Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Good Hair & Bad Hair (Black Attitudes About Our Hair)

Edited by Azizi Powell

Update- 10/29/2016

"Having a bad hair day" means something different to Black females than it does to White females.

I believe that at one time or another most African Americans have accepted mainstream White society's highly positive valuation of long, naturally straight hair or long, naturally curly hair over any other types of hair textures.

When I was growing up in New Jersey in the 1950s no Black female even THOUGHT about wearing their hair in an afro. All the girls who I knew, including myself, wanted long, flowing hair. As part of our play acting, I recall my sisters and I wearing towels on our head, pretending it was hair, and moving our head from side to side, to mimic the hair flicking motions that we saw White women on television do.

It appears to me that in the United States very few Black girls wear their hair natural & closely cropped like that I've seen in videos of many young African girls. And very few Black girls under the age of 18 years old in my adopted hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania wear their hair in afros, or dreadlocks. If they did, I'm certain that they would be teased by other Black children for having "nappy hair" - even though most of those Black children doing that taunting didn't also have that textures of hair.* I wrote "textures" because there are different textures of hair that are referred to as nappy. "Kinky", "course", "frizzy", and "tightly curly" are other words for the same type of hair. Some Black people, including me, have more than one "grade of hair" (another way of saying hair texture), including portions of their hair that is much straighter than other portions. And speaking of grades of hair, if the textures of hair were really graded, most Black people would give nappy hair a failing grade.

*UPDATE (10/28/2016) The natural hair movement has become MUCH more popular for Black females and Black males in the United States since I published this post in February 2013.

Click Changing Attitudes Among African Americans About Natural Hair & About The Word "Nappy"- Part 1 for Part I of a four part pancocojams post about this subject. The other links to those posts will be included in each post in that series.

-End of update-

As a testimony to the destructive nature of Black self-hatred that is caused by racism, when I was growing up in the 1950s most Black people called long, flowing, straight hair that White people had "good hair". "Bad hair" was tightly curled, nappy, kinky hair that many Black people had. These terms "good hair" and "bad hair" are STILL used today by many African Americans, although there is increasing pushback among Black people about those terms' negative connotations.

I have particular strong memories of how Black children I grew up with favored other girls who had "straight hair". Foremost in those memories are two biological sisters who lived in my neighborhood and attended school with me from elementary school through high school (in the 1950s to 1965). One of these sisters who I'll call Sharon was light skin with long straight brown hair. The other sister who I'll call Brenda had brown skin and long hair which had a somewhat curly/straight texture that probably didn't "need to be" further straightened with a hot comb - as hair straightening was done in those days. For the record, both of these girl's biological parents were Black, although that couple probably had some White and/or Native American ancestry.

I definitely recall the girls in our elementary school touching and "playing with" both of those girls' hair. All the students in our elementary school were Black. I don't recall ever joining other girls in playing with those sisters' hair girls, in part because they were real popular and I wasn't and in part because I was real shy, and didn't easily play with other children except my sisters. However, I definitely remember admiring both of those girl's hair and wishing that my tightly curled hair which was almost down to my shoulders had the same texture and the same length as either one of those sisters.

Although the girls in our school and our neighborhood played with or wanted to play with both of these girls' hair, without question, I remember that Sharon was the girl whose hair was the one most of the girls in our school & our neighborhood wanted to comb, and braid, and style. That was because her hair was "just like White peoples".

I also distinctly remember that when we were in high school Sharon either cut her hair or had her hair cut very short. (This was in the early 1960s when short hair wasn't a style). I also remember someone asking her why she had cut her hair off and I remember Sharon saying that she was tired of people always touching her hair. For whatever reason, Brenda left her hair long but it still seemed to me that still girls wanted to "play with" her sister's hair more than with Brenda's hair. When I learned the term "colorism" (discrimination and favoritism based on skin color ), I recognized that was why Black girls (and Black guys?) way back then favored light skinned Sharon over her brown skin sister Brenda.

Years passed, and from 2008 to 2010 I was a substitute teacher and an after-school program assistant in an elementary school with a student population that was 99.9% Black. During those years, despite the "Say It Loud, I'm Black And I'm Proud" Black cultural movement from the late 1960s on, usually light skinned Black girls with long straight hair seemed to me to be favored more than other Black girls. I'd often notice those Black girls touching and playing with the braids of those lighter skinned girls. And it often appeared to me that those girls got tired of other people "messin' with" their hair. This happened a number of times during free time after lunch. When I saw that a girl was bothered by other people wanting to re-braid her hair, I'd redirect that student, reminding her that she wasn't supposed to be "messing with" anyone else’s hair without her or his permission, and besides that, school isn’t a beauty parlor.

Several times when I was a substitute teacher in that school, I witnessed Black girls "playing with" their White teachers' hair. The teacher would be sitting at her desk, engaged in some activity or another, and the Black girl would come up to her and, without permission, start to play with that teacher's hair. I never saw those teacher tell those girls to stop. Given my subordinate role as a substitute teacher in those classrooms, I usually didn't say anything to those teachers in front of their (actually "our") students. However, sometimes I'd give the girls the eye or shake my head, signaling them to stop what they should stop what they were doing. I believe that these White women didn't "get" that those Black girls who were casually playing with their teachers' hair might have issues with their own hair. But, I admit that I didn't "school" those teachers on what I thought was going on.

I also saw Black girls playing with the hair of White university college students who volunteer in that school's after-school program. It's possible that this may have been the first time that those volunteers from various universities had ever been around Black people. I could see that some of those college students didn't like students "playing with" their hair, but they seemed reluctant (or scared) to say anything to those Black girls. In those after-school programs my position was higher than then those volunteers, and consequently I could directly tell the girls to stop playing with those volunteers hair and return to what they were supposed to be doing. I purposely didn't make this a racial issue in front of those university students, alhough I believed that it was indeed a racial issue. It bothered me to see those girls playing with the White college students's hair, and I know that I wasn't the only Black adult in that room that it bothered. But neither I nor anyone else ever sat those girls down when those college students weren't present and talked to them about why what they were doing bothered us. I admit that I didn't have the energy to talk about the subject of why Black people seem to favor "hair like White people's" over "hair like most Black people" - which is partly why I'm writing this blog post.

From The power and politics of black hair by Guillaume Debr, Special to The Christian Science MonitorMarch 15, 2000
..."Up to 10 years ago, the word 'nappy' was an insult," says Pamela Ferrell, owner of Cornrows and Co., a salon in Washington, and author of four books on natural hair.

"Today ... there are slogans like 'I'm happy, I'm nappy,' that celebrate it.... We have embraced what was once used against us," she says...

Kenneth Jackson is a professor of history at Stanford University in California. In 1992 he was the first to teach a seminar, "Black Hair as Culture and History."

"Black hair has been making a tremendous comeback during this century," he says. "It reflects a new prominence and openness about black hair. The tabooed black hair is out, in full view."

Hairstyles reflect the history of American race relations. For a long time, the way blacks wore their hair reflected the dominant white culture. It had to be straightened, combed, or parted to mimic Western coiffures. Kinky texture was rejected...

It was not until the 1960s that wearing an Afro became a statement in support of black-power ideology.

The 1990s resurgence of natural hairstyles was part of a larger movement of blacks rediscovering their African roots. Most styles come from traditional African societies, but have lost their social function or religious meaning...

In America, the natural-hair care industry has been growing steadily since the mid-1980s, and today generates an estimated revenue of $300 million a year, according to the American Hairbraiders and Natural Hair Care Association."....
That article makes the point that some Black people and non-Black people consider the afro and other natural hair styles to be a fashion statement only, while other Black people and non-Black people associate those hair styles with "street" culture and/or political (anti-establishment) statements. That article mentions the existence of policies that prohibit certain natural hairstyles, and lawsuits against those policies. In addition that article mentions that the "dreadlock" natural hairstyle has been adopted by some White people.

Example #1: What Is Good Hair? - Tyra (Part 1)

Megami284,Uploaded on May 17, 2009

The Tyra Banks Show - ''African American women's hair'' (Recorded May 12, 2009, WWOR)

We're getting to the root of the African-American "good hair" phenomenon. Find out how hair impacts the community's culture and even self-esteem.

Example #2: What Is Good Hair? - Tyra (Part 2)

Megami284, Uploaded on May 17, 2009

The Tyra Banks Show - ''African American women's hair'' (Recorded May 12, 2009, WWOR)
We're getting to the root of the African-American "good hair" phenomenon. Find out how hair impacts the community's culture and even self-esteem.
Click to watch Part 3 of this program.

Click to watch Part 4 of this program.

Click to watch Part 5 of this program.

Example #3: Natural Hair Styles for African American Women

TheMakeupvirgin, Uploaded on Jul 14, 2009

I hope you like It!


Chime Edwards, Published on Aug 16, 2013

It's time to head back to school now and some of you may be wondering what cute 'dos you can rock. This tutorial shows you how to get 4 cute looks! I incorporated the hairstyles many of y'all have requested. Leave any questions you may have in the comments below!...

Example #5: Afro Sheen Ad 5

randimay21, Uploaded on Sep 20, 2010
I believe this commercial is from the mid 1970s.

Example #6: Afro Sheen Ad 6

randimay21,Uploaded on Oct 22, 2010

"The hawk is out to get you!"

This is one of my favorite ads because of the Chicago reference :)

Chicago's wind is often called "The Hawk" or the "Windy City."
I believe this commercial is from the mid 1970s.

Example #7: India.Arie - I Am Not My Hair ft. Akon

Uploaded by IndiaArieVEVO on Jun 16, 2009

Music video by India.Arie performing I Am Not My Hair. (C) 2006 Motown Records, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.
This video implores people not to judge others based on their hair styles, or (I believe it's also implied) their hair type (what I refer in this post to the "texture/s) of their hair).

Click for this song's lyrics.

This serves as a companion post to Racial & Other Societal Implications Of Touching Black People's Hair

Also, click
"Afro-textured hair is a term used to refer to the natural texture of Black African hair that has not been altered by hot combs, flat irons, or chemicals (through perming, relaxing, or straightening)"...

Editor's Note: I'm including this link for its information & photographs. However, I want to note that the term "Afro-textured hair" isn't a term that I've ever heard or read used for "Black people's hair" in the USA.

Thanks to all those associated with these featured videos.

My thanks also to the authors of the article that is featured in this post, and the uploaders of these featured videos.

Also, thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer comments are welcome.


  1. I am go through the blog . Its very interesting blog.Everything mention in this blog is true .. Good and bad hair style shows your attitude and personality.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      Since I first published this post in 2013 there has been a huge change in African Americans' attitudes about our natural hair and customs of wearing our hair naturally (without straightening the natural tight curls with heat or with chemicals.

      When the commenter wrote Good and bad hair style shows your attitude and personality", I think that she (or he) meant that wearing your hair naturally or artificially straightened can reflect your attitude and personality.

      Some Black American women like to change their hairstyles from natural to straightened (with wigs or weaves for example) and doing so considered to be acceptable by a considerable segment of portion of that population.

      However, I still don't like the use of the terms "good hair" (meaning naturally straight hair) and "bad hair" (meaning hair that is tightly curled/kinky) are terms that shouldn't be used. I think those terms reflect a lack of self-esteem in the Black people who use them. Unfortunately, I believe a number of Black people still use those terms, although those numbers may be decreasing.