Hair. We all have it, but, for Black women, hair is much more than just what grows out of our head and keeps us warm. Our hair is love, culture, and language. It’s how we express ourselves and communicate with the world around us about who we are and what we are about. The doing and undoing of Black hair is a cultural rite of passage. Black people are able to create and maintain a sense of community with one another simply through our hair. While our hair is understood by those who are a part of our community, it can be a source of confusion for those who aren’t. In an effort to bridge cultural gaps, I’d like to make sure that some things are well understood about Black women and our hair.
1. First and foremost, sis—DO NOT TOUCH IT.
I can’t stress this enough. Do not touch a Black woman’s hair without permission first. On a personal level, it’s incredibly invasive and rude to physically assert yourself in someone’s personal space without asking. How would you if a total stranger or random co-worker were to invade your personal space for the sake of satisfying their own curiosity? Would you not feel reduced and devalued if someone decided to follow their urge to wrap their fingers in unfamiliar territory? It’s weird at best, and dehumanizing at least. A Black woman’s hair is not your personal exploratorium. When our hair is touched without permission, we feel violated and devalued, because in that moment we are not seen as human, but as objects. As women, I’m sure many of us know how that feels. It’s incredibly frustrating for someone to totally disregard your personal agency and autonomy just so they can satisfy themselves. I’m all for non-Black people educating themselves and increasing their cultural competence, but a Black woman’s scalp is not your hands-on classroom.
2. Our “carefree” styles take a lot of time.
Contrary to popular belief, Black women are not out here summoning the energy of Queen Bey and rising from the bed with the same ability as the almighty Beyonce; we did not wake up like this! I know our afros are super cute. I know our curly styles are to die for, but hear me out: these styles are a labor of love. Heavy emphasis on the labor. Our “afros” are perfectly styled with the labor and intention of a small army. These “carefree” styles take a lot of time, effort, and product. Have you ever heard of a thing called “wash day”?? It’s literally a day that Black women with natural hair dedicate to detangling our tresses and perfectly styling our manes. Wash day takes several hours, if not a full day. Our world stops as we take the time to allow ourselves or someone else to help us look our best. My last set of braids took 10 hours. My wash day (once a week) is at least five hours long, and this does not include the time it takes to dry my hair, which if left to its own devices, takes at least 36 hours to fully dry without the use of a dryer. When’s the last time you had to take an entire day just to wash your hair?
3. Black girl hair is magic.
No one can shapeshift like a Black woman. We can switch styles with ease. Long, flowing locks on Monday, braids on Tuesday, a wig on Wednesday, an afro on Thursday, and a sleek bun on Friday. Our hair has the ability to withstand a lot of manipulation and has the strength to hold a lot of different styles. If you personally know a Black woman, I’m sure you’ve been befuddled a time or two by the way we can change our look. If you see a Black woman who’s switched the style up, don’t be baffled. Black hair is magic. Our tight, shrunken curls can stretch out to two or three times their curled length when pulled. Our hair can go from perfectly coiled at ear length to mid-back with just a little pull.
4. Black hair is political.
Historically and currently, Black people have been policed about our hair and how it naturally grows from our heads, especially in professional environments. If you google “unprofessional hairstyles,” you’ll see a large number of Black and Brown people with their beautiful curls. To this day, Black people can be fired for wearing their hair in natural styles instead of adhering to a white beauty standard. I’m not bringing this up to be radical, I’m bringing this up to show how absurd it is for the world to deem Black people’s natural hair as problematic, unkempt, or unprofessional. The language surrounding that is intentional. The impact and implications of that is as intentional and harmful.
5. Black hair is love.
Our hair is love. It’s culture. It’s how we communicate who we are and who we belong to. Our hair is complex and wild, but it is our pleasure to don. Black hair unites Black people. We rely on each other to care for it, style it, and share in the labor of loving on it. I can’t tell you how many good conversations have been had while in my stylist chair or how many family recipes and secrets my grandmother divulged while she braided my hair.
When you see our hair, just know you’re looking at our culture. It’s more than a head full of curls. It’s more than very neat braids. It’s an expression of our culture and who we are. You are looking at what makes us so beautifully unique.