As a young child I had shoulder length hair. But it was not what is considered as “good hair.” If I sweated the hair at the nape of my neck would become kinky. And once water touched my scalp I looked like the girls in the old Afro Sheen blow out kit commercials. I had an instant Afro. Those who had good (the kind that stays straight when exposed to the elements) did not share the same worries. Good hair was like white hair. It would grow long and was straight or wavy.
My great grandmother would shampoo my hair and allow me to run around until it dried. She would then place a metal comb on a hot plate. While it was warming she oiled my scalp with a creme hair dressing. She then ran that hot comb through my hair to straighten it. Once as I was running in the yard drying my hair my grandma told me to come inside. She said I looked like Captive Wild Woman. That my nappy hair would scare the butter and egg lady who was headed to the house. As a young girl I was taught to be ashamed of my natural hair. That I had to present a certain image to white people.
There were no perms in those days. So all black girls had their hair straightened as I did. If we sweated a lot, the hair at the nape of our necks would “go back”to it’s original state. And we were told we needed a touch up to the kitchen. Therefore I hot comb would be run through our kitchen which was the hair at the nape of the neck .I have no idea why it’s called the kitchen. I do remember how we would ;laugh at each other if our hair had sweated. And the kitchen was a mess.
There was no weave or extensions in the late 1960s and early 1970s. What you saw was what you got. And those with short hair were teased a lot. No other race that I know of has nappy hair that needs heat or a relaxer to straighten it out.
I imagine that the good hair bad hair labels began during slavery. It would stand to reason that the slaves from Africa had course hair. Once young slave girls began giving birth to children fathered by their masters a mixed race with combined features was upon the land.
History tells us that lighter slaves worked in the homes and were called House Niggas. Darker slaves were relegated to the hard worked of the fields. I have heard historians tell how this caused a rift between the slaves. Dark Africans in America would be jealous of the light skinned slaves with good hair who worked in the house. And the lighter slaves were arrogant and at times acted as though they were better than their brothers and sisters out in the field.
At any rate in the 1960s my grandmother wanted me to hide in shame until my hair was straightened. I have been told stories of white managers not hiring black people who looked too black. There was a time when dark skin and dreads would keep you from a job. Today ethnic hair styles do not cause the controversy they once did. But psychological damage has been done to many females of my race.
Millions of dollars are spent on products to straighten our hair. If you pay attention African American women seem obsessed with extreme hair styles. Women of other races just wash and wear it. The underlying factor is the desire to be attractive.
Even though many black women now go natural, I am convinced that if they could maintain a relaxed style without all the time, money and stress, many of them would. Is the natural look catching on because it is the best way to manage hard to handle hair? Or are those who promote celebrating our kinkiness simply tired of hair that won’t cooperate? Are black women being empowered by wearing their hair in a natural style, or is it a last resort because all else has failed? Are those who choose to relax their tresses trying to look white? Or are they truly seeking an easy way to keep their hair in line?