31 March 2022
Black people have always worn a crown on their heads. A unique type of crown that belongs to no other. This beautiful crown is decorated with kinky, coily curls that require delicate care and love. The versatility of this crown sometimes causes heads to turn and jaws to drop to the floor. But if this is the case, why have Black people been pressured to hide their crowns for decades?
While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 enforced the ban of employment discrimination based on race, sex, religion, and other identities, what happens to “qualify” as discrimination remained in the hand of courts and employers to determine. Hundreds of Black people in America have been made victims of this loophole; take Chastity Jones for example, who in 2013 had her job offer revoked because of the locs that she wore. Or even the little girl attending Christ the King Elementary School in 2018 who was sent home because of her long braids, causing the school to create a policy only allowing “natural hair.” In the same year, a highschool student had to choose between cutting his locs or being cut from his wrestling match.
While some of these events weren’t long ago, nonetheless the country has made immense progress from the start of the Natural Hair Movement. Officially beginning in the 1960s and popularizing in the early 2010s, it is included in the Black is Beautiful movement which encourages Black individuals to embrace all of their unique features.
Constant cultural shifts during the late 1900s sparked the Black is Beautiful mentality, specifically in black women. Trending hairstyles quickly moved from short sleek styles, to tall beehives, the Jheri curl, microbraids, and branching off in the 2000s as natural curls were more encouraged, as well as the healthy “big chop.”
One of the most well-known factors in the movement is the CROWN Act of 2019, CROWN standing for “creating a respectful and open world for natural hair.” This law first passed in California and is currently enforced in 14 states. It explains that discrimination based on one’s hair texture or hairstyle is prohibited, specifically when it is associated with one’s nationality or race. This law was a major stepping stone for Black people looking for careers. As a matter of fact, The House officially passed the law this year on Friday, March 18.
Traveling even farther back in time, the topic of the first Black and female self-made millionaire cannot be ignored when discussing black hair through time. Madame CJ Walker broke racial barriers when she started her own Black hair-care company in 1906 and invented the hot comb. Going door-to-door in the South to sell curly hair products when there were no other options available has evolved into beauty supply stores on every shopping center corner, stocked full of Black hair-care necessities. Madame CJ Walker will continue to go down in history for her role in the Natural Hair Movement.
Events caused by figures like her leading the movement have led to the Black hairstyle diversity in young people today, learning to embrace their hair. As kids, many Black individuals were led to see their thick hair as a burden or annoyance, or even desire the straight hair of their White counterparts. But to see Black highschool students today grow into their curly hair is an uplifting sight.
One sophomore at Atholton, Heather Bell, had recently written a personal narrative regarding a memory about her natural hair. “It was a personal narrative about a specific moment that affects us today,” she started, “and I wrote about how some of my friends commented [negatively] on my hair and how that affected me.”
Bell says her natural 4A-type hair represents her personality, as she can style it depending on her mood. She also claims that what she loves most about it is, “just how different it is compared to everybody else’s, and I love my curl pattern.”
“I definitely feel like trends have changed from before to now,” she said, “I feel like more people are embracing their natural hair compared to years past.” As Bell recalled memories she had as child of her mother styling her hair, it became clear that hair culture for little Black kids is something that many have become nostalgic for today. She mentioned that many are embracing their natural hair now more than ever, which seems to be true since common hairstyles for kids have become more trendy, such as cute assorted clips and especially colorfully beaded braids.
Regarding the topic of her personal narrative, Bell claimed that she wasn’t angry at her friends, but was disappointed at the fact that not enough non-black people are very informed about the history of Black hair. “I feel like in recent years, the representation of Black girls and our hair has increased, but growing up when I was younger I feel like I didn’t see a lot of young Black girls with their natural hair,” she explained. Bell also said that in order to do better in the realm of representation, more Black individuals need to be included in media like TV shows and movies in order to expose young Black kids and uneducated people to “more people that look like us.”
Bell’s point about the lack of general education on Black hair is not often brought to light. Society as a whole could do better actively listening to the stories of Black Americans and their struggles with facing discrimination by their appearance, epsecially in the workplace. Allies of the movement can be molded through education and exposure to new experiences to encourage open-mindedness and empathy. Although, as the Natural Hair Movement inches along and education about it becomes more accessible, decade by decade, the crowns of Black people continue to shimmer a bit more.