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The history of Afro hair

Updated: Mar 16

The history of Afro hair is deeply intertwined with the history of African people and their experiences of colonization, slavery, and cultural expression. Here is a brief overview of the history of Afro hair:

Picture of African man's hair

Pre-colonial Africa: Prior to European colonization, hairstyles and hair care practices varied widely among different African cultures. Hair was often seen as a symbol of cultural identity and was styled in intricate braids, twists, and other elaborate designs. It was also common for hair to be adorned with beads, cowrie shells, feathers, and other decorative items.

Transatlantic slave trade

Transatlantic slave trade: During the transatlantic slave trade, millions of Africans were forcibly transported to the Americas and the Caribbean. Enslaved Africans were often stripped of their cultural practices and forced to adopt European grooming standards, including shaving their heads or wearing wigs. This was done to exert control over their physical appearance and suppress their cultural identity.

African female hair

Resistance and cultural expression: Despite attempts to erase their cultural practices, enslaved Africans found ways to maintain their traditions and express their identity through their hair. They used braiding techniques and created intricate hairstyles as a form of resistance and cultural expression, often incorporating symbols of their African heritage.

Natural hair movement

Natural hair movement: In the 1960s and 1970s, as part of the broader civil rights and Black Power movements, there was a resurgence of pride in African culture and a rejection of Eurocentric beauty standards. This led to the popularization of the Afro hairstyle, which became a symbol of Black pride, empowerment, and defiance against societal norms.

Black haircare industry: The demand for haircare products that catered to the unique needs of Afro-textured hair led to the growth of a Black haircare industry. Companies like Johnson Products and SoftSheen created products specifically designed for Black hair, and Black entrepreneurs opened hair salons and beauty supply stores to cater to the needs of the community.

Mixed man with a large Afro hair style and Afro comb

Contemporary Afro hair:

Contemporary Afro hair: Today, the Afro hairstyle continues to be a powerful symbol of Black identity and cultural expression. Many individuals embrace their natural hair textures, opting for styles such as afros, braids, locs, twists, and protective styles. However, there are still challenges faced by individuals with Afro hair, including discrimination, stereotypes, and pressure to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards.

Overall, the history of Afro hair reflects the resilience, creativity, and cultural pride of African people, as they have navigated through centuries of oppression and sought to reclaim their identity and beauty.

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