Is Natural Hair the End of Black Beauty Culture?

Professor of English at The College of New Jersey, Cassandra Jackson published an article on Huffington Post yesterday, which has since been making its round throughout the blogosphere. In the article, Jackson touches upon the natural hair renaissance that has emerged as part of the African Diasporic experience in recent years and goes on to explore the ways in which Black beauty culture may be waning as a result of the transformational journeys upon which many Black women have embarked, steering them away from chemically-processed hair toward wearing their hair in its natural state. The way I see it, Black beauty culture has only recently begun. However, implicit in the title of the article is the suggestion that natural hair and Black beauty are somehow incongruent. Can I get a huh?

Jackson expresses:

“While many, including me, celebrate the natural hair movement’s emphasis on self-discovery, I cannot help but wonder if something has also been lost with this cultural shift. For all the horrible things about hair straightening, the experiences associated with it have created a powerful thread that connects the vast majority of black women. Even if you have kinky hair now, you probably have memories of time spent with family and friends in kitchens getting your hair done by someone who loved you and who you trusted enough to wield a sizzling hot straightening comb next to your ear. You probably remember that first trip to the beauty shop where black women talked about grown folks’ business, and nearly every sentence began with the endearment, “girl.” It does not matter if your mother was a teacher or housekeeper, or if you were in New York or Alabama because these experiences crossed class and region. Hair straightening was a rite of passage, an entry into the world of black women.
Full disclosure: I am happy to be nappy and have been for over eight years. I do not miss the fiery sensation of chemicals caustic enough to smack the kink out of my hair. Nor do I miss treating an element as basic as water like it was napalm because it made my straight locks explode into kinky curls. I do, however, miss black beauty culture, spaces where laughter, love, information, and insight commingled freely.”

While Ms. Jackson clearly iterates that she’s “happy to be nappy,” it almost sounds as though she is happy that she herself is nappy but, is willing to salvage the Black beauty culture in the name self-hate, self-mutilation, convenience, beauty salon conversations, shared experiences and the like. And, let me be careful with my choice of words because I, along with you am well aware that not everyone who relaxes their hair does so for the purpose of concealing their true identity nor do they necessarily disdain their natural hair. It’s not easy dealing with hair period and sometimes people choose the easy route.

Admittedly, the Black beauty culture does have a strong-hold in our community but, it’s not to say that the beauty culture cannot be maintained, especially given that we’re currently experiencing a proliferation of knowledge being spread around the blogosphere related to the harmfulness of chemically-based relaxers, as well as documentaries such as Chris Rock’s “Good Hair,” alongside Zina Saro-Wiwa’s  “Transition,” which is further propelling dialogues surrounding the natural hair phenomenon to take place. I sense a newfound type of comraderie being built – one that may even act as a way of opening up a can of worms so to speak and get us engaged in conversations that should have happened eons ago because, even when the words did not come directly out of our mouths, our hair did the talking for us. To what has been in my opinion the bane of our existence for such a long time, I say “good riddance, ” and to the natural hair phenomenon, I welcome you with open arms. I think it’s about time that we start to speak for ourselves and discontinue to allow our hair to do the talking for us.




  • Let me start by saying I came across your blog and enjoy it…as a woman who relaxes her hair. That being said, I’m so extremely over the divide and even discussion of the “natural phenomenon” and relaxed vs. natural debate. Secondly, I don’t think that the camraderie and culture aspect of hair has been lost at all by more women refraining from using chemical straighteners. In fact if anything it has been enhanced. No its not in the same form, but just like with everything else in the world…it has evolved. Instead of spending hours at the beauty shop we are now building those relationships through online forums, blogs and youtube. Rather than asking “Who does your hair?” we ask “Are you relaxed or natural?” and “How do you get the perfect twistout?” I’m not offended at all by your statements and do think this whole natural/relaxed discussion has us constantly trying to be PC…but let me just say this. Relaxed hair isn’t the “easy” route either. Healthy hair – regardless of whether it is chemically straightened or not takes work. And what people fail to realize is that there are more similarities than differences in a lot of our regimens and haircare, and even products in certain cases. Thanks for sharing.

    • Editor Nicole Seck

      Thanks for the comment EbonyCPrincess – it’s much appreciated! I agree that the topic of hair has been beaten to death but, at the same time I also feel as though it’s one that is oh so relevant to our contemporary meme. And, you’re right, hair period is not easy to deal with! I always tell people that my favourite hairstyle is a low fade for that exact reason.

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