Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America
Two world wars, the Civil Rights movement, and a Jheri curl later, Blacks in America continue to have a complex and convoluted relationship with their hair. From the antebellum practice of shaving the head in an attempt to pass as a "free" person to the 1998 uproar over a White third-grade teacher's reading of the book Nappy Hair, the issues surrounding African American hair continue to linger as we enter the twenty-first century.
Hair Story is a historical and anecdotal exploration of Black Americans' tangled hair roots. A chronological look at the culture and politics behind the ever-changing state of Black hair from fifteenth-century Africa to the present-day United States, it ties the personal to the political and the popular.
* Why Black American slaves used items like axle grease and eel skin to straighten their hair.
* How a Mexican chemist straightened Black hair using his formula for turning sheep's wool into a minklike fur.
* How the Afro evolved from militant style to mainstream fashion trend.
* What prompted the creation of the Jheri curl and the popular style's fall from grace.
* The story behind Bo Derek's controversial cornrows and the range of reactions they garnered.
Major figures in the history of Black hair are presented, from early hair-care entrepreneurs Annie Turnbo Malone and Madam C. J. Walker to unintended hair heroes like Angela Davis and Bob Marley. Celebrities, stylists, and cultural critics weigh in on the burgeoning sociopolitical issues surrounding Black hair, from the historically loaded terms "good" and "bad" hair, to Black hair in the workplace, to mainstream society's misrepresentation and misunderstanding of kinky locks.
Hair Story is the book that Black Americans can use as a benchmark for tracing a unique aspect of their history, and it's a book that people of all races will celebrate as the reference guide for understanding Black hair.
Whether it's hip-hop diva Lil' Kim's "weave of the week" or activist Angela Davis's Afro, black hair evinces the power to set trends and define icons. In this entertaining and concise survey, Byrd (a research chief for Vibe) and Tharps (a reporter for Entertainment Weekly) revel in the social, cultural and economic significance of African-American hair from 1400 to the present. The opening chapter chronicles the rise of the slave trade, revealing intriguing facts about the significance of hair in African culture--such as that only royalty donned hats or hairpieces, and recently widowed Wolof women stopped maintaining their hair as a sign of their mourning. The authors contextualize issues familiar to African-Americans while explaining black hair culture to the uninformed, so readers who don't already know what "the kitchen" refers to (hair at the nape of the neck, usually the "nappiest") will soon find out. Photos and illustrations are put to effective use, though amusing charts such as "Five Famous Men with Equally Famous Hair" and the "Black Hair Glossary" are out of sync with the text. Meanwhile, significant figures, like Madame C.J. Walker and Nathaniel "The Bush Doctor" Mathis, are revisited in detail in various chapters, resulting in unnecessary repetition. But these are small quibbles with a book that successfully balances popular appeal with historical accuracy, adeptly exploring the roots of pervasive intraracial discrimination while explaining, for example, how the much-maligned Jheri Curl ever became a fad.
This book was outrageously heart warming. I loved the pieces of history that it gives, especially since no one talks about those things these days. It's a must read!