When Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, the founder of physical anthropology, in the 1770s developed the modern racial hierarchy, he established a correlation between intelligence and skin color and other physical features. Initially, when Europeans established the various races of “mankind” the most strident racial markers that identified the Black race was our hair and skin color. Later nose and lip sizes were added but hair and skin were the main two.
Our oppressors have made us feel ashamed of our hair texture and skin color. During enslavement, the enslaved population adopted a beauty standard that rejected themselves, and that of their oppressor; as a result, the person whose phenotype landed somewhere in the middle set the standards of beauty for the enslaved Afrikan. That person was the mulatto. So for clarification, the standards that contemporary Black folks emulate are not those of the white race per se, but of the mixed raced person.
Today Afrikan people continue to struggle with these two phenotypical elements. The struggle is most evident in the woman but no less important among men. In the US during the first half of the 20th century it was not uncommon for both genders to wear straightened hairstyles. Although straightened hairstyles have nearly disappeared in the male population, though texturizers of various sorts continue to be used, and more and more natural hairstyles are popping up among females, nevertheless hair and skin color issues continue to dog the Afrikan world. On the continent and parts of the Caribbean, weaves and skin lightening creams are a growing industry.
Today it is very common to hear people talk of hair and hairstyling as personal issues of choice. But they forget that that there is a history behind Black hair. Why do I say that in this “post-racial” world, hair and skin color issues continue to dog us? Well, many Black folks will not even admit that color prejudice is still an issue. Even in the natural hair “movement” mulatto textured hair is still the most desired type. More importantly, in the natural hair movement, so one want to say that the movement is about self-love and acceptance. Instead, it is just an individual choice. Sounds like the expected and anticipated line from a person that believes the world is post-racial. A comment coming from a person who is so disconnected from their history that they can not even see that their success is predicated on the historic struggles and progress that “Black” people fought and died for throughout history, and most recently in the Civil Rights/Black Power movement(s).
It is no accident that hair and skin color issues continue to plague us. It was these two features that have defined us—the very font of our supposed inferiority. So whether a person is conscious aware of it or not, when there is an embracing or acceptance of self on this fundamental level—this bigger than the individual—it’s not personal but transpersonal. It is more than a personal statement—it is a racial one. White folks recognize it. This is why so many of them compliment or embrace you embracing your natural self. They are not embracing your hairstyle but you. A transformation that is occurring that is challenging your racial historical past and its aesthetics. (Apparently white men like it to as many of them are hooking up with sisters that are natural.) People see what you don’t see.
So cut the bullshit! The next time some one what ask you why you went natural, don’t give them the lame, banal, knee-jerk answer. Go deeper and connect it to our past because it is part of it, whether you know it or not. And if you don’t know it, learn about it.
Peace, Love, and Natural Hair Grease