Remember the 70s when African Americans had a head full of gloriously huge hair?
Down in the Bronx, despite the raging violence against Black people, it was jazz and the Afro that kept the Black community strong in the face of brutality and oppression in the United States.
The popular hairstyle Afro emerged in the late 1950s, alongside the Civil Rights Movement that demanded equal rights of citizenship for Black people living in America. Hence, the origin of the Afro was amidst a politically charged environment.
Let’s take a look at the significance of this unique Black hairstyle and whether it holds the same weight today as it did back in the day.
By the early 1960s, the Afro had been born in an emotionally and politically volatile environment. The style wasn’t only the acceptance of natural Black hair as a part of the Black identity, but it also sought to reject the broader artifice of societal expectations by disregarding the racist and Eurocentric beauty norms that were widely prevalent in America during that time.
The un-straightened and seemingly unruly hair was an icon of defiance against those practices which had been oppressing Black men and women for centuries—forcing them to change their hair and straighten it to meet the general expectations of white Americans.
Dancers and jazz musicians, especially those that were creating political artwork, wore the Afro as a symbol of resistance.
Similarly, Black university students wore their un-styled hair to make a political statement that challenged their white counterparts.
Popularization and downfall of the Afro
By 1966, the phrase ‘black is beautiful’ became closely associated with the Afro. The emerging Black power movement was meant to symbolize a narrative of self-acceptance that the Black community greatly lacked.
As a large number of Black men and women began adopting the Afro, its popularity reached beyond those who belonged in the Black community. In 1968, Pepsi and Kent cigarettes developed print advertisements that featured women with Afros to make a style statement.
However, now that mass consumerism and capitalism had a part to play in the narrative of the Afro, its political backing began losing significance till all the Afro signified now was unruly hair worn by Black women and men. This was seen in the 1980s and 1990s when the Black Afro was barely worn by Black people.
The revival of the Afro
The Natural Hair Movement, which seeks to reject Eurocentric ideals of beauty, had a huge role to play in reviving the political aspect of the Afro.
The movement created a safe and accepting space for those individuals in the Black community who wished to style their natural hair in this way.
The revival also had to do with the adoption of this style by several Black celebrities who were now gaining momentum in the fashion and film industry.
However, it was ultimately the complexity of the hairstyle and the general acceptance among the Black community for their natural hair which brought the Afro back to life.
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