African American hair care requires careful attention

Juliana Discher | Staff Writer

Don’t touch my hair.

Having strangers constantly feel your hair or ask if it’s real is the uncomfortable reality for these African American students. For junior Aniya Longmire, when some people see her long hair, they assume it’s fake.

“I went to the mall with my two friends, and this lady stopped us to show us a hair care product,” Longmire said. “She assumed I had a weave. Some people think African American women can’t have long hair; they think we all have weaves.”

Longmire said the composition of black hair is different from other races and requires certain care techniques.

“African American hair has to be moisturized, or it will break off,” Longmire said. “We have thicker, more coarse hair. Black people do not like the rain. We do not like the pool. We do not want to get our hair wet, or it will revert to its natural state.”

While styling is common, more African American women are wearing their hair natural. Two-thirds of African American women wore a natural hairstyle in 2013, according to Mintel’s Black Consumers and Hair Care executive summary. Junior Amaya King said she’s come to accept her natural hair and no longer tries to emulate society’s standard of beauty.

“Growing up in Mason, the stereotype here is that to be pretty, you have to have long, straight, blonde hair,” King said. “This year I’ve focused on building my confidence. I had a weave in and took it all out and went all natural. African American hair is very versatile–I can wear it curly like I am now, straighten it, have an afro, or blow it out.”

African American males embrace their natural hair as well. For freshman Marshall Spencer, having an afro allows him to stand out in a crowd.

“I feel like I’m well known for having my hair,” Spencer said. “I haven’t cut my hair in four years. People know me by my hair and it’s a way to express myself.”

Senior Jariah Sweeten said the pressure to have straight hair extends beyond the classroom and into the workforce.

“A lot of black girls aren’t comfortable in their own skin and with their hair,” Sweeten said. “We’ve adapted to European beauty styles, which is the reason we get our hair straightened. It’s a disrespect to our ancestors to get our hair straightened, but we’ve been influenced. We can’t go to a job interview with our natural hair because more than likely we won’t get it, but if you have straight hair, that helps. That’s why a lot of girls wear weaves, because they have to look white. It’s horrible, but that’s the reality that we live in.”

Cultural appropriation is the use of elements of one culture by members of another culture. There has been a trend of non-black celebrities taking hairstyles from African American culture and attempting to create them into their own style. Celebrity mogul Kim Kardashian was one of the early celebrities to wear cornrows, or braids. Sweeten said she does not have a problem when people use black hairstyles, but does when they are intolerant of African Americans as a whole.

“I don’t get mad when people of other races use black hairstyles, but you can’t take some and say that other styles are gross,” Sweeten said. “You have to take it or leave it. When there were riots going on, people didn’t want to stand with us during this protest, but you want to wear our hairstyles and dress and dance like us. You have to accept it all.”

Ultimately, King said she suggests people be respectful and mindful when it comes to African American hair.

“I would advise people to educate themselves about hair,” King said. “There are ways to be respectful and ask questions without invading someone’s privacy. Appreciate everyone’s hair whether it’s real or fake.”