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The afro movement: how natural hair became a symbol of black pride and identity

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Natural Hair

Though we have come a long way in having Black people seen and heard in the Western world, many conversations regarding the acceptance of black culture are far from over. One such ongoing conversation is on natural hair and changing attitudes toward it. This article will cover a timeline from the beginning of African-American history to modernity and hopefully show you how important hair is to Black identity throughout time.

1770s: “Good Hair” vs “Bad Hair”

During the age of the slave trade when millions of African slaves were forcefully brought to America, Black hair was almost immediately labeled as “wool”-like by white people. In fact, quite soon after, terms like “good hair” and “bad hair” entered circulation. “Good hair” was used to describe more eurocentric textures: smoother, lighter and, well, straighter strands. By contrast, Black hair textures were deemed to be “bad”. 

1800s: The ‘Hot Comb’ was created

While slavery was officially abolished in 1865 with the introduction of the 13th Amendment in America, this did not help to defeat a lot of the prejudices about black people. This was proven to be the case with the popularity of the “hot comb” invented by French hairstylist Francois Marcel Grateau in 1872. While it was used by white women as well, it became a particularly important tool for African-American women to look more “presentable” with straighter, smoother-looking hair. This had a significant impact on their success in a society that was already prejudiced against them. 

1909: Garret A. Morgan creates the relaxer

Quite soon after, another invention entered the American market with Garrett A. Morgan, an African American sewing machine repairman, patenting the first chemical relaxer – a hair treatment designed to straighten kinky hair permanently. This treatment was in huge demand both for men and for women and remained so well into the 1950s. 

Late 1960s: Public Change Begins

The Civil Rights movements that became particularly active starting with the mid-1950s and well into the 1960s, tackled many issues as part of their fight. While the priority was the demand for equal rights under the law, by the end of the 1960s, many different layers of systematic discrimination became the subject of discussion. 

With the foundation and rise of the Black Power Movement, a lot of black activists encouraged people to fight not only for judicial rights but also for the social acceptance of African-American heritage. There was a particularly heavy focus on the celebration of black identity and beauty in addition to other issues with a movement like “Black is Beautiful”. In fact, natural hair was actively promoted by the movement members since they often sported an afro. These activists and public figures included Angela Davis and Nina Simone who made a statement by wearing their hairstyles as a public statement.

1970s: Mainstream representation 

In 1970s, Black representation became more popular than ever before, with various pop culture sources. Black models were wearing their hair in traditional African hairstyles on the covers of fashion magazines. In fact, a very specific black hair trend, the jheri curl, became popular with men and women alike and many prominent black celebrities adoptedit throughout the 1970s. In fact, this trend remained popular in the 1980s as well and was worn by Michael Jackson on the cover of “Thriller” and Eddie Murphy in “Coming to America”. 

1990s: Black Pop Culture becomes mainstream

The 90s saw an even more frequent appearance of Black culture with now not only musical presence but also with shows like “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”, “Kenan & Kel” as well as “Family Matters” amongst many others. These shows were important on a number of levels. Not only did they often portray Black families in a far more positive light than ever before, Black fashion and beauty was celebrated as well. The variety of hairstyles women wore on these shows was particularly noticeable, with braids, twists, cornrows all making an appearance. Now, having these hairstyles was not only acceptable but cool as well. 

Today 

While there is certainly a spike in the representation of Black culture in pop culture, activism for a more fair representation continues to this day and there are still a lot of issues that Black people have to face in regards to systematic discrimination. For example, it wasn’t until very recently that the issue of African-Americans wearing their hair naturally in the workplace being deemed “unprofessional” was raised on a judicial level, with the CROWN Act being passed only in 2022. 

Nevertheless, progress is constantly being made in normalizing and embracing natural hair with many prominent Black celebrities and influencers encouraging it on their platforms. As such, more products and tips on looking after natural hair are available than ever before. With the global market also at your fingertips, many hair products that were unavailable before in America can be purchased thanks to the power of the internet and international shipping. This has facilitated things for Black people since it enabled them to order products intended specifically for Afro-textured hair without having to settle for whatever’s available. 

One of the products that has been getting more hype recently is Chebe powder – and products containing it. Originating in Africa, it has been a very well-known remedy locally for ages but almost entirely unknown internationally. It possesses remarkable healing properties and has been the secret to Chadian women having long, lustrous hair for centuries. One such company that specializes in Chebe products with the highest-quality local Chadian ingredients and American quality of manufacturing is Chebeauty. They offer not only the original Chebe powder, but also products such as Chebe Butter, Chebe Paste and Chebe Oil amongst other products intended for kinky hair. Dedicated to empowering Black women to wear their hair naturally and be proud of it, this brand is definitely worth looking into to embrace your natural self. 

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