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  • Writer's pictureJessie Kind

The History of Hair Discrimination Against Afro Hair Textures

AfroPod is part of a growing movement towards gaining hair equality and bringing about an end to hair discrimination through increasing public knowledge of the issues at hand and through the provision of services to help combat the inequalities. While race-based hair discrimination has been illegal in the UK since the introduction of the equalities act in 2010, people of colour have continued to experience this form of racism and be penalised for their hair.

Hair discrimination has a long history with ideas and unconscious bias’ woven throughout society making it difficult to break through to true equality. It is vitally important to understand the history and origins of pre-conceived notions of racism and hair discrimination to move towards an inclusive future.

...hair plays a huge role in how we perceive each other, and ourselves.

Throughout history and across the world, hair plays a huge role in how we perceive each other, and ourselves. This is particularly true of afro hair, where intricate traditional styles would take hours to create and have unique meanings woven into the locks. Styles could indicate what tribe a person belonged to, their social and marital status, as well as spirituality and familial ties. In ancient African tribes, hair was thought of as a tool for divine communication and given the utmost importance and care. When the transatlantic slave trade began in the 15th century, many slaves involuntarily had their hair shaved, and others would eventually attempt to conform to a more Eurocentric standard of beauty to help protect themselves in a society that often viewed them as less than human. Afro hair texture was used to give weight to the idea of black people as animals, with hair being said to be closer to that of an animal's coat than human hair. This horrendous act of dehumanisation was a way of ‘othering’ people so that slave traders and owners felt justified in their treatment of slaves as a commodity. The atrocities that took place during this time has led to extensive generational trauma and a loss of traditional culture. Many black people today still experience this likening to animal fur or wool when showing their natural hair texture have reported people invading their personal space to touch and feel their hair without permission. - When slavery was abolished, segregation was the next tool of oppression and again, many acts centred on hair texture. Tests were introduced where a fine-toothed comb would be placed at the entrance to certain establishments; if you could brush the comb through your hair you were allowed inside, if your hair was too textured to allow the comb to pass, you were deemed unfit to enter. For many black people, wearing hair out in its natural state or in traditional or cultural protective styles rather than chemically straightened or covered with a wig, is a revolutionary act. It can take immense bravery to leave the safety of your own home and enter a world

where you know that something as simple as the way hair grows out of your head could be used against you, with little to no repercussions for the oppressor. - Over the last fifty years, it has become commonplace for women especially to chemically straighten their hair to fit into the eurocentric beauty standard that is still expected in many workplaces and educational settings. On top of the extra cost and time this takes to achieve, it has been shown that these practices are harmful and can even lead to cancer. The thought of your physical being as the reason you are so mistreated and dehumanised is one that rightly incites fear and anger. We cannot help the way we are born, and the ability to change our features, our hair, our skin colour, is something that cannot be undertaken without tremendous effort and often harm to personal health and wellness.

This incredibly brief look into the history of hair discrimination shows just how much hair texture can impact on everyday life, and that the notion of ‘otherness’ is still, unfortunately, one that causes so much damage today. AfroPod hopes to drive public knowledge and ensure those in a prison setting are given equal access to appropriate haircare.

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