Embracing Our Natural Heritage
For many centuries, people of color in America have struggled to achieve the image of straight, cascading long hair that the majority of otherculture groups in America have. According to statistics, the black hair care industry makes about nine billion dollars in one year alone. However, in recent years many African Americans have made the decision to allow their thick, textured hair to flourish in a process commonly referred to as going natural. Going natural embraces African heritage and allows one to feel liberated, confident, and enlightened from the pressure to look like other women who are presented in today’s society.
Traditionally in Africa, elaborate hairstyles were created to mark status, religion, age, and for other social purposes. Africans used a variety of products such as black soap, palm oil, and shea butter to maintain their hair and developed specialized hair picks. However, when Africans were enslaved and brought to America, they had no access to hair care products and no time to maintain their hair. It became common for slaves shave off their hair and cover their heads scarves and handkerchiefs to protect their scalps from the Sun. After slavery, African-Americans sought after methods to straighten their hair to avoid social discrimination. A common solution was a mixture of lye and potatoes which straightened the hair but also burned the scalp. Many entrepreneurs created hair products directed towards African-Americans, such as Madame C.J Walker who became the wealthiest African-American in the United States and the first female millionaire in America.
In more modern times, to straighten their hair or to make it more manageable, most black women use a relaxer, a cream which when applied to the hair alters the chemical structure that would normally cause it to be curly or kinky, resulting in a straight texture. Other methods used to attain the desired hair are: flat irons, hot combs, extensions, and weaves. Unfortunately, many black women are unaware of the long term effects of constant manipulation to their hair, such as baldness and traction alopecia, which is the gradual disappearance of the hair line.
When it comes to going natural, many black women worry about the consequences. It can be easily conceived that one is too ugly to embrace their natural hair or that their hairstyle will be viewed as unprofessional or it will be discriminated against. However, going natural is all about loving one’s body as it was created to be, and many acts, bills, and laws have been created to assure the rights and freedoms of African Americans. If the United States can have an African-American president, why should black women allow themselves to be affected by what other ethnicities and what the media defines as beautiful?
Rochelle Ritchie, a former reporter for WPTV in Florida and current reporter for WJZ in Baltimore, recently went natural. After suffering from traction alopecia, caused by years of styling with hair extensions and harsh chemicals, Ritchie decided to go natural. She shares some of her story:
“I thought having straight, long hair was what they wanted me to look like in the news…But being polished was causing me to lose my hair. Now I know of so many college girls who want to go into journalism who admire me for going natural. I don’t think natural hair is any less professional or makes you appear any less intelligent.” “I really think it’s important for me to continue to talk about it, because the world is changing and people — especially young girls — want to see people on TV who they can relate to…”
In African countries, it is very common to see many types of natural hair: wide varieties of braids, twists, locks, shaved heads, and afros. It is part of their lifestyle, and it is something to be esteemed. African-Americans should also cherish their natural hair; it is the hair that they were given by God and they should celebrate this distinctive feature that helps put the African, in African-American.
Williams, Ashley (Feb.2012) Women’s shaved hair revolution taking shape http://thegrio.com/2012/02/03/women-shaved-hair-revolution-taking-shape/
Ritchie, Rochelle (Nov.2012) Black women say they have had enough they are going natural http://www.wptv.com/dpp/news/local_news/special_reports/Special-Report%3A-Going-Natural
Cunningham, Jennifer (Dec.2010) Black hair care products may sacrifice safety for style http://thegrio.com/2010/12/15/black-hair-products-may-sacrifice-safety-for-style/
Wikipedia- Afro-Textured Hair http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afro-textured_hair#Natural_black_hair_styling