Nappy Roots

Nappy, of hair, means having tight bends or curls. Kinky hair.

Black and brown women of all races have suffered from criticism for having kinky, tightly coiled hair. Society calls it nappy. If one has naturally curly hair, whether or not it is a tight curl or a looser curl, the individual deemed has nappy hair.

Since African-American Garrett Augustus Morgan invented the relaxer in 1877, some black and brown women used relaxers to change the chemical make-up of their naturally curly hair.  After a black or brown woman uses a relaxer, their once curly hair turns bone straight. The technique of relaxing hair typically is done, at home or by a professional, every four weeks.

Ebbra, a licensed practical nurse, said she has used relaxers for more than 15 years. “Using relaxers was a norm while growing up. For as long as I could remember, my mama relaxed my hair. I don’t know why she relaxed my hair so early in my childhood.”

Some black and brown women would also wear their hair in braids, cornrows or single, individual braids. Other hairstyles for black and brown women typically include extensions (weaves, wigs), two strand twists and dreadlocks. A black or brown woman would do anything she could do to conceal her natural, kinky, curly roots.

Jasmine T. said she typically wears her kinky, curly roots in a kempt bun. Working as a project manager, she said the is pressure to keep her hair in a more straightened form. “Sometimes I’m nervous about the reaction if I did decide to wear my afro, one day,” Taylor said. “I am sometimes questioned about my hair whenever I wear braids. My coworkers are very intrigued by it.”

On July 28, a state representative for Kentucky brought attention to a school in Louisville. A new dress code policy was set to debut fall of 2016. According to WBIR news, the policy stated, “Hairstyles that are extreme, distracting, or attention-getting will not be permitted. No dreadlocks, cornrolls, twists, mohawks, and no jewelry will be worn in the hair.”

Shortly after the new dress code and hair policy reached the mailboxes of future students and parents, an immediate outcry came from the black and brown community.

WBIR also reported one mother tweeting her complaint, mentioning the school directly. The mother tweeted that her child is not happy about not being to wear her natural, nappy hair because it has been deemed as “extreme, distracting, or attention-getting.”

Discrimination of a black or brown woman’s hair extends beyond an explicitly written school policy. Policies, guidelines, and standards are implicitly stating that it is not okay for black and brown women to wear their hair in its natural, kinky form.

Ebbra and Jasmine T. both agreed there is an unspoken stigma about their natural roots. “I am questioned about my hair daily,” Ebbra said. “It’s not uncomfortable for me to answer their questions about my hair. I have faced a little bit of discrimination. I could tell by the look on the interviewer’s face when I entered the room. This was while job searching, but overall there weren’t any problems.”

Some businesses and organizations would state hair should be “straightened” or it should be “pulled up into a neat high bun.” If the hair isn’t straight and neat, it is seen to be unprofessional and unkempt. For that reason, the black and brown woman are essentially afraid to wear their natural, nappy hair in a professional setting.

Naturalistas are women who have embraced their natural hair textures. With different stigmas from society, naturalistas said they feel empowered by wearing their nappy roots. These women also often encourage other black and brown women to wear their natural hair as well. Naturalistas now have a large social media following. There are also a number of blogs and discussion forums to discuss an array of topics as it relates to nappy hair.

Since 2010, a steady increase of black and brown women are foregoing relaxers for their natural, kinky, curly roots. Relaxers can be, and in most cases are, damaging to the hair. If applied incorrectly, the relaxer would burn the woman’s scalp, leaving sores and scabs. In other cases, the woman’s hair will begin to break off and fall out because of the constant, excessive chemical use.

The black and brown naturalista community has continued to grow tremendously over the past decade. Many billion dollar hair care companies have continued to design and enhance hair care products for black and brown women with kinky natural hair. Morrocomethod.com projects the African-American hair care industry to grow to $761 million by 2017.

According to Morrocomethod.com, six out of 10 of black women choose to wear weaves, wigs, or extensions. Also, from 2013 to 2014, 70% of black women have claimed to have kept their natural hair texture. In part, because of the fast growing hair industry that specifically caters to kinky, curly hair textures.

Naturalistas walk many different paths in life. Some are lawyers, doctors, business owners. Other naturalistas are young girls and young adults preparing themselves for their futures.

Ebbra and Jasmine T.  both have foregone relaxers for their natural hair despite the stigmas. Jasmine said “Going natural was the best decision I’ve ever made. Yeah it’s weird to society, but I love me roots!”

Naturalistas continue to empower one another as well as women who hope to forego relaxers but continue to be accepted by society’s higher standards.  Naturalistas are here to help prove that it doesn’t matter the texture of one’s hair. Nappy roots are beautiful and one’s natural, nappy hair is to be embraced.

 

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