True Power

True Power

Monday, November 23, 2009

Look back to look forward

Has the African American community embraced their natural hair as a thing of beauty or will the natural kinks and wooliness of our hair continue to cause shame and self-loathing?

Madam C. J. Walker (December 23, 1867-May 25, 1919) an American business woman, hair care entrapreneur, tycoon, and philanthropist, marketed beauty and hair products for black women. She was the first female to become a millionaire. She was born Sarah Breedlove in Delta, Louisiana and was the first member of her family to be born free. Her parents had been slaves.

When she began to lose her hair from extreme dandruf and scalp disease from washing her hair once a month, which was customary during that time period, she designed her own line of hair care products. By 1917, she had the largest business in the United States owned by a black person.

"I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the wash tub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations...I have built my own factory on my own ground.''

An estimated 75% of American black women continue to perm or relax their hair.

The award winning Whoopi Goldberg often has members of her own community tell her that her dread locks are disgusting and that she should "take those nappy braids out."

A generation earlier, actress Ciecely Tyson was told by members of the black community that she may be a gifted actress, but her short natural hairstyle was detrimental to the image of black women.

"As the twentieth century closes, I believe that Black women have come to better appreciate the array of beauty we portray, despite subtle, and not so subtle, pressure from the media, the workplace and the larger society to conform to their standards of attractiveness. Yet, I am sometimes troubled that too many of us still make snide and cruel comments about the politically, professionally, or socially acceptable way to wear our hair. We would be a lot stronger as a people if we used that energy to support each other economically, emotionally, and spiritually." Quote by A'lelia Perry Bundles, Great-great-granddaughter of madam C.J. Walker, black hair care industry pioneer.

Information source: Article by Russell K., Wilson M., and Hall R. (1992) Hair: the Straight and Nappy of it all, "The Color Complex: the Politics of Skin Color Among African Americans" NY: Anchor, 81-93.


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