So, let's do a little exercise.
Think of hair. Just any hair.
You may have thought of yours. Or the hair of somebody you admire. Maybe it's long and silky and straight, or maybe a little bit curly, or even in tight corkscrew ringlets.
So now, think of black hair. Just any black (I use this in the social, rather than political, manner) person's hair.
Perhaps you thought the infamous swinging blonde weave of Beyoncé (I think, by now, it must at least be it's very own cognisant being). Or maybe Angela Davis' afro came to mind. Or even the trademark dreadlocks of Bob Marley.
Now, I want you to think of a black person you actually know (if any). What does their hair look like?
Does it look straight and overly shiny and silky? (That's a weave or a wig).
Or straight, and a little dull, that sticks up in random places if they're not careful? (That's a relaxer, or a 'perm').
Is it big and curly? (Hello, weave. Or a wig).
Is it in braids all over their head that reaches at least to their shoulders? (Braid extensions, where extra hair, that can synthetic or real, is added to their own to give the desired look).
Have you ever wondered, just for a second, what the hair that grows out of their actual scalp looks like?
Yeah. Exactly. Amongst black women, getting your hair 'relaxed' is extremely commonplace - I used to have it done. In fact, when I was little, I used to think if you were black, it was compulsory by law, or something. because I was never really given a choice. My hair was too thick to manage - so it got a relaxer
In a nutshell, the relaxer is applied to the hair and then the chemical agents within the relaxer break the protein bonds between the hair that give it the tight curl or coil, to straighten it.
People who don't do this, who don't apply relaxers to their hair, are known as 'having natural hair'. So if you see a girl with hair that looks fluffy, fro-like, or even in dreadlocks, then they would be termed as 'natural.'
It's strange, isn't it? That those who leave their hair alone, just as it grows out of their scalp, are the ones in the minority. An excellent essay that gives a brilliant analogy just to show how deep this mentality goes within the black community worldwide is here. It's called White Women Dyeing, Black Women relaxing: Why it's not the same thing.
Even the mainstream has jumped on the bandwagon. When I was saw a brand of relaxer called 'Dark and Lovely' in Boots, I paused for a second and mused whether this was a step forward or a step back.
This is barely scratching the surface concerning the issues black people have with their hair - Chris Rock even made the film 'Good Hair' about the obsession black people have with their hair.*
My feelings on this are lengthy. I won't post them here. But they'll become apparent over time.
*I think this film is available online to watch...not that I'm advocating you do that. Just. You know. For those of us abroad, who couldn't get our hands on it no matter what we tried, it's a useful thing to know!