*This article was written by a non-Black individual after thorough and in-depth research. Should there be any discrepancies, please do not hesitate to contact us so we can rectify the error immediately.
Hair has always empowered our individual identities and remains one of the easiest methods of identification. Our mane is our pride and joy, the brainchild of whichever period of time we are experiencing in our lives. It is a silent extension of ourselves through style, texture, and color.
But how is hair tied to our deeper roots? In various cultures and societies, hair is a symbol of youthfulness and beauty in women. Contrasting with men, hair symbolizes virility, and masculinity. While this may be seemingly superficial, the history of hair goes back several generations and eras ago.
After thorough and in-depth research, here are some of the most interesting interpretations of hair’s significance:
Hair in Black African American Culture
For the Black culture in the United States, cultural identity and hair have always gone hand in hand with each other. Perhaps one of the most beautiful and versatile types of hair, Black women have natural, kinky, and curly hair sub-types within the Black culture.
The “Black Is Beautiful” civil rights movement in the United States assured black women and men that their skin, facial features, and natural hair were admirable during the tumultuous 1960s. African-Americans such as Malcolm X advocated Afros and dreadlocks to embrace the West African roots.
Whether rocking afros or dreadlocks, black protesters demanded the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination. The Act also created the EEOC, which operates “ as the lead enforcement agency in the area of workplace discrimination .”
Blue Cross Mutual Hospital Insurance, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld a race discrimination lawsuit against an employer for bias against afros. The appeals court agreed that workers were entitled to wear afros under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. (daily.jstor.org)
Many activists and Black individuals have shared that hair are one of their greatest storytellers as it shares the evolution of Black culture, which is often ignored or appropriated in many forms of media.
Looking past Black culture’s melting pot of hairstyles and hair types, I learned that the loose, bouncy curls and tight kinky strands are so much more than just an aesthetic. Each strand reveals a piece of the social oppression, abuse, and racial discrimination faced by Black individuals. No amount of shea butter or conditioner could ever remove the undeserved prejudice that’s linked to their culture.
During times of colonization and slavery, the urge to preserve black traditions became all the more significant. As families were getting torn apart and separate across islands and oceans, they were also deprived of basic human civil rights and subjected to horrible forms of abuse and torture at the hands of their white masters or “slave owners”.
It became increasingly difficult to accumulate and bring forward generational information. Hence, many families struggled to teach the younger generation of Black individuals how to care for and style Black hair. Unknowingly, the perceptions of black hair being “difficult to style and maintain” may have been brought forward into the current reality we live in.
Many organizations and companies shun traditional black hairstyles, such as cornrows or dreadlocks. Instead, they strive for traditionally non-black hairstyles and discriminate black hairstyles with racist and illogical remarks. This has led to many black individuals losing school, job, and even housing opportunities because the racism has been amplified in areas which are so harmless.
In the digitally “woke” era, cultural appropriation also seems to be a persistent parasite in our racist epidemic. While the same individuals create areas or spaces which veer towards a non-POC community, the same individuals may also choose to adopt a black hairstyle. Cornrows, dreadlocks, and several other forms of braids are often sported by non-Black individuals.
During this disconcerting experience, I noticed how their Instagram or Twitter comments would be filled with other non-Black individuals who would be encouraging and supporting them. Occasionally, there would be one or two “woke” keyboard warriors who attempted to educate these careless individuals. It’s just like how non-Black individuals should not be using Black slurs.
The freedom and value in embracing traditionally black hairstyles are often overlooked. Many hair salons in Asia do not cater to black hairstyling needs and this can be frustrating for black individuals living and/or visiting Asia. Similarly, black individuals are seen as "rare" in Asia because the population of black individuals in Asia is so small. They often get scrutinized or gawked at and it can be a very traumatic or discomforting experience.
The fine line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation is often blurred. Many of us do not understand how it feels to live our lives constantly in fear of getting gunned down or murdered because of our skin color. Personally, the fight against racism and discrimination gets tedious after a while because the change is so minimal.
The unity between the POC community is so crucial as we continue changing our perpetually indifferent and racist society. Especially in this age where we have social media and movements such as Black Lives Matter and police protests.
Racial discrimination is triggered by the smallest sparks, like hair. It is not something that needs to be debated.
Online personalities such as Taylor Cassidy is breaking barriers and educating people on Black history through several social media platforms.
The significance of hair in the Huang Luo Village in China
A Chinese girl once whipped her magnificent mane at her suitor in an act of protest. In the Huang Luo Village, these women have long hair that is up to 6 ft (1.8 meters) in length.
At 18, the women are shorn of their hair completely. The rebirthing process – as I like to call it – is the first and last time they will ever cut their hair. As they mature into adulthood, their hair is allowed to grow freely until their last breath.
How do they keep their luxurious locks? Their Asian hair is bathed in rice water and organic ingredients before the mixture is poured into an enamel bowl. Afterward, a wooden comb works through their hair thoroughly and this therapeutic process keeps their hair’s natural shine and luster.
Unmarried women wrap their hair in headscarves while married women wrap their hair into a large bun at the front of their heads.
Don’t be fooled by their home in the village. These independent and strong women have earned a name for themselves and are well-respected. Plus, they’re all on WeChat!
Hair in Marriage
Several cultures have various interpretations of hair when it comes to marriage. Perhaps the most interesting one I came across was when I was watching this Alexa Chung x Vogue video.
According to the nimble and talented seamstresses of Dior, a successful marriage needs a strand of the bride’s hair to be woven into her gown. The trick would only work if the bride sews her own gown.
Hair has always been an underrated accessory in our identity and there are so much rich history, superstitions, and traditions behind it. So, when you run your fingers through your hair, remember to care for it because it is so much more important than you know.