WATCH: Textured: The History of Black Hair

Join the Region 8 News discussion "Textured: The History of Black Hair."
Published: Feb. 9, 2023 at 3:54 PM CST
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - The beauty shop or hair salon are spaces that create friendships, cultivate culture, and also break down barriers.

In the black community, women spend time there finding and spreading their roots.

Black hair paved the way to freedom for slaves in the form of braids. During the civil rights movement afros could be seen for miles as men and women walked to fight for equality.

Black hair comes in different shades, lengths, and textures. It’s diverse just like the black community, but the hair that naturally grows from the heads of people in the black community has caused discrimination, legislation to be passed, and discussions across the world.

Black hair has history that stretches far.

“I think hair dates back to slavery. Our hair goes a long way back,” said Terrel Patterson.

Patterson has been a hairstylist for over 20 years. When she discussed her hair journey, she explained how she remembers her mom styling hair when she was a young girl. That is when her love for hair started.

Techniques like braiding helped slaves to freedom. Braids are still worn to this day by people in many different cultures.

“It’s been important even back then,” added Patterson.

Although the history is long each black womans hair journey is different.

“So, as far as I can remember I was the press and curl girl up until maybe nine or ten and then I stepped into a relaxer I believe,” said Carla Lee. She is an educator, but she also has a cosmetology license.

“I got a relaxer and all my hair fell out, not all not completely bald, but you know patches fell out. So, my mama said you are getting your hair pressed from now on, so I went back to press and comb,” said Patterson.

Kimmyia Thomas is a college student. She is still in the early stages of her hair journey, but she looks back at how the journey started when she was a child. “My mom was taking care of my hair like I can remember sitting in between her legs and combing it out and tapping my hands because I got my hands in it,” she said.

“I reluctantly got a perm against my mother’s wishes, and I was 12 and after that I did perm for quite some years after that and still did the braids and the pressing regardless of the perms on top of it,” said Dr. Tiffany Rawlins. She is an OB/GYN.

*Perm/relaxer: a chemical product used to straighten or partially uncurl hair.

Each of their journeys shaped their lives.

After slavery was abolished, the black community felt the need to fit in with American culture.

“Yes, programmed, conditioned to believe that, yes that’s true,” everyone agreed in unison.

This included the way hair was styled.

“Absolutely, so, I think growing up the relaxer was just the ‘it’ thing. Your hair was straight whether you had it long, whether you had it short,” said Lee.

The wave of black women straightening their hair began and continues today.

“I think we see straight hair is what we see as appropriate attire. Because it is kept and it is tamed,” said Thomas as she explained how straight hair became the acceptable way for black women to style their hair.

As years passed members of the black community started embracing their natural roots.

“You were saying hey I’m black and I’m proud. That was a big thing to where your hair natural. I think all through the years it has just been a big topic for everyone,” said Patterson. She ventured back in time when many people wore afros as a symbol of resistance.

When this happened, when black people started to embrace their hair how it grew naturally, it a topic of discussion. This showed how natural black hair was widely not accepted.

I don’t think my hair has impacted me negatively, but I’ve gotten strange comments. I think the versatility of our hair is a huge distraction. For the lack of a better word,” said Lee. “The thing that they can see it straight one day, then it can be curly the next day, then it could be braided the next day. I think it is more of a captivating thing.

The CROWN Act passed in multiple states from 2019 to 2022. It still awaits passage on the federal level. This act would make hair discrimination based on the texture of natural hair illegal.

According to a Dove 2019 CROWN research study black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from work simply because of the hair that grows from their scalp.

“It’s like how we express ourselves we have the clothes, but our hair especially black women,” said Thomas.

Each day comes with a number of memories, right? Many pivotal memories in a black woman’s life revolve around her hair.

“I know this is everybody’s memory, Easter Sunday. Don’t play no games on Easter Sunday,” said Patterson.

“And my curls finally came out,” said Rawlins. “I just started to cry because it was such a life-changing moment for me because it’s a full transition.”

The day a black woman feels empowered to stand tall and wear her hair is a memory many black women will never forget.

Reporter Imani Williams asked, “How important do you think representation is for us, being authentic and being yourselves.”

“Representation matters, just showing up when a kid or anyone can identify and they feel like that’s not so bad, it’s okay,” said Lee.