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Two world wars the Civil Rights movement and a Jheri curl later Blacks in America continue to have a complex and convoluted relationship with their hair From the antebellum practice of shaving the head in an attempt to pass as a free person to the 1998 uproar over a White third grade teacher's reading of the book Nappy Hair the issues surrounding Black hair linger as we enter the twenty first centuryTying the personal to the political and the popular Hair Story takes a chronological look at the culture behind the ever changing state of Black hair from fifteenth century Africa to the present day United States Hair Story is the book that Black Americans can use as a benchmark for tracing a uniue aspect of their history and that people of all races will celebrate as the reference guide for understanding Black hair


10 thoughts on “Hair Story

  1. says:

    Chapter 6 is something that every white person should read to understand and accept our ignorance of black hair Growing up with many black friends and my freshman year college roommate being Haitian I had heard many of the stories told in this book already This book raises a lot of uestions that I'll internalize as self reflection of myself and what I will teach my future kids so that they won't be poking and prodding into personal subjects that arent really their right to uestion in the first place What a great book Highly recommend


  2. says:

    Black hair is big business and natural hair doesn't mean product free hair I've been natural for 14 years and often say I was natural but it was cool Today African American women have freedom to make the hair choices they want With the public acceptance of natural hair African American women have been freed from the bondage of conformity This book discusses the history of hair through the self hate political implications and lucrative business of African American hair A must read for those that want to truly understand the deep seeded appreciation for African American hair


  3. says:

    It was a bit repetitive in its information at times but there was a lot to learn in this text It brought back some moments of nostalgia and is definitely a fun take on black history I imagine sharing this with a future daughter or niece I do wish that there could be an updated edition to include the massive return to natural that we're currently seeing in Black hair care


  4. says:

    Every American has something to learn from “Hair Story” which spans from the elaborate hairstyles of the 15th century Wolof Mende Mandingo and Yoruba to the fades weaves locs and twist outs of today And the lesson is that the hair we grow and the styles we wear it in say something significant about who we are where we’ve come from and where we hope to goIts studied exploration of prickly hair politics is astute and revelatory delivering deep insight to novices and enthusiasts alike Even as a longtime student of black history and culture I found new detail and understanding on each pageMy personal takeaway was that rather than judging others’ choices in hair styles—natural or not—we need to bring a spirit of openness and inuiry to the looks instead That is we need to earn our opinions on hair in the same way that we should earn our opinions on politics or religion through careful study contemplation and than a little compassionThe Politics of AppearanceWhile many realize that when it comes to black hair there is much much historical and cultural significance than meets the eye It takes a deep study like this one however to reveal just how much there is“Hair Story” meticulously details a centuries long assault on black hair It begins by offering a moving account of what exactly was lost when slaveholders shaved off the elaborate hairstyles of their captives Signifiers of age religion marital status ethnic identity wealth and rank fell to the ground Distinctive humanity was shorn into anonymous chattelThe book presents a vexing picture of what happened when the evolutionary genius of dense tightly coiled hair perfect for insulating heads from intense sun was taken out of context in the New World In the skin shade hair texture hierarchy of interracial antebellum America straight hair often afforded substantial economic and social advantage Less backbreaking work on plantations and in some cases an “opportunity” to pass for white altogether could be won if hair passed musterIn such a divided and dysfunctional world the obsessive pursuit of unnaturally straight hair among black people became well natural the authors explain Inventive enslaved people turned cornmeal and kerosene into shampoo and bacon grease and butter into conditioner Butter knives became crude curling irons and grown men slicked axle grease made for wagon wheels onto their heads as dual hair dye and straightener Lye and potatoes a mix potent enough to burn the skin off a person’s head became a hair straightener of choiceYears later the echoes of these black hair taming offensives reverberate in contemporary press and curls Jheri curls relaxers and weaves the authors revealAvoiding the Hair Police TrapImportantly Byrd and Tharps explore these issues of hair identity and social acceptability without plotting styles along a facile continuum from supposedly self hate inspired relaxers to empowered naturals In today’s black hair free for all—where a black first lady’s bangs and a black gold medal gymnast’s ponytail edges send the media atwitter—things are much too complicated and contested for thatThe authors are especially adept at walking the fine line between critiue and condemnation I was shocked to discover through their account the extent to which hair styles are still thought to both signify and confer economic and social status They smartly observe a host of contradictions and fissures within the black community that merit discussion but they contextualize them fairly prompting reflection versus mere reactionThey also infuse historical voices and searing details into their narrative that keep it lively and personal I won’t soon forget their description of a fine toothed comb dangling outside a church to signal that only those with hair silky enough to pass through it were welcome to worship I shivered as I read about hair product companies named Curl I Cure Kinkilla and KKK Knocks Kinks Krazy I lamented the irony of black newspapers that wrote about racial pride on pages overrun with advertisements for skin whiteners and hair straightenersI loved this book and recommend it highly to anyone seeking insight into black culture in America–our hair speaks volumesuibblesIn fact I have only a few grumbles about it the artwork the less nuanced present day perspective and a few too many mentions of one Nat Mathis who by some editing glitch was introduced in four different chapters With a nickname like “The Bush Doctor” he stood out in a jarring wayAs the book’s narrative inches closer to 2014 the authors don’t provide the same depth of context and insight that they do from slavery to the 60s We get a good picture of “what” is going on with hair styles and hair debates but the analysis is missing a bit of the “why” that we got in earlier chapters which chronicled slavery through the Black Power MovementPerhaps the authors assume that the reader brings sufficient personal knowledge of the social and cultural context in which new hairstyles and hair attitudes are emerging Maybe the reasons behind the profusion of styles we see today are too hard to pinpoint given the increasingly diverse social economic and cultural lives of black people in America After all today we are mass incarcerated in jail cells own television networks and occupy the White House a range of black experience never before witnessedStill I wanted of the Byrd’s and Tharp’s distillation of hair stories in relation to large scale social trends affecting contemporary black people in recent decades What exactly was going on with black people in the 70s and 80s that made a Jheri curl wet mess that it was seem attractive? How are contemporary trends like failing public schools growing wealth ineuality and a black First Family expressed in hair? Basically I’m lobbying for an illustrated Hair Story II so that we can all hear from these fantastic authorsn Living ColorAdditionally better paper stock and photography would have taken this book from great to exceptional While several photos are featured within the book the fuzzy reproductions just don’t do the styles or the author’s analysis justice I wanted to really see the drip off of the ‘80s curly perms on page 109 and the kinks and curls throughout the bookUntil my dream of a fully illustrated edition of this book comes true I recommend “Posing Beauty African American Images from the 1890s to the Present” as a companion to “Hair Story” “Posing Beauty” features gorgeous duo tone and full color photographs of everyday folks and celebrities rocking the naps and conks and perms and twists that Byrd and Tharps contextualize so well“Hair Story” talks about the brief moment in time when singer James Brown abandoned his press and curl for a short ‘fro and sang “I’m Black and I’m Proud” with such charisma that it became an anthem But you need a copy of “Posing Beauty” to see the sharp as a tack unstraightened style on him after a concert where the “Black is Beautiful” slogan was introduced


  5. says:

    My book is a hardcover It looks and feels very much like a school text book The story of black people's hair begins in Africa The variety of hair textures range from deep ebony kinky curls to the loosly curled flowing locks The hair of men and women had a social significance that spoke to society standing and religious importance The hair is the most elevated point of the body which meant it was the closest to the divine One of the most important people in community life was the hairdresser because many believed a person's spirit nestled in the hairThe manner in which the hair was styled often sent a message about the person Young unmarried girls often shaved parts of their heads to signal their unavailability for courting A recently widowed woman left her hair unkept for a period of mourning A man wore his hair in a particular braided style before going to war which signified he was prepared to die In the tribe or social group the hair braiding sessions were a time of shared confidences or laughter as a circle did each others hairWhen Europeans first came in contact with the African natives in the 15th century they were astounded by the complexity of the style texture and adornments of black hairAs the African people were captured bought and sold and transported to other parts of the world in the bowels of ships they could not tend to the needs of their hair Often the slave traders shaved the heads of their newly acuired property Sometimes this was done for health reasons but often to erase the slaves culture Arriving in the new world without their hairstyles the people became anonymous chattlehuman beasts of burden Without the combs herbal ointments and palm oil used in Africa for hairdressing the slaves were forced to use common Western household products to achieve certain styles Instead of palm oil they used bacon grease butter kerosene and even axle greaseAs time passed and the number of blacks grew the issue of good hair and bad hair became divisive among the black populations Adding to that divide was the fact that the lighter skin of some blacks and mulattos were favored by the white society Those with light skin were brought into the household to serve while the darker skinned were worked in the fields Malcom X referred to these as house niggers and field niggers Those with lighter skin and straighter hair were said to have good hair and the darker skinned were said to have bad hairThe good hair bad hair divide was internal in black societyslave and free By the time slavery was offically abolished in 1865 good hair and light skin became the offical keys to membership in the Negro elite In some churches a fine toothed comb hung from the front door All persons wanting to join that church had to pass the comb smoothly through their hair If the hair was too kinky membership was denied This was known as the comb testWhile society was generally accepting of lighter skinned blacks black people both light skinned and dark skinned helped perpetuate this truth by maintaining the straight hair light skinned heirarchy within their own ranks Jobs marriage partners and even education were typically predicated on the texture of the hair and the shade of the skin Black men and women eagerly sought out the commercial products being manufactured exclusively for black hair in the late 19th centuryAdvertisements for skin lighteners and hair straighteners marketed by white companies suggested to blacks that only through changing physical features will persons of African descent be afforded class mobility within the African American communities and social acceptance by the dominate cultureTo gain access to the American dream one of the first things blacks had to do was make white people comfortable with their very presence That was much easier for people with good hairAs black populations began to acuire disposable income they had the means to purchase cosmeticsbleaching creams and hair straighteners In the early 20th century black owned companies manufactured products to help create an industry that was pro black while pushing an agenda of altering or improving on black features by making them appear whiterAnnie Malone and Madam CJ Walker were early successful pioneers in the hair business Their companies sought to create safe affordable products that would give all classes of black women the means of achieving the straight haired ideal by making black women feel good about how they lookedOthers like Nannie Helen Borroughs and Booker T Washington spoke against the idea that black women spend their time and money buying and using straightening products trying to be whiteWithin the black community straight hair was not only the preferred look but a marker of one's position in society Light skin and straight hair still represented wealth education and access to the upper echelons of society As early as 1916 80% of students in black colleges were light skinned and of mixed heritageSome of the procedures used to obtain straight hair included metal combs that were heatedhot combs and various chemicals including lye These procedures were time consuming and often painful Added to the several products created to straighten nappy hair were hairpieces then known as falsies and wigsAfter WWII different attitudes began to be voiced by the likes of Cassius Claylater known as Muhammed Ali and other black entertainers who wore their hair short in unstraightened styles that helped begin the thought that deemed straight hair was the euivalent to self hatred Malcom X said as much when he said he literally burned my flesh to have it look like a white man's hairThrough the 1950's and into the 60's as blacks united and pressed for civil rights under the leadership of the Nation of Islam and the Black Power movement began to redefine themselves visually in order to find true emancipation Colored people and Negros became Black people and they adopted an alternative to straight hairthe Afro They also began to show a visible connection to their African ancestors by wearing African clothing and adopting African names They came to realize that black was beautifulNow that black was beautiful straightening one's hair in the image of white beauty was seen as blasphemy Marcia Gillespie said This blacker than thou game it started in the 60's Some blacks were simply born without nappy hair The sought after good hair of the recent past was now a badge of shame for manyIn the hippie peace movement blacks with Afros took their place alongside of white longhairs The 60's changed almost everyone's way of thinking about themselves and others The older folks both black and white had negative reactions to the Afro and longhair because they were raised in a different way Black hair product manufactures disliked the Afro for financial reasons They were in a recession because not as many hot combs relaxer kits pomades and curlers were being soldThe summer of love ended The 60's and the 70's passed away Another generation found its voice in the 80's Jheri Redding a white hair care entrepreneur invented a chemical process that converted straight white hair into curly hairthe California Curl With the help of a black colleague he reformulated his original product to adapt to black hairand the Jheri Curl was bornBlack owned hair product manufactures were back in business in a big way So too were hair salons and barbershops The Care Free Curl was applied in a salon at a cost of 80 to 100 then maintained daily with a variety of moisturizers and curl activators The Curl was a gold mine for manufactures until people decided that the cost of replacing lubricant stained pillow cases shirt collars and furniture wasn't worth the curly hairdoEssance magazine in 1990 urged readers to Reclaim Our Culture by living a Afro centric life in order to travel the path toward self determination Black and white owned companies tried to out Africanize one another with new or improved hair and beauty products Many of those products not only didn't perform as advertised but actually caused harm with itchy scalps with oozing blisters green hair and in some cases complete hair loss After three hundred years of waiting for that perfect product to make black hair straight shiny and longthe weave industry took off By the late 90's 13 million pounds of human hair were imported from China India and Indonesia The human hair selling business from New York to Los Angeles was dominated by Korean immigrantsBlacks continued to dominate the salon and barbershop business because black men and women feel comfortable having their hair done by someone with black hair Famous black women like Oprah Winfree Janet JacksonDiana Ross and Tyra Banks wore weaves and braid extensions to get that long swinging straight hair which was once again called good hair Beauty magazines music videos and Hollywood movies sought out light skinned long haired womenDredlocks and cornrows were another way to connect with one's African roots Dreds were soon adopted by whites too Also wearing Dredlocks were Hindu holy men Rastafarians Maori warriors of New Zealand and Bo Derek It is a hairstyle over which no group can claim ownershipBlack children are indoctrinated into the culture of hair and the black hair lifestyle Even now the permanents necessary to having good hair reuire a lot of time and maintenance and money Whether black people view their hair as a crowning glory or a lifelong frustration finding the right person to clip it cut it or style it is very important Their hairdresser is right up there as important in their lives as clergy and parentsHair for me a white man has always had a major importance in my life In the 60's and early 70's when guys my age had long hair I could not because I was in the Marine Corp After my military service I tried to let my hair grow but at work or in church or in Lodge older men kept bugging me to get a haircut In 2007 I retired from pretty much everything and let my hair grow longalmost down to my waist You can see it in my profile photosMy head of hair is very thick and has several colors in it It's almost white in the front and on the top and graduates to a dark brown near the back of my neck I have had many people comment about how beautiful my hair is I don't mean to bragI'm just saying the truth When my wife would braid one single braid down the middle of my back that I call my Jesus braid or makes two braids that hang over my shoulders to the front that I call my Willie Nelson braids the several colors intertwine down through the braids I seem to get compliments about my hair from black folks especially older black women I've often wondered why that was so Now I think I knowMichael


  6. says:

    I picked up a copy of this book at my local library Even though I'm a former hairdresser I never learned how to work on ethnic or black hair because there were no African American students in my cosmetology class If there were no African American students enrolled in the cosmetology course at the local vocational school African American customers would not come into the beauty school Same thing happened to me in the real world once I was employed at salons no African American hairdressers in the salon no African American customers Because of this African American hair has fascinated me yet been out of reach I have had conversations at work with patrons and coworkers about the African American community's perception of hair and the reactions women receive when they wear their hair super short and naturalAs the title suggests the authors dig deep into the roots of African American hair culture all the way back to Africa In Africa hairstyles were used to advertise marital status or lack thereof0 age religion ethnic identity wealth and rank within the community p 2 Because of the high status of hair within many numerous African cultures when the slave traders shaved slaves' heads this caused great cultural shame and the highest indignity Arriving without their signature hairstyles slaves entered the New World just as Europeans intended like anonymous chattel p 10The American slave system and work hierarchy environment helped develop the social structure of the slave community 'light skinned' house slaves and 'dark skinned' field slaves; 'good hair' vs 'bad hair' p18 This system of skin color gradients and hair types are still used within the African American community today which has psychologically harmed millions of African Americans as they use various products and chemicals in an attempt to fit into a rigid standard of beautyThe book covers historical moments in African American hair history such as Madame CJ Walker the pressing comb the relaxer the Afro wigs weaves and the natural hair movement Contemporary hair controversies Gabby Douglas Don Imus Blue Ivy are also discussed As the natural hair movement becomes a global phenomenon and business opportunity many hair care companies are realizing that the future of hair care is going to be about texture not race p224 You can read of my reviews on wwwthesouthernbookwormblogpsotcom


  7. says:

    Before the natural hair “revolution” took fold I purchased Hair Story Untangling The Roots of Black Hair in America by Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps when it first came out in 2001 It is a comprehensive look at African American hair from slavery to the 2000’s On a personal note I went back to my natural hair in December 2009 and I never considered myself a champion in the natural hair journey I didn’t do the big chop to be trendy or ground breaking I was simply having a hard time caring for my relaxed hair because it was dry brittle and constantly shedding I also believe my hormones were acting up since I just found out I was pregnant with my second child That being said I never realized there was a natural hair “movement” happening when I cut my hair Three years later there are constant debates and festivals centered around natural hair Well this book is an excellent source since it shows the history behind natural hair It profiles the psychology of African American hair as well as outlines the roots pun intended behind the movement


  8. says:

    There are so many aspects about Black hair and the culture surrounding it that people simply aren’t aware of With Hair Story Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America Byrd and Tharps attempt to make that information as accessible as possible This book begins where African American history begins the tribes of Africa and the pride that was once held in black hair It continues with how the pride and care put into Black hair was demolished during the middle passage and the beginnings of slavery It expands on the idea of Black hair with examining the beauty standards of the day in America and how enslaved Black people had no luxuries and none of the oils and tools they used in Africa were available to them to properly care for their hair Issues of race and colorism also weighed heavily throughout the history of Black culture and still has an effect on how Black hair is perceived in society From the earliest parts of history to 2014 when this version was released many wide ranging topics are discussed including the industry and money behind it As a Black woman there are many parts of this story and the history of black hair that I was well aware of The stigma of natural hair the concept of “good” hair versus “bad” hair and the manageability of Black hair were things openly commented on throughout my life Hair Story though brought all of these concepts together and did a really good job of simply presenting the facts I appreciated how well researched and comprehensive the information was The area in which I was completely unaware was the industry behind Black hair and how it has changed so extensively over the centuries What Byrd and Tharps really did with Hair Story was remove the veil regarding Black hair If you are a complete novice to the subject then this would be a great book to introduce you to the beauty that is Black hair The problems I have surrounding this book has to do with the way it was structured At times it became repetitive and redundant There were interviews included throughout the book in the middle of chapters and often than not it completely disrupted the flow of information I would still recommend this book because it does have a plethora of information and really handles the topic well Overall I give this story 35 out of 5 stars


  9. says:

    Oh my goodness you guys this one is so good We get the whole history of Black hair in Africa and beyond with portraits of hairstyles through the years and advertisements for Black hair products We get interviews with tons of men and women about their hair and the implications of wanting “good” hair hair that’s straight and smooth We get the story of politics in Black hairstyles And there’s a chapter in here that’s basically a letter to White people about Black hair and hair routines and it is perfect From Buy Borrow Bypass Nonfiction about Hair at Book Riot


  10. says:

    That insensitive man needs to read this book to understand the history of kinky hair since he seems to have an issue about itIt is a good read about black hair politics I went through all the phases of kinky hair from press in curl perm natural braids twists and then press and curl and back to the creamy crackNow I am suffering from alopecia so I am allowing my hair to be pressedNo creamy crack for me because it is so wack