Black women's politically correct hair: there is no other group of people in the world today who experience so much ado about their ever-evolving hairdos as we black women. Regina Jere-Malanda looks at the vexing and never-ending debate on Afro hair in the reconstruction of the contemporary black woman's identity, to reveal why political correctness seems glued to our hairstyles.

Author:Jere-Malanda, Regina
Position:HAIR AND BEAUTY
 
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As can be seen on these pages, black women today rarely wear their hair naturally. Next to skin colour, hair is truly the other most visible stereotype of being a black woman. Physically, socially, economically and stylistically, black women's hair is, indeed, not just hair. It is a big deal which evokes serious debate, and here is why:

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In the late 1960s, the Afro or natural look became one of the emblems of Black Power, as popularised by the iconic Angela Davis. It became a reflection of political and cultural progressiveness, as well as self-esteem, among black people. Fast forward to December 2008, the hairstyle that said "I'm black and proud", has almost disappeared, replaced by sleek fake-hair weaves and hair extensions or, worse still, hair straightened into submission through chemical creams.

For those of you who may feel a topic of Black women's hair is just another frothy fashion issue, think again. Just try to follow some blogsphere debates in the run-up to the just-ended historic White House race to see just how Michelle Obama's hair took its own political trail.

Check out, for example, the controversial cartoon cover of the New Yorker magazine which depicted the Obamas in the Oval Office at the White House, in which Michelle is sporting an Afro and carrying AK-47. Satire, it was claimed. But to many black people, the message was clear: Afro = angry and militant, reinforcing the age-old prejudice against natural black hair.

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But there was even more in cyberspace, as many Black women's blogs dedicated entire forums to debating Michelle's hair. For good reason, in some instances. One in particular--The Politics of Michelle Obama's hair by Patricia J Williams--was quite revealing. Although quoted rather at length here for emphasis, her views are, however, just scratching the surface of the hair issue, whose roots run deep, very deep.

"When i graduated from law school in the mid-1970s," says Williams, "African-American women's hair was constantly being scrutinised for signs of subversion: the more 'natural' the more dangerous. So we pressed our hair flat with the weight of other people's expectations and waited for times to change. While curly hair, twists, short Afros, and corn rows are all much more prevalent and tolerated these days, those choices are still publicly...

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