The Politics of Black Hair
By Audrey Ampomah
The politics of black hair is something we still experience, because there’s so much history, meaning and significance behind it that makes us proud. When there is something rich in history and culture that a marginalized group of people have, it can’t be made punishable by law, or taken from them, so the next best thing is starting political conversations among the majority on how this “negatively” affects their view of society. Thinking about the politics of black hair from a more recent standpoint, my mind automatically thinks of the policing of black children’s hair in the education system. This looks like telling black girls that a single pink or blue braid is “distracting” to the learning environment or telling black boys that the design in their line up does not comply with the dress code. All these occurrences are being internalized by our youth and what they’re understanding from this narrative imposed upon them is the practices that make up the culture of black hair do not line up with what the world calls acceptable, thus perpetuating the cycle of internalized self-hatred.
In the case of Andrew Johnson, this policing even goes as far as making a Black student athlete cut his locs, just to be able to compete in a sporting events. This simply makes no sense; what would be the reason behind stripping students of their identity and culture? It cannot possibly be due to “distractions,” as many sports have players wearing helmets and face gear. This increasingly frequent behavior is becoming another tactic of oppressing Black culture in a way that can be interpreted as just an isolated incident or just correcting a student that violated the dress code. When “black girl hair school” is Googled, there are countless news stories of young black girls being removed from classrooms, suspended from school, and denied a picture on picture day due to their natural hair being in braids or other styles. But when “boxer braids” is Googled, there are countless images of Kim Kardashian and various white women sporting cornrows as the new “trend” with some featuring colored braids. This is a pivotal issue in the politics of black hair: why is black hair celebrated as a trend on white women, but reprimanded when expressed on black people?
Go ahead, google "black girl hair school," and let us know the search results!
My favorite line people say when this topic comes up is: “It's just hair, everybody has it.” And to that I say, "if it's just hair, why do we have to straighten our hair before we’re considered professional? Why do our locs make us “menacing” and “suspect”? Why are our braids distracting to your environment?" Isn’t it "just hair?"
Audrey Ampoah is our VBLM 804 Correspondent, owner of the Haus of Audrey Studios, and a student at Virginia Commonwealth University.