their charter school for wearing hair extensions in 2017, and while signing that bill is a good start, there’s still a lot of work to be done. to eliminate hair discrimination on all fronts. .

That’s why to say it’s just hair is a massive display of ignorance. When this sentiment is expressed, years of culture and history are ignored and erased. Hair has huge cultural significance for black women and in my personal experience it has helped me gain confidence and feel connected to my roots. No one claims to have invented braids as a whole, but box braids, Fulani braids, faux locs, passionate twists, and many more hairstyles all originated from the African diaspora. No one should be unfairly profiled, stereotyped or discriminated against simply for the way they choose to do their hair.

Christmaelle Vernet can be reached at [email protected]

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