Beauty that inheres

Lauryn Hill & Meg Ryan
Lauryn Hill | Meg Ryan

Hair is political

“Hair is political” has become a commonplace statement in black feminist circles. I don’t know that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is responsible for popularizing the phrase, but she certainly seems to be the person saying it most often these days. The first time I can recall hearing someone discuss the racial-cum-gender politics of hair was at the 2011 Annual Women’s Studies Conference in Pensacola, Florida. The speaker, Aphrodite Kocieda, described the straightening and lengthening of hair—and white mimicry in general—as a tool black women use to obtain visibility in a “racist, sexist, patriarchal society.”

That was a long time ago, but all this talk about racist hair and political hair lately has me wondering: What about white folk’s hair? If the straightening of black hair represents racial sublimation and an attempt to conform to other groups’ standards of beauty, then what does the curling and perming of European/white hair signify?

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