By Jeanelle Jacobs
Hair discrimination is a form of oppression that people of color have faced for decades, whether it be in the workplace or in schools. The natural hair movement, however, has inspired people to celebrate and enjoy the ethnic natural characteristics of their kinky, curly hair.
In 2010, Chastity Jones, an Alabaman woman whom refused to cut her dreadlocks lost a job offer and appealed to the Supreme Court to hear her case. Jones was told that her dreadlocks violated the company’s grooming policy because her dreadlocks were “messy.”
States such as California and New York have since banned hairstyle discrimination based on race.
Originating in the 2000's in the United States, the natural hair movement encourages and allows women to sport their natural curls. Deviating from relaxers and other harsh chemicals, women have chosen to let their curls and kinks hang free.
Sherrell Glover is a senior political science major at Barry who loves her own natural curls. She notes the impact it has on her life.
"I believe that choosing to wear your natural hair out or wearing natural styles shows the world you aren't afraid to be who you truly are," said Glover. "[It shows] that you are not afraid to embrace your God-given beauty regardless of who else accepts it."
This has become the reality of many ethnic-haired woman who choose to ascribe to the natural hair movement. In fact, the word “nappy” is being reclaimed by black women and is now being deviated from its derogatory meaning which stemmed from slavery in the 1800's.
Staff at Barry also show support for the natural hair movement.
Richard Clements, coordinator of Retreats and Faith Formation at Barry's Campus Ministry states that the terminology “natural hair” plays into a social construct that promotes the hierarchy of distinct hair types.
“As people of color, we have been plagued by the terms of “good” or “bad” hair. Imagine the psycho-social damage these terms create for people of color,” said Clements. “Imagine how it shapes our perception of self and the world around us.”
And, many people still feel ashamed of their natural, ethnic hair.
Sunita Spencer-Archer, an international studies junior, stated that while she has had natural hair all her life, she still finds it strange how problematic the topic of natural hair can be.
“It is so strange how political the hair that naturally grows from my head can be. I have been natural all my life, and almost always loved it. Others were quick to control it,” said Spencer-Archer. “The natural hair movement over the past couple years has been amazing to watch, but I still don’t wear my hair out in the workplace or in certain company because I know how people can take it.”
Samantha Tenelus, senior sociology major, also reflects on the difficulty she faced growing up with naturally ethnic hair.
“Growing up I didn’t like being natural. I permed my hair when I was ten. Two to three years ago, I got tired of it because my hair wasn’t growing the way it was supposed to,” said Tenelus. “After a while, I got tired of straightening my hair.”
Thus, understanding natural ethnic hair is important for all. An unknown fact is that it is categorized by curl patterns. The curl pattern refers to the shape in which your hair grows and is determined by the shape of your hair follicle. Hair types are usually broken down into four groups —one, two, three and four and each group is further divided into three subcategories.
Knowing your curl pattern is important because this allows you to better understand how to take care of ethnic hair.
Courtney Scales, a junior English major, said that while she has not faced discrimination pertaining to her natural curls, she does find it difficult to maintain and groom her hair.
“It is a challenge when you’re working and when you have natural hair to style it," said Scales.
“No one’s ever said anything to me but my go-to is two braids and I know that it isn’t really professional. It’s the easiest thing I can do."
The natural hair movement has made great strides when it comes to addressing social and physical issues attributed to natural and ethnic hair and more people are reverting to their roots by allowing their curls to hang freely.