Afro dialogues: Unearthing the meanings and significance in what women of African descent say about their hair
Hair can be a factor in liberation and oppression. There are Black women that have used their hair to subvert societal standards that center the straight, smooth, or silky hair associated with whiteness. Also, some Black women continue to grapple with a desire to fulfill white supremacist hair expectations. There is current research that delves into ways that Black women are navigating white supremacist characterizations of their hair, but there is a need for research that holistically captures Black women’s hair perspectives during the burgeoning of global online Black hair communities and conversations. Thus, the purpose of this study is to analyze and historicize Black women’s nuanced hair perspectives. The research questions guiding this study are what are some ways Black women perceive or make meaning of their hair, and how are their perceptions shaped by the current boom in online Black hair information? I employed phenomenology and intersectionality to guide 30 in-depth semi-structured interviews with 15 participants. Participants (Black women currently living in the United States) shared their perceptions of how white supremacist hair expectations are enforced through understandings of hair maintenance, categorizations of “good” and “bad” hair, the Andre Walker hair-typing system, and hair trauma or discomfort. Participants also shared perspectives about their identities, cultures, hair education, and empowerment that work against the use of Black hair in oppression. This study brings attention to the ways that Black women currently navigate and overcome white supremacist hair ideals and encourages further research on ways to recognize and undo oppressive hair ideals.