I have thought about this topic for a long time now after reading many articles and arguments around the web and on social media sites. The latest was a man claiming to be enlightened yet publicly posted the following. All names have been removed.
I will start with some ‘locks’ information and a little history lesson. Some of the earliest depictions of locks date back as far as 3600 years to the Minoan Civilization, one of Europe’s earliest civilizations centred in Crete (Greece) . Frescoes discovered on the Aegean island of Thera depict individuals with braided hair styled in long dreadlocks.
In ancient Egypt ( 3100-2686 B.C) examples of Egyptians wearing locked hairstyles and wigs have appeared on statuary and other artifacts. Mummified remains of ancient Egyptians with locks, as well as locked wigs, have also been recovered from archaeological sites. In Ancient Greece 800 BC-146 BC , kouros sculptures from the Archaic period ( eighth century BC to the second Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC) depict men wearing dreadlocks, while Spartan hoplites (generally described as fair-haired) wore formal locks as part of their battle dress. Spartan magistrates known as Ephors also wore their hair braided in long locks, an Archaic Greek tradition that was steadily abandoned in other Greek kingdoms. The style was worn by Ancient Christian Ascetics, and the Dervishes of Islam, among others. Some of the very earliest Christians also may have worn this hairstyle; there are descriptions of James the Just, first Bishop of Jerusalem, who is said to have worn them to his ankles.
In Senegal, West Africa, the Baye Fall, followers of the Mouride movement, a Sufi movement of Islam founded in 1887 by Shaykh Aamadu Bàmba Mbàkke, are famous for growing locks and wearing multi-colored gowns. Cheikh Ibra Fall, founder of the Baye Fall school of the Mouride Brotherhood, popularized the style by adding a mystic touch to it. Warriors among the Fulani, Wolof and Serer in Mauritania, and Mandinka in Mali and Niger were known for centuries to have worn cornrows when young and dreadlocks when old.
There are many more examples of where this ritual has been found before any modern culture took on the ownership.
Let us move on to oppression. I will look at both past and present and how it effects all of us. ViaIn early African civilisations, hairstyles could indicate a person’s family background, tribe and social status.
“Just about everything about a person’s identity could be learned by looking at the hair,” says journalist Lori Tharps, who co-wrote the book Hair Story about the history of black hair.
When men from the Wolof tribe (in modern Senegal and The Gambia) went to war they wore a braided style, she explains. While a woman in mourning would either not “do” her hair or adopt a subdued style.
“What’s more, many believed that hair, given its close location to the skies, was the conduit for spiritual interaction with God.”
It is estimated that 11,640,000 Africans left the continent between the 16th and 20th Centuries due to the transatlantic slave trade.
These slaves took many of their African customs with them, including their specially-designed combs.
“Their key is the [bigger] width between the teeth because African-type hair is very fragile,” says Dr Sally-Ann Ashton, who curated an afro comb exhibition at Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum in 2013.
“Out of all the different [hair] types, it’s probably the most fragile so if you’re yanking a fine tooth comb through it, you’re going to do an awful lot of damage.”
During the 19th Century, slavery was abolished in much of the world, including the United States in 1865. However, many black people felt pressure to fit in with mainstream white society and adjusted their hair accordingly.
“Black people felt compelled to smoothen their hair and texture to fit in easier, and to move in society better and in camouflage almost,” says exhibition producer Aaryn Lynch.
“Men and women would put their hair in a hot chemical mixture that would almost burn their scalp, so they could comb it back and make it look more European and silky.”
The industry grew to the extent that black entrepreneur Madame CJ Walker, who sold hair growth products, shampoos and ointments aimed at the African-American market, was recorded as the first self-made millionairess in the US by Guinness World Records.
The afro hair style, which emerged in the 1960s during the civil rights movement, was “a symbol of rebellion, pride and empowerment”, says Mr Lynch.
As black people protested against racial segregation and oppression, the eye-catching style took off – an assertion of black identity in contrast to previous trends inspired by mainstream white fashions. And with it the African (or afro) comb re-emerged.
“It was never lost in Africa of course,” says Dr Ashton. “But this was with the advent of black power and politics.
“The afro hairstyle became very popular and for that you need a long kind of pick… it’s quite high-maintenance.”
In response to the racial politics of the time, the fist comb – with a handle shaped like the black power salute – was designed in the 1970s.
“A lot of people who were born in the 1980s and 90s think [the salute] is associated with Nelson Mandela, which it’s not – it’s just that he happened to use that salute when he was released from prison,” says Dr Ashton.
In the 1930s, Rastafari theology developed in Jamaica from the ideas of Marcus Garvey, a political activist who wanted to improve the status of his fellow blacks.
Believers are forbidden to cut their hair and instead twist it into dreadlocks. It is not clear where the style originates from (I have covered that above) although there are references in the Old Testament and the Hindu deity Shiva is also sometimes depicted wearing them.
The profile of the religion grew significantly in the latter half of the 20th Century, as the “roots” movement developed, harking back to the origins of African-Caribbean culture.
Its profile increased following the success of musician Bob Marley in the 1970s, with dreadlocks becoming a common sight in British cities.
Along with the afro, dreadlocks remain the most distinctive black hair style among other ethnic groups.
“The problem remains however, that while we may style our hair to reflect our own individual choices, our hair is still being interpreted by a white mainstream gaze and that interpretation is often wrong as well as racist,” author Ms Tharps says.
“Too many people still make assumptions that an afro implies some sort of militancy or that wearing dreadlocks means a predilection for smoking pot.” “Do we still feel like we’re compelled to appropriate white culture or is it now a choice, whatever’s convenient, whatever’s in fashion?””I think one thing a lot of non-black people don’t realise is just how much maintenance African-type hair is. If somebody says I’m washing my hair tonight, it can be like a three-hour job – it’s an excuse for why you wouldn’t go out.”Via BBC ( I would like to say, it takes just as long to take care of long straight caucasian or Asian hair).
With all of this information and these facts at hand I would like to continue this blog to present day. Is it fashion or oppression? Many cultures steal ideas from others and lay claim to it. It is most unlikely (but not impossible) caucasians or asians cannot wear an afro and most likely an african american will not have asian straight hair, yet today we see many cultures crossing into different styles. In order to achieve these styles one must go through many lengths to do it and to fit into the style they wish to have. If I had dark hair and wanted or needed blonde hair to feel better or fit in I would have to alter myself.
Being a PTSD survivor from childhood bullying I can understand some of these pressures. I was subjected to physical abuse because of the way I did or did not ‘fit in’.
My question is, how is all of this pertinent today? How do YOUR day to day actions effect your thoughts of why people should or should not wear certain hairstyles? Is it not ok for anyone regardless to feel their best? How can someone lay claim they ‘own’ a hairstyle? How can someone lay claim they really own anything? A topic for another blog…
Is it not possible today for us to look past each others hair and skin color to see the goodness inside of someone? I myself do not see someone and like or dislike them for the way they look. It comes to my mind we should decide if someone is a good person with good intentions or a bad person out to cause harm. It is possible the person holding all of this hatred and bias opinions has deeper issues than hair styles. This goes for all races. I ask the question; what is the real deep issue here? Let us talk about that. I think it is a wonderful thing when anyone does anything to make themselves feel better and no one should be opressed because of their skin, clothes, hair or personal choices. Bigotry in any culture is evil.
I ask, if we were in a life or death situation, how would you handle it if I were black and you were white and we had the chance to help each other live through the horrible life threatening situation. Would you hold out your hand to help? Would you run saying I am not a life worth saving because of the color of my skin, my religion, or the way I wear my hair? Deep down you would do good or evil because that is what we are made of. We control our thoughts and emotions in the very end.
I ask we all rethink this situation. I know, I am asking a lot but it is my hope. I leave you with a few great quotes to make us all think.
I note the obvious differences in the human family. Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy. Some declare their lives are lived as true profundity,
and others claim they really live the real reality. The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight, brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white. I’ve sailed upon the seven seas and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world not yet one common man.I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane, but I’ve not seen any two who really were the same.
Mirror twins are different although their features jibe,and lovers think quite different thoughts while lying side by side. We love and lose in China, we weep on England’s moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea, and thrive on Spanish shores. We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine. In minor ways we differ, in major we’re the same.I note the obvious differences between each sort and type, but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.