For many Black women, getting their hair done is essential to maintain their mental health. When Black women get their hair done, whether it be braids, twists, locs or frontals, it is a sense of freedom and individuality. The aesthetic of Essence, Ebony and Jet magazines sitting on the round table, waiting for the individual to read, or the sound of gossip and uplifting conversations from generation to generation makes the Black hair space unique and safe for many Black women.
The first natural hair movement started during the late 1960s during the “Black is beautiful” movement, which encouraged Black people to embrace their skin color and natural hair. At the time, afros were the staple style for Black women due to what they symbolize, which was freedom from white beauty standards. Today, the “Black is beautiful” movement remains alive and well on Howard’s campus and beyond.
Tyler Wilson, a sophomore communication major specializing in media management and a minor in business administration, specializes in stitch braids, knotless braids and occasional freestyles. Wilson believes her client being comfortable is her number one priority.
“I am confident that all of my regular clientele trusts me enough to talk about their personal feelings and feel good after doing so,” Wilson said. “Not only do they feel good, but each of my clients walk out with a smile on their faces. This ultimately creates a safe space and environment for them to wind down and decompress.”
“It’s Been a Minute” podcast host Brittany Luse is known for how she unapologetically wears her afro in professional settings. The twist about Brittney’s story is that she did not always know how to take care of her hair. She shared that it took a hairstylist in a salon in Harlem, New York, and her older sister to teach her that her hair is a crown.
“He basically taught me how to start taking care of my curly natural hair. That was the first time that happened. I was 17 going on 18 heading into college before I had a conversation with professionals that was focused on and tailored to natural hair care.”
Not only is the Black hair salon a space to decompress, but it is also a space where Black women thrived socially, economically and educationally. Howard University associate professor Dr. Nicole Jenkins is the primary investigator for the Global CROWNs Research Project. She interviews women about their experiences wearing their natural hair globally, hoping to capture the varying ways that anti-blackness and natural hair discrimination impact women differently throughout the globe. She believes that the Black hair space provided Black women with opportunities.
“Educationally, Black hair salons were also a vital source of information and education. They were often used as spaces for informal education, where Black women could learn about health, nutrition, and other important issues. Additionally, many salons offered classes and training for hairstyling and other beauty-related skills, which helped to empower Black women and provide them with new opportunities, ” Jenkins said.
Some women grow up in hair salons and have learned life lessons by listening to older women who have experienced the same trials. For many, the biggest takeaway from the salon experience is the relationships and stories of other Black women on how to conquer this world as women of integrity.
Armani Washington, a junior honors media broadcast major from Chicago, Illinois, said the conversations and perspectives offered helped mold her into who she is.
“I learned beauty standards, just like, what makes a Black woman beautiful,” she said, explaining the time she had to cut her hair and how women in the salon told her “it is not about what is on the outside but what is within.”
Even though natural hair is seen as a symbol of empowerment for Black women, it is not always considered appropriate. It has been proven through research that Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair. To fight against hair discrimination, four women came together to create the CROWN Act.
The CROWN Act, which stands for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” enables women to wear their hair as they choose without being discriminated against. To guarantee protection against discrimination centered on race-based hairstyles the act would extend legal rights to hair texture and protective styles such as braids, locs, twists and knots in the workplace and public schools.
Political strategist Adjoa B. Asamoah was one of four women who implemented the CROWN Act. She believes that it is necessary to ensure that Black women are given equal rights.
“Our babies being told that essentially the way you were born is not okay is nonsense,” Asamoah said. “As if racial discrimination in this country isn’t bad as it has always been, you mean to tell me that you want me to suffer the psychological impact of you telling me the way I was born was not okay? I want people to realize that they have power. The CROWN Act is one example of how we can leverage our power and skill set to yield change.”
As we approach Black history month, ironically, Black women have been at the forefront of passing legislation to give other Black women the right to wear their natural hair.
Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee