Sep 4, 2019
Our hair is undeniably connected to our identity, but what does
it mean when random people feel compelled to touch the hair of
another, without asking permission? Why do we perceive this as a
threat? Why must we be made to feel “other” by someone’s words and
Today, we are going to be discussing hair and identity: black
hair, its history in the United States, discrimination around black
hair, and why you shouldn’t touch someone’s hair on the
- Misasha recounts the mental chatter and overwhelming emotional
response at people touching her son’s hair at the playground.
- Sara describes a man going out of his way to touch her
daughter’s hair during a trip to Japan, and the protective feelings
- Sara asked a white friend with very curly hair if people came
up and touched her hair. Sara wondered if the hair-touching was a
curly-hair curiosity or a racial one.
- Sara’s friend responded affirmatively that people DO touch her
hair, but ask for permission every single time. Her friend also
noted that she has seen people randomly touching the curly hair of
a person of color without asking permission.
- In this country, there has been a long history of black hair
being considered inferior and the “other”.
- In the 1400s, Europeans who had gone to Africa noticed the
elaborate hairstyles, such as locks, plates, and twists, but when
these people were brought to America as slaves, that hair became
de-humanizing (for example, it was referred to as “wool” by white
people), and they couldn’t retain these fantastic hairstyles.
- By the 1800s, there was an obvious discrepancy related to hair:
lighter-skinned, straight-haired slaves commanded higher prices at
slave auctions than darker, more “kinky-haired”
- Internalizing this color-consciousness, even black people in
that time period promoted the ideas that black with dark skin and
“kinky hair” are less attractive and worth less.
- In 1865. slavery technically ended, but whites looked upon
black women who styled their hair as white women, as
“well-adjusted”. There was a socialization and a marginalization
that happened. “Good hair” became a prerequisite for entering
churches, schools, social groups, and business networks. If you
didn’t have hair like white women, you didn’t have access to the
- This idea has carried over into today’s society, where natural
hair is mainly viewed as unprofessional and unkempt.
- In a 2016 study, an overwhelming bias towards smoother hair
types and against natural hair types was found, which leaves black
women vulnerable to discrimination.
- In 1880, metal hot combs were readily available in the United
States (although they were invented by the French in 1845) to heat,
press, and temporarily straighten curly hair.
- In the 1900’s, Madam CJ Walker developed a line of hair care
products designed for black hair care, and she popularized the
press and curl style. Some people criticize her for encouraging
black women to look white.
- Madam CJ Walker is listed in the Guinness Book of World
Records as the first American, female, self-made millionaire.
She also happened to be black.
- By 2006, black hair care is a billion-dollar industry. In Style
magazine did a nation-wide survey and found that on average, black
women spend $1,114 per year on hair products, and treatments, and
23% of black women get their hair relaxed.
- By 2017, 9 times more was spent on ethnic hair and beauty
products compared to their non-black counterparts.
- Reclaiming natural hair has become a social statement. Misasha
gives an overview of natural hair, the Jheri curls, and braids and
- Under Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are
allowed to enforce dress code and appearance policies that include
the regulation of hair. The EEOC, which enforces these laws, states
that employers can impose rules calling for neutral hairstyles,
which have to be applied to everyone, equally, regardless of
- Misasha provides some examples of how this can sometimes be
used against people of color.
- Sara talks about discrimination in the workplace based solely
- Workplace discrimination is terrible but is heartbreaking when
it comes to school. Sara and Misasha discuss the 2013 case of
7-year-old Tiana Parker, who was banned from wearing her hair in
dreadlocks at a charter school. The school later came under fire
for its stand and has since updated its policies.
- Please read more about this issue, and think about how you view
different hairstyles and consider your own biases.
- Please do not touch the hair. Always ask
permission, but talk to the parent first. Please consider how your
words and action might make the child and the family feel.
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Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in
America, by Ayana Byrd
Good Hair, directed by Jeff Stilson and produced by Chris