Knowing Your Roots: Celebrating Hair in Black Culture

Black hair is a staple in Black history.

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Dr. Hope Rias, a History Professor at Siena College, shared the methods slaves used their hair for.

“After Africans were forcibly taken to the United States, they would sometimes use their braids to communicate messages to each other” Rias said.

In the 1960s, Black people used their hair in the style of an Afro as non-violent act of resistance.

“It was a way of saying, ‘I am embracing who I am. I am American, but I am also of African descent. This is what natural is to me,'” Rias said.

The stigma behind Afros and braids in the workplace remains. Although New York passed a human rights law to stop hair discrimination in the workplace. However, Black women and men still carry the burden of changing their hair to fit the “acceptable standard.”

Master hairstylist Darrell Michael is dedicated to celebrating and educating clients about proper hair care and hair loss.

“Building connections and building a bond with my clients is really something that I do,” Michael said.

According to John Hopkins Medicine, almost half of Black women and men experience some form of hair loss. This is because of abrasive hairstyling practices at home and in the chair.

“Make sure your stylist is mindful of the tension that happens in the front, especially. That is where the hair is most fragile. That’s where it breaks off the worst,” Darrell said.

Hair loss has been in the Black community for decades. In the 1900s the first Black millionaire, Madam CJ Walker’s hair loss prompted her to seek a cure.

Taryn Davila, a Brooklyn native, suffered from extreme hair loss before meeting Darrell.

“I got to the point where I was scared. It was something I didn’t pay much attention to. I took it for granted. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m losing my hair. It was getting shorter and shorter,'” said Davila.

The effects it had on her are heartbreaking.

“It was devastating to my self-esteem, to my confidence. In a way, I was ashamed,” she said.

Black hair, generally, has lower porosity than other hair types – meaning Black hair is more prone to dryness and breakage if it’s not properly cared for. We need more tools that retain length and our natural state of hair, Darrell said.