The history of “Black Hair and Beauty Culture” mirrors the intricacy of both African and American cultures. Over the years, African American hair has been associated with the ideology of white visual conception. Some people say that Blacks have embraced hairstyles and beauty methods that reflect popular European standards of beauty. However, Blacks have used their West African roots and their own artistry to create styles and standards that reflect a unique Black culture.

Around 1441 when African slaves were brought west to the “New World,” they were confronted with their first loss of identity. It was then that the one and only identity they had, was stripped from them. The standards of beauty that they encountered were the privilege of fair skin, straight hair, and thin features, in contrast to “African” dark skin, curly hair, and wider noses and mouths. Some slaves had to get accustomed to the European beauty styles to survive (literally). Often times they would serve as barbers and/or beauticians for their white owners. Other slaves attempted to stay with their traditional African hair customs; for example, braiding hair using African patterns and using natural herbs from trees for their hair and skin care.

Many Blacks argue that imitating European standards of beauty and grooming was necessary for Blacks to be accepted by white culture, especially by potential white masters and employers. For generations hairstyles have reflected the history of American race relations and the way Blacks wore their hair reflected the dominant white culture. African-American hair was straightened, combed, or parted to mimic Western coiffures. In response to the propaganda in Black communities to accept the European standards of beauty, the Black hair care market expanded.

Over the years African Americans have thrown away the European standards of beauty. During the 1960′s the �Afro� debuted and with it the concept of Black is Beautiful. During the 80′s and the 90′s West African traditional hairstyles began to resurface in the Black community. Many people were getting braids with the traditional West African patterns. There are many beauty shops that are designed to create only West African traditional hairstyles.

Near the end of the twentieth century, relaxed hair became popular again in a wide range of short and long styles, while the new jheri curl used a different chemical to create loose, wet curls for both men and women. Women and men chose dreadlocks, twist, corkscrews, fades, and other styles that used the benefits of Black hair’s natural texture. Despite the economic depression in many Black neighborhoods, hair salons (for women) and barber shops (for men) remain among the most successful Black business in urban communities, and even African Americans who move to predominately white suburbs often return to Black urban neighborhoods to get their hair done.

Still, Blacks are losing control over the Black hair care market. Business by business, mergers and acquisitions are taking apart Black-owned hair care endevours. A moment of truth came when L’Oreal acquired Carson. The result was the top two-Black owned hair care companies (Johnson Products and Soft Sheen) were joined under L’Oreal�s ownership. Many white business people know kind of money Black people put into their hair care and want a part of that market.

The popularity of natural African American hairstyles has also developed an Internet following. There are many cosmetology-related jobs in other websites with information, products, and tips for African American hair care. Websites devoted to natural styles, braids and dreadlocks are growing too. Black Hair Media is one of the more comprehensive sites online. Nappy Hair is another online resource for anyone who needs guidance managing natural hair. Offline, many books have been published on the topic, among the most recent is the 2003-released, “Hair Rules: The Ultimate Hair-Care Guide for Women with Kinky, Curly, or Wavy Hair,” by New York City stylist, Anthony Dickey.


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