Dr. Yaba Blay for The Root: Black Hair Conversations That Don’t Consider White Supremacy Pathologize Black Women

By Akiba Solomon Jul 14, 2017

At this point in Black beauty culture, active participants (like me) know a few things to be self-evident: That Black hair, particularly in its natural state, is denigrated globally. That it is perceived as a chronic condition to be treated with oils and butters, relaxers and flat irons, and the weaves and wigs that many of us refuse to be seen without. We also know, though, that Black hair is the site of elaborate self-care rituals. We use this hair as a canvas for our bright colors, genius cuts, lustrous curls, artful cornrows, unbreakable locs and all manner of extensions that we braid, twist, wrap and let hang down to our backs. The negative narrative of Black hair still thrives in 2017, but it shares space with a natural hair movement that lives in YouTube videos, blogs and Black-owned product lines such as Oyin Handmade.

Yaba Blay, the ethnographer, producer, author and North Carolina Central University political science professor explores this contemporary dynamism in a new video by The Root, "Color Complex: Untangling Black Women’s Hair." In just one quote, the "Professional Black Girl"* creator handily states what happens when we try to talk to one another about this painful topic. "I think a lot of conversations about hair fall short, they kind of put us in a problematic position. When we only talk about Black women’s hair and the things that we do without engaging White supremacy, then we pathologize Black women."

The video, the first in a Root series about skin color politics, also features the live styling of North Carolina master braider Tiffany Poles, who notes that her "professional" clients who wear braids to their corporate jobs feel like they’re "part of a movement."

Sums up Blay, who couldn’t recall the texture of her natural hair until she stopped chemically processing it at age 17: "We’ve never just done hair. Our hair has always meant something. It’s a part of African culture. Your hairstyle can tell us a lot about who you are, whether it be about your age, your position in society, how much money you have, how much leisure time you have, your spiritual position. Your hair communicates so much and it always has."

Watch the video on The Root.

*Colorlines editorial director Akiba Solomon is featured in one episode of "Professional Black Girl."