Black Women, Hair, and Identity

Like most men I had never thought much about women’s hair.  I grew up knowing that my mother and sister–two black women– spent a lot of time with a mystifying array of hair brushes, gels, liquids, and gadgets.  But I never thought much about the particular identity issues a black woman faces when styling her coiffure.

Recently my wife when from relaxing (straightening) her hair to going “natural” and letting her God-given kinks twist and wind their way to freedom.  I think it’s fantastic.  She looks beautiful.  What I didn’t realize was how much soul-searching went into this decision.

My friend and writer, Trillia Newbell, wrote a penetrating article about her journey from relaxed to natural hair on the Reformed African American Network (RAAN).  Here’s an excerpt and I encourage you to read the whole thing to understand a black woman, her hair, and identity…

Hair and the Black Woman

For as long as I could remember I had chemically relaxed hair. I was semi-terrified to “go natural.”

Why was this so important to me?

For me, my hair had become an idol and centerpiece to my identity and beauty. If I had a good hair day I felt good about myself. This all seems so superficial, but for many women beauty is important.  For me, at the time, it was an aspect of my appearance that was too important.  And for the Black woman hair has historically played a significant role in our identity.

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