Black Hair and Self Esteem
(Willie L Morrow: 1973)
‘400 Years Without A Comb’ is a piercing and detailed study of the History of African Beauty, in particular, exploring the relationship between Black hair and self esteem.
Shocking details from the annals of Black Hair care include the fact that hair straightening and relaxing products were developed from such things as the Sulphur Chemicals used to treat lice in Slave Quarters as well as left-over kitchen dishwashing water whose chemical residue was valued for its corrosive effect on the scalp which would then straighten the Slave’s ‘Kinky Hair’ as a welcome side effect.
Even more tragic is that this sort of Black Hair Care advice was passed down ‘lovingly’ by 2nd Generation Slaves who were born Slaves to their Children. As 2nd Generation Slaves, they did not possess the Cultural experience and self-esteem of their 1st Generation parents who had grown up in Africa…The pathological ‘Inferiority Seed’ as Morrow terms it, was strongest in them.
The seed was subsequently passed down the generations and in time entrenching itself in the Black Psyche, leading eventually to Self-Hatred characterised by the African’s disdain for their natural ‘Nappy’ Hair….This underscored the relationship between Black Hair and self esteem.
This self-hatred provided opportunities for Entrepreneurs like Madam CJ Walker, reported to be the first Black American woman Millionairess, who earned a fortune by birthing the Black Hair beauty care industry as we have come to know it today…This industry fed into the Self-Hatred that had been perpetuated for generations due to the negative relationship between Black hair and self esteem.
Afro-Comb To The Rescue
It was only in the 1960s when the African Comb re-emerged and the negative relationship between Black Hair Care and self esteem was somewhat disrupted with the rise in the popular ‘Afro’ Hairstyle. This according to Morrow, marked the first time in 400 Years, African-Americans re-united with and adopted an aspect of their African origin into their everyday life in America.