Black Hair And Self Esteem

Black Hair and Self Esteem

“The African’s few personal possessions consisted of ornaments for the hair and the comb. The comb represented an expression of its creator and reflected tribal status, family traditions, or expressions of affection. When he was removed from his motherland to become a slave in far away lands, his comb was left behind, not to be found for 400 years.”

(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.


The inferiority seed as a relic of the negative relationship between Black Hair and Self esteem remains relevant to the question of Black identity today, and can also be regarded as an extension of the ‘Tragic Mullato’ dilemma….The constant dilemma of the African to value himself/herself according to how ‘close’ they come to resembling ‘Whiteness’ whether its through a lighter skin complexion or straightened hair.

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.

In the final analysis, the story of African Hair raises some interesting questions and we are left to wonder whether current Hair care trends are not themselves an extension of a Self-Hatred born of Slavery…You can view more African Hairstyles in the ‘Muthaland Funk’ section of our Pinterest Board.
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