“Black is beautiful!”
You can hear these three simple words chanted in the background of this 1968 video clip, in which Black Panther activist Kathleen Cleaver, wearing her soft brown hair in a halo-like Afro, explains the beauty of natural hair. At the time, wearing your hair natural, refusing to chemically alter Afro-textured hair, was a powerful rejection of racist beauty ideals and a radical form of self-love. . “Dig it? Isn’t it beautiful?” Cleaver asks the interviewer with a radiant smile. “Alright.” Kathleen Cleaver: Black Is Beautiful
Half a century later, black women’s hair has remained a political battleground. Back then, Cleaver says in the clip, black women “were told that only white people were beautiful—that only straight hair, light eyes, light skin was beautiful. And so black women would try everything they could, straighten their hair, lighten their skin, to look as much like white women.” That’s unfortunately still true. In South Africa and around the world, young schoolgirls have been threatened with exclusion for daring to wear their hair natural, and employers push guidelines that suggest natural hair is not neat or appropriate for the workplace.
It’s no wonder then that Cleaver’s words and the messages from the black cultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s still resonate today.
But even as black women stopped buying relaxer, we instead started buying into another beauty aspiration: an idealized image of natural hair. This is a cult that worships the idea of “lovely curls”: usually loose ringlets that are bouncy, thick, and shiny. A quick search on YouTube for the most watched natural hair tutorial lands me on a video, which has been watched over 17 million times, on how to achieve these mythical curls.
There are many different hair types and not everyone will be able to achieve these mythical curls. 4c hair girls like myself have to learn to care for our hair as it is and stop trying to manipulate it into things it wasn’t naturally designed to do.
Black is beautiful—period. Not some types of black hair or some black people, but all. The radical power that Kathleen Cleaver was digging lies in accepting yourself.
#4chair - 1 hour ago