• Kyia Young

Expression and relaxation: A look into black hair

February 18, 2017

Black hair is one of the most treasured pieces in the black community. We wear it for self-expression, the occasional illusion or sometimes even a cultural reflection. But where did it all begin?  

The black community always references Madame C.J. Walker for the press-and-curl, or the relaxer. The history of black hair dates back to 1444, where Europeans witnessed Africans wearing their hair in styles such as dreadlocks, plaits, bantu knots and twists.

Relaxers and/or “perms” started a revolution of their own during the 1900s. Most black women received their first perms as little girls. The history of perms started with the lifesaver, Madame C.J. Walker. She revolutionized black hair products and invented the modern-day texturizer or relaxer.

Relaxers were originally used to make black natural hair similar to white hair to allow inclusion into certain schools, churches, social groups and businesses. To white people, our natural hair was “unkempt” and was deemed as “unprofessional.”

Walker received a lot of flak for inventing a product that encouraged black people to popularize white hair. Today, many women (and men) still get their hair treated with perms and/or relaxers, but for many different reasons.

“I started getting relaxers in the fourth grade, despite me being mixed with Greek and African American ancestry,” said Kristiana Williams, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette junior. “After a while, my mom just stopped doing my hair, so that’s when considering a relaxer was the best option. Since then, I decided to cut my hair at 18 years old to fully transition to my natural hair.”

Ah, the natural state. Natural hair, to anyone, is described as no chemicals, artificial products or anything that could cause the hair to become damaged. It’s completely natural. Recently, natural hair movements everywhere have sparked controversy, positive vibes and even speculation on why it’s so important to our culture.

As previously mentioned in my microaggression article, many women and men wear their hair as a “crown,” because it symbolizes new growth, prosperity and even opens doors to their ancestry within the African culture. Many individuals I’ve interviewed said that transitioning their hair has been one of their greatest decisions. However, regardless if people are of the same race, hair textures, curl patterns, kinkiness and overall body makes natural hair unique in its own way. None are completely the same.

“I’ve never felt the pressure to change my natural hair in America,” said Sofiyat Ibrahim, a Lagos Nigerian UL Lafayette international student and junior. “I’ve been natural my whole life. Natural hair in America was originally frowned upon, and it seemed that it didn’t meet the standard. However, a few months after I got here in December 2014, something changed where everyone started this natural hair trend. It made me so proud.”

During the weekend, I held a Twitter poll both for black guys and girls on what inspired them to become natural. The question for the guys was, “Did women start to inspire your natural hair ‘movement?’” 50 percent answered yes. 17 percent answered no. Thirty-three percent answered, “Never thought into it.” For girls, the question was, “For girls, what does black hair mean to you?” 33 percent answered, “Don’t think much of it;” 33 percent answered, “It’s my crown;” and 34 percent answered, “It represents our culture.”

Looking at these polls, you could see that there are many reasons why people are natural. Some couldn’t have perms; some never wanted anything but to be natural; some decided to embrace their natural state and have learned to appreciate what it looks like and its maintenance.


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