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When I was first introduced to the idea of embracing my natural hair back during the year of 2012, I sort of went into this new way of life for me blind. I didn’t really have a plan or anything about how I wanted my hair to look nor grow. I didn’t know how to manage it, to be honest I had never truly seen what my real textured hair looked or felt like at its best. I pretty much had no idea what I was doing. But I did know that I wanted to embrace my own hair in its own natural state in the healthiest manner possible.
After 8 years of being natural now, to me personally, the true meaning of the natural hair movement is for me to be able to make the final decisions on how I want my hair to be and look. Me being natural doesn’t mean that I am rebelling against chemical relaxers or chemical treatments. It does not mean that I am trying to force my beliefs of being natural onto anyone else whom may chose to relax their hair. Me, going natural does not mean that I am being lazy with my hair, nor does it mean that I can not afford to relax or chemically treat my hair.
To me, going natural means that I make the decisions for my hair and how I want it to look. It means that I do not have to consult with anyone or ask for permission to do what I want with my hair. Now, when I say permission, I mean society’s false sense of standards when it comes to beauty. When I first embraced my natural hair journey, I quickly learned that society as a whole including women of the African American community, have set these untold rules that your hair has to be straight in order for you to get anywhere in the world or to be taken serious. This was true at one point in time in history which is what truly started the idea of straightening hair throughout the African American community. Back during slavery and segregation times, black women would straighten their hair in an effort to be more accepted. They did this in order to obtain jobs as well, again in a search of more and better acceptance. To me, this amazing natural hair movement and journey has broken that desire of acceptance and applied resistance against society’s false sense of what beauty is supposed to be just like so many other great movements going on in the African American community right now. Just think 10-20 years ago, you would rarely see a woman of color walking around with an afro, or even slightly going to a job interview with an afro at all. If they were, then there was a chance they wouldn’t receive the job offer. Right now, you can find women of color not only owning their own businesses and services, but you can also find women of color working in establishments while rocking their own hair in its natural state.
Some believe that this movement is new and it’s not.
African American women have been fighting to wear their own hair for decades now. Many may not have been taught about this nor have learned about this in school but at one point in time it was illegal for a black woman to wear her own hair out in public. It had to be covered at all times–by law.
According to NPS, back during the year of 1786 the Tignon Law was passed by New Orleans governor Don Estevan Miro. Tignon Law prohibited Creole women of color from wearing excessive hairstyles in public by forcing women of color to wear hair scarfs at all times while in public. The word Tignon means head scarf or head wrap. By enforcing the wear of hair scarfs this also signified that they were slaves–whether they were slaves or not. You’re probably thinking how can they enforce this type of law onto someone that is not a slave. Well during the year of 1769, the law of coartacion was passed that allowed slaves in Louisiana to buy their freedom through cash payments leading up to about 44% of Louisiana’s population being free slaves. With this freedom, people of color in this particular state during this time period set out to show their freedom through wealth and status. As a way to control that new found wealth and status, the Tignon Law was put into place.
Imagine in today’s age and time period, not being able to walk out of your home without a hair scarf on. Back then you couldn’t rock your typical unique hair braid styles, you couldn’t wear your hair down your back, or even have two flat twists showing. Your hair had to be covered completely or you would be punished by the government. Sound crazy and delusional right? Well that’s not the only bad part about this. The worst part of this is the reasoning for why the law was passed in the first place.
The Tignon Law came about from a sense of control but mainly simple jealousy. Back then, even as slaves, women of color in New Orleans would wear their natural hair before the law was passed in unique ways. Some with jewels, others with beads. This was a common thing to accessorize and show your personality by how you wear your hair, exactly how it is in today’s age and time period. Well, during that time, white women had a huge problem with this. White women, at the time and in this particular location, seen women of color wearing their hair in unique ways with their natural texture showing as a way to attract white men away from them. Crazy right? We all know what happened between most of the white men and women of color during slavery and segregation, and it was not even close to something of attracting a white man’s attention with their hair deliberately. Many women of color were adored by white male slave owners as sexual objects in which many were raped, sexually assaulted and molested at a young age and on into adulthood. But white women didn’t see it that way. They seen it as their men being lured away from them through black women’s uniqueness and envied it heavy and that’s where the Tignon Laws came into place initially. Another reasoning for this law, was to control free slaves. Free women of color flaunted their freeness through what they wore and this pissed off slave owners on a heavy level. In a way to control their freedom, Tignon Laws were enforced heavy to tone down free slave glow and establishment while free.
Through the Tignon Law, women of color were prohibited from wearing their hair all together pretty much. They had to wear a headscarf with some sort of knot apart of it. It has not been stated, but to me the idea of their hair scarfs always having to be in a knot just relates back to nooses being used to hang slaves of both genders to me. The knots in hair scarfs seem to be a psychological way of letting women whom were even free know that they were still tied down to slavery, trapped and hung mentally. Jewels and gems could not be present on the scarves. It was said that Governor Esteban Rodriguez Miro of Louisiana thought that this law would slow down white men’s desire of black women in the state of Louisiana while also dividing black women from being apart of the same class status as white women.
Even though the Tignon Law were disappointing and a discouraging sense of control. There was a great resistance that happened with them.
The amazing thing about women of color when it comes to this massive natural hair movement is our resistance. Even with the Tignon Law, women back then resisted heavy. They were told that they had to wear hair scarfs but couldn’t wear gems, jewels or beads on them. But they were not told that they couldn’t personalize them with certain fabrics and materials, nor being limited to certain ways of tying and knotting them. You can see this resistance in today’s day and age too with our hair. We are often told that our natural hair is unprofessional or not stylish, so we add jewels and gems and place our natural curls into certain styles to counter this notion. When those of the 1700s in Louisiana seen that the Tignon Law did not stop the resistance it soon became a norm for women of color to wear head scarfs in their own personal way and it has continued right now even in the year of 2020.
Comparison Kills the Movement
The biggest downfall of the natural hair movement I have seen in today’s age is African American women’s sense of comparison to one another. I’m going to be upfront and blunt with you right now. No one’s hair is the same and it will never be the same as another.
I have personally done this with my own hair.
When I first started on my journey back during 2012, I would compare my hair with those whom had completely different hair types as me. Often thinking I could just wet my hair and it would curl completely without me needing any type of curling products. But in reality my hair type will never be able to do that at all. I had to learn what my hair likes and what it does not like. I had to learn that my hair is completely different and unique for me and me only. I think we as African American women need to all have this mindset. We won’t all look the same nor do everything the same way. There may be some strong similarities but none of us are completely the same especially with our hair and that’s what makes our natural black hair so great and wonderful. This natural hair movement is for embracing that unique part of all of us. It is about helping one another along our individual journeys of learning our own hair without comparing and trying to make one another look the same, nor is it about placing certain hair types above others.
This natural hair movement was never, ever about putting down one another based on the choices made for your own hair. It has always been about embracing one another and accepting one another for who they truly are. Mainly learning how to just be yourself through your hair.
- Black Enterprise – Black Women With Natural Hairstyles are Perceived as Less Professional
- NPS Ethnography: African American Heritage & Ethnography
- Essence: The Tignon Laws Set The Precedent For The Appropriation and Misconception Around Black Hair
- bitch media: The History of Louisiana’s 18th-Century Tignon Laws