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Paying Tribute to the Black Hair Conversation

This is a Contributed Article by Minna Salami from

Solange Knowles - Afro Wig
Solange Knowles - Afro Wig

I like the perspective that India.Arie and Akon have in ‘I am not my hair’.It’s not a new song, most of you have heard it, danced to it, chanted it, maybe even as a spiritual practice of sort!

Jokes aside, a very powerful message often goes missed in that song, one that goes beyond the weave/natural/relaxer black hair debate, whilst simultaneously being precisely about this.

See often times, people don’t get why women of African descent frequently talk about hair. You know? That often unintentional but nevertheless condescending here-they-go-again attitude.
Well, there’s a reason we have the hair conversation.
First of all, it’s an ice breaker. It’s a connector because it’s a cultural experience that we share.

Historically, during the slave era, if a black person could pass the ‘comb test’ then the more likely they were to advance from slavery into freedom. Skin colour was also very determining for black people’s progression but studies show that hair texture is perceived as even more important for society’s approval than skin colour, which indicates that a dark skinned person with straight hair might have had an advantage over a light skinned person with tight curls.

This historical remnant still prevails, for example it is still considered ‘unprofessional’ in the corporate world to wear an Afro, and black women with straight hair are more likely to land a high-profile job. If you don’t believe that picture this.

That’s Europe and America. In Africa, these perceptions didn’t quite come into fashion until recently, a sad development.

So, hair is a political issue and when black women discuss hair, we are in fact discussing politics.

Like in politics, where you have a spectrum of voters who debate, agree, disagree and share some values, the same applies to our hair. When Solange Knowles decides to wear an Afro wig, some got upset, called her unauthentic, whilst others watched in awe at black women getting upset over another black woman wearing an afro.

What they don’t understand is that by wearing that wig, Solange has in fact pulled the ultimate triumph. She has performed the unthinkable. She has punched the idea, that white hair is a status symbol, in the nose. She has made a political statement, and people are merely reacting to that.

I hope we keep the hair conversations going, it’s a way of healing and expressing to each other that – I too have been through the journey where the world keeps trying to tell me that I am my hair, but I am not.

What do you think? Is the hair conversation still necessary or should we stop talking about hair once and for all?  Sound off!

This is a Contributed Article by

4 thoughts on “Paying Tribute to the Black Hair Conversation

  • 24th September 2010 at 12:48 am

    My people amaZulu get their name from the sky. Their language is called isiZulu. The weather is called izulu. When a child’s hair grows, old people used to say it wants to challenge the sky because it grows upwards. I attach all kinds of things to my hair now because I’m always in a rush, trying to find out what life is all about. Zodwa, my hairdresser opens it up into an African bush when we have time. The sun is very happy to see it and my head says “Glory Hallelujah! Some Fresh Air!”

    • 6th October 2010 at 2:42 pm

      this is the most celebratory hairstory ever! forever sing hallelujah.

  • 24th September 2010 at 2:36 pm

    This is such a Great article, Which applies to men as well as women.

    As a young boy I was forced by my mother to just have a mid-length Afro that’s what all little boys seemed to have at the time.

    As I grew older and became more influenced by T.V I wanted to shrug off the nappy look and so, in an attempt to appear tough had my hair shaved in a FLAT TOP, ahh the hours I used to spend perfecting its wooly flatness.

    Then I used to try to get a Widows peak and then a Quiff into it, trying to emulate the 60’s soul bands without actually relaxing the hair.

    It Wasn’t until Terrence Trent D’arby stepped on the Scene and sported Braids, that I really began to look at a Black hairstyle as something Positive. I had braids and within 3 years they had morphed into Dreadlocks. This was my heavy BLACK stage, when everything and Everything had to be about Black Identity.

    Then in 98 I shaved my hair off again, I was just about to leave University and really believed that I had to “Look Professional” to get a Job. 12 years Later….and last year I looked in the mirror and said to hell with it all, the Dreads are coming Back…So a long afro and much twisting, twirling and back combing later…I have the natty Dreads just past my ears. It looks a mess on top as my hair is all the same length, so I wear a wooly hat, YES even in the Office!

    I don’t care, I’m an experienced Professional and people have to learn to respect my racial identity as well my technical knowledge.

    Those that don’t like it…well they can go to Hell in a handcart…cos I’m not changing it until “I” get the urge.


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