Natural hairstyles large part of black heritage, should be embraced

Opinions Columnists | Journalism sophomore

Natural hairstyles are a way for black people to relate to their heritage, and statements regarding the styles as “unprofessional” show a reflection of the Eurocentric ideals within society.

One of the most unique aspects about black people is the versatility of our hair. From braids to relaxers to afros, we have many styling options. Unfortunately, those options come with a plethora of issues attached.

American beauty ideals are mostly Eurocentric. This means value is placed on characteristics found mainly in those with European ancestry. Features like fair skin, round eyes and straight hair seem to top the list of the most desirable physical characteristics in society.

The issue with these ideals is they generally exclude minority groups and others who do not fit into the box. Black people have faced negative reactions to their natural hair since the days of slavery. Typically, the light-skinned straight-haired slaves were sold at higher prices and allowed to work more desirable jobs when compared to their dark-skinned kinky-haired counterparts, causing many to use things like butter and bacon grease to try and slick down unruly hair.

However, even after slavery ended, image issues within the black community concerning natural hair persisted. According to a 2009 article on popular natural hair care website, naturallycurly.com, those with “good hair”—meaning that they styled it after white hair types—were generally deemed more well adjusted by white people. The article went on to explain that “good hair” was often a prerequisite for getting into certain schools and social groups.

The issues faced by black people today surrounding hair are not new. They often face ridicule and judgment for wearing natural hairstyles. In November 2013, a Florida girl named Vanessa VanDyke was told that she had a week to either cut her hair or be expelled. The issue sprang up after the 12-year-old girl’s mother complained to school officials about the teasing inflicted on VanDyke by her classmates because of her naturally curly hair.

Many have even experienced issues with workplaces being intolerant of natural hairstyles. Workplace policies often prohibit hairstyles such as dreadlocks and afros, viewing them as supposedly unprofessional or disruptive to a work environment.

Black women are often the people mostly thought of in the context of the black hair discussion, but our men face the same troubles. In 2001, the dean of Hampton University’s School of Business banned male students from wearing braids and dreadlocks because they were not “businesslike.” Hampton came under heavy fire from the black community for this decision. For many, traditional hairstyles are a way to uphold black heritage as opposed to simply buying into white corporate culture.

There is no reason a person’s natural hair should be deemed automatically disruptive or unprofessional. I do not think we should be punishing people for things outside of their control—for example, the natural kinky state of black hair. Furthermore, traditional black hairstyles should be just as accepted as any other style. The fact that natural black hair and hairstyles are so frowned upon is reflective of the preference of white over black racial qualities inherent within society.

It is ironic to me that so many business and corporations are dissuaded by black hair, when ordinary people are completely fascinated by it. A friend of mine has been natural for a little over a year now, and she says every day she gets a ton of compliments from white women gushing about how beautiful her hair is and how much they wish their hair could do that.

Despite the positive attention from some, many who sport natural hairstyles commonly complain about random people on the street either coming and asking to touch their hair or incredibly enough, just sticking their uninvited hands right in. The way people seem to view natural hair as open to their gawking and unwanted touches is offensive. Those with natural hair are not exotic animals to be poked and prodded, they are human beings like anyone else, and they deserve the same respect given to those with straight, more European hair.

What people need to realize about natural hair is it is an important aspect of many people’s identity. The natural hair movement is about rejecting the beauty ideals that so often put down black people for not being able to measure up to white beauty standards. It is about embracing the kinks, curls, waves and coils as they are and realizing they are just as beautiful as any other kind
of hair.