The Brooklyn College NAACP held a conference last Thursday with keynote speaker and alumna Nikita Banks to discuss African American hair as a source of socio-political conversation in the U.S.
It has become increasingly popular for women to transition to their natural hair, a texture that is not chemically straightened using hair relaxers or texturizers. Across the U.S., women celebrate their natural hair with events like Curl Fest in Prospect Park, Brooklyn and National Fro-day via Instagram.
“Because of both the historical treatment of black cultural elements and the constant appropriation of a great deal of creations by Black people, it is not just hair,” said Nichelle Solomon, the President of the Brooklyn College NAACP. “There are many systematic ways in which black people have been made to feel insecure about their hair.”
Banks, an entrepreneur, therapist, and educator, spoke about raising a son with natural hair and her experience in transitioning to her natural hair. Banks also spoke on how hair affects your psychology and how she’s seen this affect her son’s profession.
During the event, “Is It Just Hair?” presenters discussed the experience of transitioning to natural hair as well as the backlash in African-American and Caribbean cultures. Attendees watched the video, “The History of Natural Hairstyles and Black Hair,” which presented a timeline showing how black hair was revolutionized to become more socially and politically accepted between the late 1900s and the present day.
Testimonies from the audience showed how this political and social evolution shaped their identities.
“How you have your hair is how you walk through the world… Your hair forms part of you,” said Adesuwa Ehigiator, the vice president of the NAACP. “It’s an extension of you. It adds to your value.”
“How did political movements affect black hairstyle trends?” Aneesa Valentine, the President of the Caribbean Student Union, asked in an open discussion.
The audience shared the challenges of applying for a job while wearing their natural hair. Politically and socially, natural hair is often frowned upon because it is seen as “messy” or “inappropriate,” according to a YouTube video about the negative stereotypes of natural hair.
President of the Women of Color (WOC), Gabby Powell and secretary, Natasha Dennis said NFL player of the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick recently was criticized by retired NFL quarterback, Michael Vick who commented on Kaepernick’s afro.
“First thing we gotta get Colin to do is cut his hair,” wrote Vick via Twitter.
Vice President of Student Government Truth Opaleye said as an immigrant from Nigeria, the women in her village braided and twisted their hair. However, once Opaleye moved to the U.S., she was taunted in school for having these natural hair styles. Similar to many black women who were forced to straighten their hair in the early 1900s, Opaleye later relaxed her hair to fit into American culture.