Black Hair & Racial Discrimination
Hair is one of the most important, memorable and flexible part of the human body, not only does your hairstyle determine one’s appearance but personality, social class, gender or profession. Yet black hair alone without styling is politicised by all those factors as well as being racialised.
This essay will critically discuss what it means for black hair to be politicised based on the argument of Erasmus (1997), “black hair is politicised by class and gender. It is also racialised.” The discussion will also involve how black hair politicised according race, class and gender over time as well as the dissertations around what ‘good hair’ is and how it ambitions towards whiteness. Every new era creates a new hair trend or way of styling hair for black natural hair on a black body it has never been a trend, just like the faces that wear it, it is marginalised.
Black hair is often represented as something that needs to be control or tamed, because of this black people see the pride and embracing of natural hair as a form of power. When black people embrace their natural hair whether it be in the form of an afro or dreadlocks it is often seen as a stance against white supremacy or dominance over black people. Besides skin colour hair texture was a determiner of racial heritage in scientific racism, in a South African context there is a history of the differential racialisation of black people’s bodies to whiteness and how white one is, for example how straight one’s hair is, defined beauty, morality and social status.
Thus, giving the white body political power over the black body, racial hierarchies were created such as mixed race or Asian bodies being above black people because their skin colour and hair texture were considered whiter (Erasmus, 1997). Therefore, these racial hierarchies and colonial racism influenced the representation and conceptions of what beauty is, blackness being the opposite of what beauty is depreciated black people not only in their appearance but in their intellect, lifestyles and power.
Scientific racism regulated that in general white bodies were gifted from God with beauty while black bodies have been relegated to ugliness, giving justification for the marginalisation of black bodies and instilling the idea that black people need to focus on how to be white, thus when black people protested against colonial power they used their hair as it became a form of identity. Your hair style determined what kind of job one did or their income, if a woman wore braids or an afro she was often seen has poor and unintelligent, so she probably wouldn’t work in the city. This was similar for black men if their hair was not relaxed or cut ‘neatly’.