The Controversy of Black Hair
February is the month of love because we celebrate Valentine’s Day on the 14th day of the month. Paradoxically the month of love is also the shortest in the year and Black History Month. Love is something the world needs even more now, and Black History is so complex that it is still taking years to sort through, as seen in current events.
With the start of a new year and spring approaching, I started to think about how love and Black History work together. I am not referring to romantic love between people but the love of Black people. Even saying the phrase love of Black people feels like an irony.
When the world thinks of Black people, they think of skin color and curly hair. Black hair with its curls, kinks, and texture has been controversial throughout history, needing to be controlled, stopped, or changed. It amazes me the time spent, the laws created, and the moral crimes committed for something not human-made, like the planet or outer space.
If we go back in history and look at the paintings during the 1600s and 1700s, we see that all the fashionable and wealthy people loved to make their hair or wigs curl and stand tall on their heads like modern time Afros. The most memorable person in people’s minds is Marie Antoinette, widely known for her puffy hairstyles. Although she was controversial in her day, she continues to influence fashion.
The actual demise of Black hair started with the onset of slavery in the Americas. The hairstyle and look that had reigned high among royalty in Europe for years soon lost its love and lure because of its new attachment to being seen as animalistic, unclean, and of low societal status. Black hair has had a heartbreaking story.
To examine this complex love story and celebrate the theme for Black History 2022, Health and Wellness, I reached out to Jennipher Adkins, Chief Executive Officer and President of JennyCapp, a haircare company and the founder of The Crown Act.org, an advocacy organization supporting the CROWN Act legislation. Ms. Adkins has been passionate about advocating for healthy Black hair for a long time creating her signature protective hair garments since the mid-’90s.
My Interview with Jennipher Atkins
The beauty of Black Hair
Black hair is one of the most delicate types of human hair, and its components are the same as other hair types. The structural difference in the hair’s elasticity and coils causes it to look and behave differently from other hair types. Compared to straight hair, Black hair contains more lipids or fats, but the lipids are less bonded. In addition, the follicle size is much thicker, and it has a flattened elliptical cross-section causing it to be curlier than other hair types. The hair structure makes it harder for the natural oils produced by the scalp less likely to get to the ends of the hair, making it be and appear drier. The loops and twists of each hair strand slow down how fast the natural oils produced by the body travel down the hair shaft. That is the reason Black hair needs extra love and care.
What do you want people to know about Black Hair?
Black hair is delicate because curly hair can break. After all, it’s got those curls, it’s got those bends, and if something stays in that position too long, it can literally break. And that’s why breakage is such an issue, but I want people to know that Black or curly hair is very versatile and high-performing hair. Imagine changing your hair from a coil to a straight needle. There are so many things you can do with Black hair. You can straighten it, texturize it, curl it, braid it, twist it, and it won’t come loose.
So, it’s not that people should see curly hair as a problem or an obstacle to anything; it should be embraced. Someone can go from zero to 60 with this type of hair, whereas it’s much harder to take someone who has non-textured hair and then make it into textured hair.
Natural Hair Movement
The Natural Hair Movement, or wearing your hair as it grows from your head, first originated in the 1960s — coinciding with the civil rights movement — and recently became popular again during the 2000s and 2010s.
Do you think the natural hair movement is here to stay?
Oh yeah. It is here to stay. My aunts, who are in their sixties and seventies, could never wear their hair naturally outside of their house professionally. Imagine you have to change the structure and style of your hair your whole life when you go outside your door, and you cannot go and get a job and be respected with the hair that naturally grows from your scalp. You must pay to have it styled or wear a wig.
People are finally relieved that it’s okay to wear their natural hair or braids. Black hair is not the monster anymore.
Educating Non-Black People and the Urge to Touch Black Hair
Do Black people need to educate others about their hair?
Yes, I think Black people need to educate non-Black people about their hair. I happen to have long hair, and a young Hispanic girl asked me if she could touch my hair. She said, oh wow. It is soft. I responded, is this the first time you’ve felt textured hair before? That’s another thing; call it textured hair. You don’t need to call it nappy and all these crazy names. It’s just textured hair or natural hair.
Why do non-Black people want to touch Black hair?
The fascination with touching. I think I get it. Black hair is like no other hair in the world.
Everyone is familiar with the texture of white hair; you either have it, or you had a doll that had it. It’s familiar; there’s no curiosity.
They finally get to touch it. Many non-Black people always wanted to see how it feels because most people think it’s hard because it’s standing straight up, but it’s soft. So there goes this weird thing about black hair, like what is it? How does it defy gravity, and it’s soft?
Accepting Black Hair
How can everyone make a difference around this topic of Black hair?
Humanity has got to get it together. You don’t need to put your foot on someone’s neck for you to feel better about yourself. You don’t need to make this hair bad and good hair; for what? For people who don’t have Black hair, try to stop yourself when you’re looking at Black hair and stop saying, oh, it looks dirty because it’s not like your hair. Black hair will look a certain way if it doesn’t have a chemical or product in it. It will look puffy.
Let’s stop making that into some type of limitation. Let’s stop thinking that way and start thinking this person is part of the human race, and we’re all uniquely different. Isn’t it wonderful that Black hair is on this planet and straight hair is on the planet and everything else in between? Black hair isn’t ugly; it’s only different.
The bias around Black hair is still strong in society. According to an NPR show called Code Switch, in a segment focused on natural Black Hair, a “Good Hair Study” conducted by the Perception Institute in partnership with Shea Moisture, a Black-owned hair and body products company, the study aimed to better understand the connection between implicit bias and textured hair.
The Good Hair Study asked over 4,000 participants to take an online IAT, or implicit association test, which involved rapidly-changing photos of black women with smooth and natural hair and rotating word associations with both. According to the study, “a majority of people, regardless of race and gender, hold some bias towards women of color based on their hair.” But the results also indicate that this bias is learned behavior and can be unlearned.
Some key findings confirm that black women suffer more anxiety around hair issues and spend more on hair care than white peers. They are almost twice as likely to experience social pressure at work to straighten their hair compared to white women.
The study also concludes that “White women demonstrate the strongest bias — both explicit and implicit — against textured hair.” They rated it as “less beautiful,” “less sexy/attractive,” and “less professional than smooth hair.
Teaching Black and Mixed Children to Love their hair
How should parents prepare their children who are Black or Mixed when dealing with their hair?
I have a daughter with a different hair texture than mine. She has something classified as Four C hair. Four C hair can stand straight up in the air. It has a strong curl pattern. We do our hair together, so she knows and is empowered on how to do hair and make her hair pretty. I buy her nice things to put in her hair.
The more you embrace your Black or Mixed child’s hair and have her involved, the better. The more she’s not empowered or disempowered to do her hair; she will not understand her hair. She will not know the product to put in her hair. That’s when the problems come. Start early for girls of all ages.
Black Hair Care Industry
The economic side of Black hair is tremendous. It’s huge but, the market is not owned by Black people, which is tragic. You had products like Stay Soft Fro and Pro-Line back in the eighties. Those are all Black-owned companies, and they are all gone. Now you have some black-owned companies making some product, but I don’t know where all this product comes from; there’s tons of it. You go to Chicago or Oakland; for example, there is a beauty supply on every corner.
According to Essence, African Americans spend $1.2 trillion each year, rising to $1.5 trillion in 2021. In 2018 the Black hair care industry raked in an estimated $2.51 billion, as Black consumers have progressively switched from general products to those that specifically cater to them. In 2017 African Americans captured 86 percent of the ethnic beauty market, accounting for $54 million of the $63 million spent, Nielsen reported. In 2017 Black consumers also spent $127 million on grooming aids and $465 million on skincare.
Hair Equity and the Crown Act
What is Professional Hair?
Everyone should have nice grooming, but grooming is one thing. But to say that this type of hair texture is unacceptable is no longer tolerable. The CROWN Act is making corporations and businesses reassess their approach.
I hear these atrocious stories of people getting their hair cut, like somebody taking scissors to a child’s hair and cutting. There was this one story where a young guy was in a wrestling match, and he had these long locs, and to continue the wrestling match, he had to cut his locs on the spot. He was only 16, and he didn’t know his rights, and he cut his hair.
So many people don’t understand. It’s a struggle to figure out if I wear my hair natural, then it’s assumed I’m sort of making a statement, even when someone is not trying to; they’re trying to be themselves. I can go natural, and I can go straight. I’m the same person either way.
I think that’s the whole point of the CROWN Act Law like you need to accept my hair. If it is not chemically or intentionally straightened, you need to accept my hair. I mean, just like you must accept the fact that I have a nose on my face. People are not accepting Black hair because it’s something learned. Saying I don’t like that hair because it’s not straight. There’s no scientific reason; it’s a social construct.
There’s no such thing as professional or nonprofessional hair but, there is such a thing as a professional style.
You must be groomed. You need to brush your hair, comb it, moisturize it, and you need to style your hair.
Why should everyone care about the Crown Act?
The more equity there is among us, the more freedom and peace of mind we have for everyone. We should all want more people to live in equity; that’s what the CROWN Act law represents. For example, if my earning potential is connected to my textured hair, which comes naturally out of my head, meaning my natural hair, and it relegates me to a $ 10-hour job, that’s horrible for the rest of my life.
What has been the most remarkable thing you have learned about Black Hair?
The unsung skilled artists who are working in this space, you and I don’t know them. The world of Black hair is closed — -only we know about it, and it’s just a norm for us, but it really is miraculous kind of crazy cool stuff. The stuff that goes on in these hair salons, the artistry, the knowledge, the talent, for Black people, it’s just normal.
Finish the sentence; For Black people, hair isn’t “just hair.”
It’s either survival or rejection. That’s the reality.
About Jennipher Adkins
Jennipher Adkins is the Chief Executive Officer and President of JennyCapp and the founder of The Crown Act.org. Ms. Adkins has been passionate about advocating for healthy Black hair, creating her signature protective hair garments in the mid-’90s.
Ending Hair Discrimination — The Crown Act
The CROWN Act was created in 2019 by Dove and the CROWN Coalition, in partnership with then State Senator Holly J. Mitchell of California, to ensure protection against discrimination based on race-based hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles such as braids, locs, twists, and knots in the workplace and public schools.
About the Author
Annmarie Hylton-Schaub, Head Marketing Strategist and Content Developer at Project Good Work, a boutique marketing group focused on helping individuals who want to launch social impact projects, charities, and change-making initiatives. The marketing group works to develop branding, marketing strategy, and content to connect clients with the people who believe what they believe so that their project and business can thrive.
If you have a passion for an unserved community, a social justice problem, or want to change minds, contact Project Good Work at ProjectGood.Work to start your project of change today.