Black Hair Discrimination Over the Years

What is black hair discrimination? 

For many people, their hair is the base of their identity. That one thing that defines them, making them feel the most confident, beautiful and unique. For example, those within the black community portray a diverse amount of hairstyles such as wigs, cornrows and afros but, at what cost?

Enslaved women wore tignon (handkerchief or scarf) over their hair starting in the 1700’s to illustrate whether they were members of the slave class regardless of whether they were actually free or enslaved.

Then, inventions like the hair-straightening comb took place towards the end of the 19th century. African American Businesswoman, Madam C.J. Walker, popularised this creation. This lead to straight hair being the hairstyle that would define a well-accepted, middle class individual. 

Credit: Face2FaceAfrica

That said, the promotion of such a product happened to create an avenue for black women. With black hair referred to as wool or described as ‘nappy’, this was now a chance to increase social and economic status. 

Natural hair and the media:

Society has seen growth in the acceptance of black hair due to the media creating conversations around cultural diversity and the equal struggles of adhering to societies standards. However, there are still many traces of discrimination that surround the topic.

Natural hair discrimination in education and the workplace is a real issue.

Firstly, many black people risk losing their jobs due to wearing their natural hair. Similarly, many children have faced suspension for refusing to change their natural hairstyles. These are situations that are in no way necessary or acceptable. 

Recent portrayals of black hair discrimination in the media: 

One of the latest portrayals of anti-afro hair in the media is in the short film, Dolapo Is Fine. Ethosheia Hylton, Joan Iyiola and Chibundu Onuz directing and writing the film.

The film explores the story of a young black woman who faces the pressure to change her name and natural hairstyle, therefore trying to fit into an environment that will accept her. 

Credit: Presence
Credit: IMDB

The 2020 American Black Film Festival selected the film to screen at the 23rd annual HBO Short Film Competition.

Let’s learn more about the film…

In an interview with WarnerMedia Entertainment, Iyiola and Hylton state that the inspiration for the film did stem from quite a few personal experiences. For instance, “being the only black person in a white space and the microaggressions that follow”, says Iyiola. In addition, she highlights the struggle of having to navigate intergenerational relationships whilst growing up. Similarly, this is heavily portrayed in Dolapo’s environment. A middle-class black girl at a boarding school which is something that is rarely depicted. 

The story goes beyond hair. It’s about identity. “Having a name that nobody could pronounce”, says Ethosheia, as she shares how her “tumultuous teens” was certainly reflected in the world of the protagonist. 

“Being the only black person in a white space and the microaggressions that follow”

Joan Iyiola

Inevitably, the creators of the film hoped to encourage black girls and women to project utter confidence as a powerful statement to the world. In conclusion, Hylton says, “Now we can look on the TV and in the media and see ourselves represented in all forms. We aren’t ashamed to show our natural beauty and self-expression is evident in all forms. I feel black women are now freeing themselves from this  (deprecation) and embracing their beauty in all forms.”

Dolapo Is Fine is available on Netflix (UK) and released on HBO in February 2021.

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