Dr. Yaba Blay Talks Black Hair Politics
Professor Dr. Yaba Blay is a leading ethnographer whose work includes researching global black identities, and she places a focus on the politics surrounding hair and skin color. As part of the Color Complex series at The Root, she discusses how too many conversations about hair “fall short” and therefore put us “in a problematic position.” What does she mean?
She says that to discuss black women’s hair without also delving into white supremacy is to “pathologize” black women. When black women are told it’s unacceptable to wear certain hairstyles to get a job or to move ahead in a position, we must take into account the white supremacist attitude behind these decisions that control how we can or cannot wear our own hair.
Hair Isn’t Just Hair
It’s never been “just hair” when it comes to black hair. Our African roots dictate that hair says so much about a person, from age and societal position to financial status.
Master Braider Tiffany Poles recognizes her connection to her ancestry and the long history of styling black hair through the creativity she expresses every time she designs a braided style. She demonstrates one of Dr. Blay’s points: hair is a means of communication. Due to the longstanding societal biases connecting whiteness with femininity and the white beauty standard, Dr. Blay says our hair communicates our “proximity” to whiteness or blackness. She also points out that for many black women, loving themselves — and their hair just as it is — is a “radical” act. That in itself speaks to the inherent biases and prejudices that too many of us live under, as we should all feel free to love our authentic selves.
This entry in the Color Complex is insightful and thought-provoking, as well as being a great conversation starter. Have you seen it yet?
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