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Hair It Is: Examining the Experiences of Black Women with Natural Hair

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Open Journal of Social Sciences, 2014, 2, 86-100
Published Online January 2014 in SciRes. http://www.scirp.org/journal/jss
http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/jss.2014.21010
How to cite this paper Johnson, T.A. and Bankhead, T. (2014) Hair It Is: Examining the Experiences of Black Women with
Natural Hair. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 2, 86-100. http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/jss.2014.21010
Hair It Is: Examining the Experiences of Black
Women with Natural Hair
Tabora A. Johnson1, Teiahsha Bankhead2
1Education Department, Medgar Evers College CUNY, Brooklyn, USA
2Department of Social Work, California State University, Sacramento, USA
Email: TJohnson@mec.cuny.edu
Received 7 August 2013; revised 10 September 2013; accepted 16 September 2013
Copyright © 2014 Tabora A. Johnson, Teiahsha Bankhead. This is an open access article distributed under the
Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any
medium, provided the original work is properly cited. In accordance of the Creative Commons Attribution Li-
cense all Copyrights © 2014 are reserved for SCIRP and the owner of the intellectual property Tabora A. John-
son, Teiahsha Bankhead. All Copyright © 2014 are guarded by law and by SCIRP as a guardian.
Abstract
Who am I and how do I feel about who I am, are essential questions that help define and construct
identity. For Black women and girls, identity is inextricably linked to their relationship to and
presentation of their hair. Our research presents findings from an Internet based survey con-
ducted with 529 Black women exploring their experiences when wearing their hair in its natural
state (not thermally or chemically straightened). These are preliminary findings from the study
with reference to the composition of the study participants and how they responded to key ques-
tions related to how they perceived when wearing their hair naturally.
Keywords
Black Women; Identity; Hair; Self-Esteem
1. Introduction
Who am I and how do I feel about who I am, are essential questions that help define and construct identity. For
Black women and girls, identity is inextricably linked to their relationship to and presentation of their hair. Hair
is important in many cultures and its meaning and symbolism vary depending on social and cultural context. For
African people, hair is deeply symbolic, and its meaning extends into multiple dimensions of Black culture and
life. This meaning is both deep and wide; in other words, hair may have spiritual and religious connotations. It
may play an essential socio-cultural role [1-5] and at other times its meaning may serve as a method of self-ex-
pression [6-8]. Practitioners working with women and girls of African descent, who intend to have a culturally
responsive relationship based on respect and value, must understand that part of getting to know their
T. A. Johnson, T. Bankhead
87
client/student may mean exploring the meaning of hair to the individuals they serve.
The first segment of this paper offers an extensive review of literature to orient readers on the socio-history of
hair for people of the African Diaspora. Without a clear view of the historical and symbolic meaning of hair in
the Black community, it becomes difficult to understand its centrality. Our research presents findings from an
Internet-based survey conducted with 529 Black women exploring their experiences when wearing their hair in
its natural state (not thermally or chemically straightened). These are preliminary findings from the study with
reference to the composition of the study participants and how they responded to key questions related to how
they perceived when wearing their hair naturally.
2. Literature Review
2.1. Historical Role of Hair for Black Women
To understand the centrality of hair to African people one must do so through the lens of an African worldview
and cosmology, only then will the full scope of its importance be thoroughly understood. Throughout the ages,
from the Ancient Nile Valley civilizations to the movement West and the establishment of Western African em-
pires, hair has maintained a spiritual, social, cultural and aesthetic significance in the lives of African people
[2,7]. Historically, hair has held significant roles in traditional African societies, including being a part of the
language and communication system. For instance, during the 15th century, African people such as the Wolof,
Mende, Mandingo, and Yoruba used hairstyles as means to carry messages [2]. One of the unique features of
African textured hair is its ability to be sculpted and molded into various shapes and forms. Hence, while hair
may play an important role in the lives of people of all races, for people of African descent, this role is amplified
due to the unique nature and texture of Black hair. Since antiquity, Black hairstyles have been known for their
complexity and multifaceted nature, a notion that remains true today [6].
2.2. Symbolism and Black Hair
Hair was and continues to be used as a marker of various cultural indications. In Africa hair was used to denote
age, religion, social rank, and marital status as well as other status symbols [2]. For example, during the Medi-
eval African period (12th/13th century), a young Wolof girl would partially shave her head to point out that she
was not of marrying age. The extent of social messages in hairstyle choices did not end on the continent of
Africa. As late as the 1980s Black men wore a style known as the high top fade, a hairstyle where the sides of
the head are shaved with the top portion growing upwards and as high as possible. The style conveyed various
cultural and political messages such as images of Africa, corporate logos, partners names, and other symbols
were etched into the hair or onto the scalp [2]. The high top fade was a modern day method of illustrating the
multifaceted symbolism of Black haira thing that can be used as the message itself or to state a particular
message. Additionally, true to African epistemology, spirituality has played and continues to play an essential
role in Black culture [9]. Consequently, because of its integral function, hair has been and continues to be used
to increase the potency of medicines and indigenous healing potions [2]. It is an understatement to suggest that
hair is merely part of African cultural identity, as hair and identity are inseparable [10]. For both African men
and women hair is intricately connected to cultural identity, spirituality, character make up, and notions of
beauty.
Of particular importance to the African was the comb. The comb had cultural meaning that indicated one’s
particular group and other spiritual symbolism, personal history, and class status long before Europeans engaged
in the mass enslavement of Africans in the 17th century. Men carved these symbols and spiritual demarcations
into their combs that were specifically designed with long teeth and rounded tips to untangle African textured
hair [2,3,11].
2.3. Oppression and Repression of African Hair
Europeans, who had long traded and communicated with Africans, knew the complexity and significance of
Black hair. They were often struck by the various hairstyles that they saw within each community [11]. In an
effort to dehumanize and break the African spirit, Europeans shaved the heads of enslaved Africans upon arrival
to the Americas [6,7,11]. This was not merely a random act, but rather a symbolic removal of African culture.
The shaving of the hair represented a removal of any trace of African identity and further acted to dehumanize
T. A. Johnson, T. Bankhead
88
Africans coming to the Americas in bondage [2]. Africans with cultural identities such as Wolof, Asantes, Fula-
nis, and Mandingos entered the slave ships, yet an enslaved unidentifiable people exited onto the shores of the
Americas. Without their combs, oils and native hair recipes Africans were left unable to care for an essential
part of themselves [2,11]. Europeans deemed African hair unattractive and did not consider it to be hair at all;
for them it was considered the fur of animals and was referred to as wool or woolly [2,8,12]. In an analysis of
Africanshair [12], a White anthropologist, reported that the hair types ranged from peppercorn, tufted, matted,
to woolly. He goes on to add that the hair’s spirality appears to have produced the matted condition. It is not the
result of accumulated dirt or anything of that sort, as might appear at first sight” [12, p. 83]. This “spirality” re-
fers to the unique nature of Black hair to spiral upwards naturally and form tightly coiled dense hair. However,
instead of acknowledging its uniqueness, Black hair is described in pejorative terms. Words such as: peppercorn,
matted and woolly, remain in the lexicon of people in the US, Africa, the Caribbean and worldwide, to describe
Black hair. We observe that the descriptions that emerged in the 1800 and 1900s remain current irrespective of
societal changes [2].
2.4. Racialization of the Black Body & Hair
The atrocities of African enslavement and the forcible removal from their homeland created a new phenomenon;
for the first time in history African beauty, body and hair was racialized and European features were the ac-
cepted standard of beauty. This meant that tightly coiled tresses were considered deplorable when pitted against
the long, straight European hair that was considered beautiful and attractive. With the oppression and enslave-
ment of Africans came the oppression of Black hair. From the arrival in the Americas to plantation life and
beyond, history shows a common trend of repressing African hair [1,2,4,6,7,13]. On the plantation, the men who
worked the fields wore their heads shaved, while women were expected to cover their hair with rough, course
fabric because Europeans considered it unattractive and offensive [2,11]. Enslaved Africans who worked closer
to the plantation “masters,” wore hairstyles that emulated the dominant trends of the times, such as wigs in the
18th century [2]. Africans on the plantations either had to emulate white people or cover their heads in effort to
not offend Whites, a concept that carries into our present society, in a somewhat more nuanced manner.
2.5. Black Hair Care, Beauty & Entrepreneurship
After two centuries of enslavement, a clear health and beauty consciousness was created through Black hair
maintenance [6]. Due to centuries of persecution and oppression, Africans began to believe that lighter skin and
straighter hair would assist them in attaining social and economic mobility [2,3]. This was in part due to the
preferred treatment of biracial Blacks who often worked less physically demanding positions and received ma-
terial goods from European Americans. Consequently, the 19th century saw an increase in hair care and beauty
product lines that were intended to lighten darker skin and straighten “nappy” hair [3]. The late 1800s gave
birth to a Black hair care boom [10]. Two of the historic pioneers of the Black hair care industry are Madame
C.J. Walker and Anna Turbo Malone [2,3,6,10], who created their hair straightening line in the late 1800s and
launched their company in the early 1900s. Malone and Walker created lines that were specific to the hair needs
of Black women. Malone urged, women of African descent to see themselves as African first [6]. The glaring
contradiction lies within the fact that while urging African women to be themselves Malone created a product
meant to straighten their natural, tightly coiled hair. This contradiction continues to be part of the struggle of
many Black women, because the ideals are so deeply seated and have circulated from one generation to the next.
Although Malone created a hair care line specific to the needs of African American women before Walker,
history has been more favorable to Madame C.J. Walker whose popularity greatly exceeds that of Malones.
Madame CJ Walker wanted Blacks to feel pampered and cared for and be given the opportunity to experience
beauty rituals [2], something that had rarely if ever been experienced by Africans after being captured and
brought to the Americas. Among the notable accomplishments of Walker is her popular straightening comb that
she fashioned in 1905 [6]. Although not the inventor of the straightening comb, Walker made this tool accessible
to Black women who desired straight hair. Instead of using a clothing iron or some of the other harmful methods
utilized to accomplish the look of a straighter hair texture, African American women were able to more easily
achieve a style that they felt would afford them greater social and economic mobility.
Walkers entrepreneurial efforts made a quantifiable impact on the African community in the United States
and worldwide. Her products reached thousands of African women in the Caribbean and South America, as well
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89
as across the United States. Walker eventually became the first female self-made millionaire in the early 1900s
in the United States [2,3,6]. Understanding the financial needs that often faced the Black community, Walker
was a philanthropist who was known for giving generously to Black businesses, churches, communities, and in-
dividuals. Madame CJ Walker, at her death, employed over 100,000 African American women [3]. Walkers life
and accomplishments are a clear indication of the significance of hair to the African community.
2.6. Impact of the Civil Rights Era on Black Hair
The 1960s and 70s ushered in a new wave of Civil Rights and racial pride for African people in the United
States, the most identifiable marker of this pride and new movement was Black hair worn in its natural state. In
particular, the Afro, a style accomplished when unlocked and unstraightened Black/African highly textured hair
is not thermally straightened after washing, but combed upwards and outwards. During the 60s and 70’s, the
Afro hairstyle (also called the Natural) became symbolic of political change [2,6,8,13], Black self-love, intel-
lectual historical knowledge, and Black Power [4,6]. This was the era where hair that was once considered “bad,
because of its tight curl, was now considered “good” because it was worn “free” from chemical or heat process-
ing restraint [2]. In addition to being symbolic of beauty, the style was also representative of the social rebellion
and civil revolution underway. The Afro demonstrated that something new was happening in the United States
and that society was experiencing tantamount changes. It was essentially illustrative of the freeing of the Black
mind, and those without an Afro were frowned upon for remaining in a captive state of mind. The Afro left a
significant impression of Black power and civil unrest in the United States [2,3,4,6,8,10,13]. While society has
undergone various socio-cultural and sociopolitical shifts, there are still those who see the Afro as a sign of mi-
litancy and Black power [6,8,10,13].
2.7. Symbolic Representation of Black Hair and Its Importance to Black Female
Identity
For many women of African descent, hair is emotive, symbolic and an inseparable part of their identity [6,8,10].
In a study conducted by Chapman [6] participants recalled hair related childhood experiences with their mothers
and grandmothers. A common thread was a message from the elders emphasizing, “your hair is your crown and
glory”. One of the current authors distinctly recalls a conversation with a middle school student who refused to
go to class because her hair was “not done.” A colleague, a White female school counselor, felt as though she
did not have enough cultural competency to facilitate this young girls understanding of the importance of in-
structional time versus the shame of seemingly unkempt hair. It took over half an hour of this authors counsel-
ing and a demonstration of a significant cultural connection, including the offering of resources and ideas of
how to resolve the concerning hair issues, to convince this young girl to return to class. Unfortunately, this is
one of many examples of the emotive role hair plays in Black womens self-concept, identity development, and
life experience [8]. The concept of “getting” ones hair “done” holds paramount value with African communities
in the United States and globally [6]. The Black hair care industry amasses over half a trillion dollars annually
[14]. In 2012 the leading Black hair care companies saw $185M in revenue [15].This industry has been able to
withstand the latest US recession as sales have yet to experience a significant decline. These staggering figures
reveal just how much hair and its proper care play an undeniably critical role in the lives of Black people.
2.8. Black Hair Care and the Role of Normalized Whiteness
In the Western world, Black identity has been constructed to normalize whiteness [4]. Thus, society deems
Blacks and other people of color as the “other” [6]. While hair is significant to Black women, hair is a part of
every woman’s identity to some degree. Hair is a distinct “marker of womanness, gender and identity” [6]. Be-
cause of this “othering” of Blackness, which includes Black hair, Black women have historically been seen as
inhuman objects. Black women’s femininity, body, and physical features have been under attack since the cap-
turing of Africans who were removed from their homelands with force and disregard for their humanity. Hair is
particularly meaningful to women of African descent because it has been “displayed as beautiful and decadent
and used to display culture, beauty and spirituality” [6, p. 25]). This traumatizing phenomenon coupled with its
socio-cultural, historic, and spiritual relevance has resulted in a hyper-awareness of hair for Black men and
women, but in particular Black women and girls. Of all physical features, hair is the one most easily transformed
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90
[1]. The often taken choice to straighten natural Black hair has clear historic and psychological underpinnings
[16]. Black women spend more money, as high as three times as much, on hair care [14] than any other racial or
ethnic group of women [3].
Power [6] and political relations [2,4,6,13] can be studied through Black hair. For instance, the Afro or “Nat-
ural” continues to symbolize Black power and militancy. “When the New Yorker set out last summer [2008] to
satirize [the United States First Lady], Michelle [Obama] as a militant, country-hating, black radical, it was no
coincidence that the illustrator portrayed her with an Afro [16, p.56]. The Afro is equivalent to militancy and
revolution [10], and it evokes strong feelings of power and political confrontation for Blacks and Whites alike.
Hair also offers the opportunity to examine the politics of women of African ancestry’s body. One simply has to
examine advertisements in popular media. They are typically void of Black women and if featured the Black
women represented are usually those with Caucasian features (i.e. straight hair, less developed lips, and small
straight noses) as opposed to those with what is commonly thought of as distinct African features (i.e. tightly
coiled/kinky hair, full lips, broad noses, etc.). Misrepresented, distorted or missing images send direct and indi-
rect messages about what it means to be beautiful, and have beautiful hair and a beautiful body, as well as who
has the power to define these beauty standards. It becomes evident that women of African descent must resist
powerful oppressive and unfavorable forces that would have them believe that their hair, skin, and physiques are
naturally inferior. Thus, Black hair has been and continues to be symbolic of both power relations and resis-
tance.
2.9. Hairstyle and Social Status
“Black people tend to assume that a certain (hair) style say(s) something about a person’s socioeconomic status”
[2, p.158]. Hairstyles have historically represented social class and political stance [3,6]. Since the days of chat-
tel slavery in the Americas there have been contradictions over the meaning of wearing Black hair straight.
During the 1900’s many Black women denounced hot combing and chemical relaxing hair straightening me-
thods, since these practices were perceived to emulate European beauty standards [2,3,6]. Some disagreed with
this perspective, arguing that hair straightening was simply a style option and not an attempt to become white
[2,6]. “Conking,” a popular term used in the early to late 1900’s to refer to chemically straightening African
highly textured hair with lye, was a popular trend in the mid 1900’s [6]. The contradiction regarding the mean-
ing of hair straightening is most evident and popularized in Malcolm X’s autobiography. Upon transitioning
from Malcolm Little to the more self-aware, race conscious, social activist, El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, he re-
moves his “conk” (chemicals) from his hair to indicate a physical, social, political, and spiritual transformation
[17]. This symbolic patterning of removing the oppressive mind/thinking (chemicals) from the hair to free one’s
mind and embrace the natural self was also evident in the 1960’s as discussed previously. Today there is an in-
creasing emergence of Black women who are typically young (20 - 35), who are “transitioning” from using
chemicals to straighten their hair to wearing their hair naturally [18]. For these college-educated, modern, young
Black women, hair continues to indicate social and economic status and for some even a woman’s character and
personality.
2.10. Racism, Sexism and “Bad” Hair-Ism
Europeans’ physical attributes have been and continue to be the yardstick for beauty in mainstream society [1-4,
6,8,13]. The beauty standard has created dichotomies as binary opposites to distinguish African features from
European features such as kinky and straight, long and short, dark and light, good and bad [6]. These beliefs
have seeped deep into the psyche of many communities of color. Particularly in African communities through-
out the Diaspora, to have “good hair,” or a “good nose” means that one’s hair is closer in texture to that of
people of European descent or that the nose is straight and resembles that of a European ideal. Beauty has been
socially and politically constructed to emulate those in power, White people. In her research study of Black hair
among Black women enrolled in study aboard programs, Chapman [6] reported that a standard of beauty is a
tool used to control the image and esteem of the woman. Thus, the ideals surrounding who and what is beauti-
ful have real consequences in the lives of Black women. Consequences that often impact their lives socially,
economically, and politically.
To wear natural Black hair is a political act [10,13] within itself, since depending on the environment such
hair may be deemed socially and politically unacceptable. In 2007, Glamour magazine editor, Ashley Baker,
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91
gave a presentation entitled “The do’s and donts of Corporate Fashion,” to over 40 lawyers in New York City.
The first “don’t” slide depicted a Black woman with an Afro, with the caption “say no to the fro. She then
commented, “As for dreadlocks: How truly dreadful!She went on to add that it was shockingthat some
people still think it appropriateto wear those hairstyles at the office. No offense”, she sniffed, but those ‘po-
litical’ hairstyles really have to go[6, p. 70]. These statements are clear indications of structural racism and of-
fer an indictment on Black women’s beauty, and mere physical characteristics. After all, is it really a choice if a
people are routinely criticized for simply wearing their hair as it naturally grows from their scalp? It is also evi-
dence of race privilegea White woman has the authority to define what is considered beautiful and what is not.
There is also then an assumption that others must also hold these same beliefs to be truths and cooperate with
White hegemony. One of the issues is that this form of structural racism has economic, social, and political con-
sequences for Black women.
2.11. Identity & the Black Body: A Multilayered Oppression
Black women face a double “othering” through gender and racial oppression as Black hair is politicized and ra-
cialized by class and gender [13]. Chapman [6] conducted a research study of 20 Black women who were ethni-
cally diverse (Continental African, African Caribbean, African American, bi-racial) and had previously partici-
pated in a study abroad program. Chapman conducted interviews to investigate African and European cultural
influences on African American ideas about beauty, hair, and identity. She found that Black women’s hair is
subjugated to restriction and rules that Black men do not likely confront. The concept of “othering” had real im-
plications in the lives of Black women. One participant was asked, “to get rid of her vibrant red Afro” [6, p.68].
Another participant was told that her Afro was “too out there”. It is apparent that the dominate message is that if
a Black woman is working in a corporate setting it is assumed that she will follow the ascribed standards of
dress, speech and behavior, which is normed on Whiteness. Since the Afro is commonly considered symbolic of
resisting White supremacyit was thus “unacceptable” in the corporate environment. In another setting, a par-
ticipant who was a schoolteacher was informed that she was able to wear her natural hair as long as it was “neat”.
This teacher did not define the construct of “neat,” it is instead designed through a Eurocentric concept of beauty,
which is oppressive to African people. The above examples illustrate the resiliency and strength that Black
women must display in order to do something as simple as wear their hair as it naturally grows from their scalp.
Racist views of the Black body impact the identity and identity development of Black women and girls [4,6].
Historically, skin color [17] and hair texture [4,6] have shaped the lives of Black women in the Caribbean,
United States and throughout the African Diaspora. Women of color feel great negative effects of skin color and
[19-22] hair texture prejudice [1-4,6,13]. From birth women of African descent are taught through the popular
cultural messaging that there is something wrong with them based upon their hair and skin [13].
Beauty is related to the transference of power. “Good” hair is perceived as the hair closest to White people’s
hairlong, straight, silky, bouncy, manageable, healthy, and shiny; while “bad” hair is “short, matted, kinky,
nappy, coarse, brittle and wooly” [6, p.28]. Consequently, terms such as “good hair” have become a code for
White, straight hair, granting more power and social capital. Similarly, “bad hair” is a code for highly textured
African hair and signifies less social capital [6]. Erasmus [13] tells of a grandmother’s gesture to her grand-
daughter regarding her “Nigger-hair (grandmother laughs) Youve got real nigger-hair’ [13, p.13]. The beauty
myth of the good/bad hair dichotomy where straight hair is the “most desirable” and thus “good” were created
during the colonial era [19] and the concept continues to be rampant throughout the African Diaspora. Body
parts are used to highlight racial inferiority, thus curly, kinky hair is seen as a badge of inferiority [2]. In the
United States, Caribbean, Africa and wherever African people reside, African textured curly hair carries a social
stigma [7]. For women of color, in particular Afro-Latinos, Latinos, or other people of African descent, light
color skin continues to serve as social capital [19,22]. Hair stories are very similar and almost identical wherever
African women live [13]. These are painful narratives for likely a majority of Black women who grow up hear-
ing statements about their hair being too nappy or their skin being too dark. Hair mediates the effect of skin col-
or, so if one has dark skin but looser curls or longer hair these positive attributes act to lessen the burdenof
dark skin [4].
Among Black women there is a belief that social and cultural capital are attained through hair status. This be-
lief is based upon lived experiences, cultural messages and societal cues and it is disseminated from one genera-
tion to the next [22]. Chapman [6] found that her bi-racial participants were more likely to be approached by
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92
men because they had “desirable hair”. Straight hair or hair of a straighter texture is seen a symbol of sexual de-
sirability [3,6]. The idea of hair as a tool to allure a mate has a long history throughout the Americas. During the
late 1800 and 1900’s advertisements from White, manufacturers targeting a Black audience indicated that their
products would add to African women who “lacked”, beauty and feminine grace [2,3]. The ads played upon al-
ready held notions of hair and race inferiority that were prevalent in White and Black communities. Young
Black girls learn at very young ages that their hair will help them attract a man [1]. In the popular novel Their
Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston [23], the main character Janie ties her hair up in the store un-
der her husband’s orders so that other men will not touch her. Hair is a tool for sexual desirability across races
and ethnic groups; however, the issue within the African community is that the “type” of hair that is often de-
sired [1] is not necessarily one that many Black women naturally possess. In other words, straight textures are
often desired, but it is not the natural texture of most women of African descent. As African American men at-
tend school and are socialized and acculturated with the dominant White culture, their preferences are influ-
enced [5]. This means that men, just like women are conditioned to desire textures that more closely mimic a
White European ideal. Some Black women will often “shift” to adapt to societal norms and be accepted by
White people and Black men [6]. Some Black women have chosen a permanent shift in wearing their hair
straight because their husbands or mates do not like their “curly/kinky” hair [1]. For Black women discrimina-
tion against their person can lie within the walls of their very homes.
Hair is a marker of femininity [6], so to restrict or demean one’s hair is a direct attack on women’s being. This
implies that when the hair is coveredas it had to be on the plantation or other places where African women
existed, they were deemed less feminine and thus less womanly [1]. While many Black women’s accomplish-
ments may be impressive and outstanding, reflections of their imagery may depict a less impressive self-regard,
because of continuous comparison to their European-American counterparts. Young Black girls are conditioned
to admire the woman with “long, light, hair and beautiful blue eyes[3], while loathing their “nappy” hair.
Many women have internalized beliefs that their hair, skin, and body are sub-par to that of women of European
descent.
The Black body has been socially and culturally constructed by a racist and sexist society and is seen as “vul-
gar” [6,24-26]. Historically the Black female body has been a sexual objectsomething to objectify and use
[24-26]. The story of Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman [25,26] illustrates both the historic and modern perspectives of
the Black body. Baartman was a South African woman with steatopygia (large buttocks), as well as large hips,
breasts and full lips who was taken from her native land in 1810 to be in a circus display. She was placed in a
cage and forced to dance and perform other human tricks because of protuberant buttocks. Completely dehuma-
nized and striped of her identity and basic rights to live a peaceful life with human dignity, Baartman was forced
to perform under any circumstance. Solly, Moojen & Lindfors [26] share one spectator’s account, “She was ex-
tremely ill, and the man insisted on her dancing, this being one of the tricks which she is forced to display. [She]
pointed to her throat and to her knees pleading with tears that he would not force her compliance. He declared
that she was sulky, produced a long piece of bamboo, and shook it at her: she saw it, knew its power, and,
though ill, delayed no longer” (p. 135). Even after her death her body was placed on display in a British museum
[24]. It was not until 2002 that this woman’s dead body was returned to South Africa so the interment of her re-
mains could find an honorable final resting place. This story illustrates how many white people in the main-
stream public seem to have a morbid fascination with the differences of the Black woman’s body. Even in death
the Black body was disregarded and objectified. Large buttocks, breasts, hips, and lips have been viewed more
as sexual toys than “regular” parts of the anatomy to be respected or admired.
Black hair has not escaped this notion of vulgarity. Black hair continues to be seen as wild, untamed, and
frightening [4]. One popular and normative way to describe Black hair is “kinky”. The Merriam-Webster dic-
tionary gives two definitions of the word kinky: 1) closely twisted or curled; 2) related to, having or appealing to
unconventional tastes especially to sex; also: sexually deviant. How is it that this word both describes the texture
of many variations of African hair and sexual deviance? This is a poignant example of the powerful cultural im-
plications of Black hair. Understanding these socio-cultural underpinning brings clarification to why the Black
body and hair at times evoke feelings of fear and promiscuity.
Young girls growing up in a society that deems their physical appearance unnatural and unattractive are
taught in their formative stages to dislike themselves. Scholars [27-29] have illustrated the harmful effects of
negative self and racial esteem and its implications on academic achievement. Having a positive racial identity
increases self-concept and leads to greater school success [30-37]. The negative psychological implications of
T. A. Johnson, T. Bankhead
93
being taught to dislike one’s self cannot be ignored, as the cycle of has lasting effects within the Black commu-
nity.
2.12. Black Hair Care and Its Consequences
Upon forcible arrival to the Americas, Africans lost control of both their lives and their physical bodies. Their
bodies were subjected to traumatic physical harm including but not limited to: beatings, maiming, and rapes
among other gruesome acts of violence experienced at the hands of white people. Losing control of one’s phys-
ical body causes serious and long lasting psychological trauma [38]. This has led to what DeGruy [38] terms as
posttraumatic slave syndrome and what we will refer to here as the multigenerational traumatic legacy of slavery
(MTLS), since the effects of African enslavement are actively noticeable in modern society. Within the Western
frame, the body is a thing to be controlled [6] with hair being the most controllable physical feature [1]. Conse-
quently, Africans have had a long history of using drastic measures to attain “desirable” hair.
Straightening highly textured African hair often requires the use of toxic chemicals or heat intensive tools
such as a straightening comb or flat iron, which may be heated to over 400 degrees. Hair relaxers are used by
millions of Black women and expose them to various chemicals through scalp lesions and burns [39]. In addi-
tion, harmful chemicals cause minor to severe hair loss including balding, burns, and color change [2,3,39-41].
DeGruy (2000) noted that chemicals used in hair relaxers caused injury in the mouth and esophagus when in-
gested and such products must therefore be labeled poisonous. Wise et al. [39] tested hair relaxer use in relation
to uterine leiomyomata (fibroids) incidence among 23,580 premenopausal Black women. Women who used
chemical relaxers had higher incidents of uterine fibroids than those who never used relaxers. More precisely,
7146 cases of uterine leiomyomata were reported as confirmed by ultrasound (n = 4630) or surgery (n = 2516).
The incidence rate ratio comparing ever with never use of relaxers was 1.17 (95% confidence interval (CI): 1.06,
1.30). The findings indicate that hair relaxer use increases uterine leiomyomata (fibroid) risk. There are clearly
dire risks involved with continuing the use of chemical relaxers that often require application every 6 - 8 weeks
after the new hair grows. In cases where parts of the hair cannot be straightened, for example, what is often re-
ferred to as “the Kitchen” the part of the hair that resists straighteningmany women cut or shave what is
sometimes the rear part of their heads [13].
Hair texture is an important part of beauty, thus many women of African descent will knowingly take risks to
attain “beauty”. Etemesi [41] conducted research in Kenya with 245 women who ranged from 15 - 51 in age and
used relaxers to “manage” their hair and look “beautiful”. One hundred and thirty-four women (67%) had prob-
lems with the relaxers used (at least once); the injuries included those previously noted. Despite these harms, the
women did not stop using the products. In the 1990’s Rio Corp came out with a new product that promised to
straighten hair naturally [2,3] instead, after using the product hundreds of women suffered from permanent
baldness and other scalp injuries [41]. These risky behaviors, to many, are worth a chance of being seen as beau-
tiful in the eyes of society.
2.13. Where Are We Today?
There is a growing trend among Black women to return to their “natural roots” and eliminate the use of chemical
strengtheners. In 2010, Design Essentials, a hair care company, conducted a study to measure the popularity of
natural hair; they found that while 26% of women eliminated chemical relaxers in 2010, there was a 10 percent
increase in 2011 making the new figures 36% [42]. In addition, USA Today and Mintel [42], a consumer
spending and market research firm, found that relaxer sales have decrease 17 percent since 2006. Cyntelia Ab-
rams, a marketing coordinator for Design Essentials commented, “Natural hair has been a movement for several
years. What we’re seeing now is a confirmation that this is a lifestyle that is very important to a lot of women”
[42]. Unlike the natural hair movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s today women of African descent are choosing
in increasing numbers to wear their hair naturally simple for the sake of their hair. For many, it is less about a
political statement and more about self-acceptance and the opportunity to embrace their natural tresses in its
natural, unaltered state.
3. Methodology and Design
An Internet-based survey research endeavor was undertaken by the two authors to explore the responses Black
T. A. Johnson, T. Bankhead
94
women received in society when wearing their hair in its natural state. This was a pilot project of a larger mixed
methods study planned on Black Hair Narratives. The study used a quantitative, exploratory, online survey re-
search design. We were interested in examining the relationship between discrimination experienced by Black
women and their comfort and thoughts about wearing their hair in its natural state.
3.1. Sample
The population of interest included adult women of African descent living in the United States. A convenience
sample of Black women was solicited from the personal contacts of the two researchers who identify as African
American and African Jamaican. Researchers constructed a Facebook page for the study under the name, Black
Hair Narratives and encouraged potential participants to ask questions and engage in discussion about natural
hair using this forum and through direct email exchange with the researchers. The researchers then sent a num-
ber of group email messages to their personal and professional contacts. Both women are members of a number
of professional Black women’s organizations in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area, and they used
these contacts to generate interest in the study. Respondents were encouraged to complete the survey online, as
well as forward the email message and link to additional personal and professional contacts. Over a 3-month pe-
riod, 529 people responded to the survey.
3.2. Instrument
The survey included 52 questions that explored responses to Black women when they wore their hair in its nat-
ural state. The purpose of this project was to explore measures of hair esteem levels. We used the Bank-
head/Johnson Hair Esteem Scale (see Appendix A), adapted from Rosenberg’s [43] self-esteem scale (see Ap-
pendix B) to gain understanding how they examined how hair esteem relate to self esteem and discrimination
experiences of Black women. We were interested in whether Black women who wear their hair naturally (not
straightened nor chemically altered) would report unfavorable responses from their workplace colleagues,
friends, family, and/or strangers.
The survey consisted of mostly closed ended Likert scale and nominal type questions. The survey included 6
distinct sections, they are; 1) general questions about hair styles worn and hair texture, 2) acceptance of natural
hair in different environments, 3) responses received from different social groups, 4) discriminatory experiences,
5) a Black “hair-esteem” scale and Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale, and 6) demographics. The survey questions
explored the relationship that respondents have with wearing their hair in its natural state, as well as how they
were received by distinct social groups.
3.3. Data Analysis
Data were analyzed using IBM SPSS Statistics 20.0, the commonly used statistical software package for analy-
sis in the social sciences. Data was run for frequencies of responses on individual variables related to the above
mentioned survey areas, including demographics.
4. Findings
4.1. Who Were the Respondents in the Survey?
Demographics of survey respondents. Respondents to the survey represented a wide range of diversity among
demographic characteristics within the context of being women of African descent (see Table 1 for raw demo-
graphics values). Participants indicated that they belonged to 7 different racial/ethnic categories with representa-
tion in the African American/African Canadian group being the highest at 72%. The median age of women in
the study was 32 years of age, however, participant ages ranged from 18 to 71. Annual household income ranged
from $0 to $25,000, to over $250,000 with the median household income being in the $46,000 to $60,000 range.
The median highest level of education achieved was “some graduate school” with the most common response to
this question being receipt of a graduate degree (n = 141, 32.8%). Most people lived in New York, however, 29
states and the District of Colombia, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia were represented in the sample.
The most prevalent work sector was work in education.
A full 96% of respondents indicated that they at least sometimes wore their hair in its natural state. When
T. A. Johnson, T. Bankhead
95
asked if women who wore their hair naturally manipulated it to create curl or wave definition when going out in
public, 63.5% indicated that they did. How often did respondents wear their hair naturally? A full 41.8% of res-
pondents indicated that they wore their hair naturally on a daily basis or 30 days each month (see Table 2 for
raw values). About 58% of respondents indicated that they wore their hair straightened at least 1 day each
month.
4.2. Responses When Wearing Hair in Its Natural State
Respondents indicated their perceptions of environments in which they were in that were accepting of Black
women wearing natural hair. Overall, the women felt that they were in very or somewhat accepting environ-
ments at work, in their families, in their communities and among friends (see Table 3 for raw values). Respon-
dents were also asked about favorable responses that they experienced while wearing their hair naturally. They
consistently indicated that they received somewhat or very favorable responses to wearing their hair naturally
with co-workers, supervisors, in their communities, with family members, in their friendship circles and with
their romantic partners (see Table 4 for raw values).
Women were asked whether they have been subjected to discrimination due to wearing their hair naturally.
About 1/3rd of the respondents had experienced discrimination because of wearing their hair in its natural state
(see Table 5 for numeric details).
Women were asked whether they were teased, taunted, or ridiculed in specific social groups because of wear-
ing their hair in its natural state. The respondents indicated that the groups they most often received negative
Table 1. Demographics of survey respondents.
Variable n Valid % Highest Frequency
Race 304 72.2 African American
Age 418 79 Median = 32 years
Annual Income 62 14.6 $46,000 - $60,000
Highest Education Level 141 32.8 Graduate Degree
State 111 26.9 New York
Work Sector 130 24.6 Education
Ever Wear Hair in Natural State 443 95.9 Yes
Manipulate Hair to Create Definition 294 63.5 Yes
Table 2. Days per month hair worn naturally.
Variable n Valid %
Natural hair worn daily (30 days) 221 41.8
Wears straightened hair some days 308 58.2
Total 529 100
Table 3. Accepting environments for black women & natural hair.
Variable n Valid %
Work 408 90.3
Family 409 90.3
Community 421 93.4
Friendship 439 97.3
T. A. Johnson, T. Bankhead
96
Table 4. Favorable social group responses to black women wearing natural Hair.
Variable n Valid %
Co-workers 416 93.7
Supervisors 387 89.2
Community 421 94.6
Family Members 395 89.1
Friendship Circle 436 87.4
Romantic Partner 396 91.4
Table 5. Subject of discrimination because of natural hair.
Response n Percent Valid %
Yes 131 24.8 29.7
No 310 58.6 70.3
Missing 88 16.6
Total 529 100
responses from were family members (43%), strangers (28%), and friends (25%). Ironically, the friendship
group was also the group offering the most favorable responses and support for wearing natural hair (see Table
6 for raw values).
Respondents were asked how common they believed discrimination against Black women was when wearing
their hair in its natural state (see Table 7 for raw data). A significant percentage of the respondents (47%) indi-
cated that they did “not know”, or they skipped this question. Of those who did respond, they believed that
Black natural hair discrimination was somewhat or very common (85%).
Finally, respondents were asked the degree to which they felt that they were discriminated against as a result
of wearing their hair naturally. Only 3.2% of respondents indicated that they were very much discriminated
against, however about 25% experienced some or very much discrimination. It is important to note that a full 74%
of respondents indicated that they experienced no discrimination or not very much as a result of wearing their
hair in its natural state (see Table 8 for raw values).
5. Discussion
This study has found that in the sample available, 95% of the women wore their hair naturally at least some days.
Of these women, they tend to feel that they are accepted in multiple social environments and they received fa-
vorable responses from most social groups. When they experience teasing, taunting, or ridiculing about their
hair in its natural state, it is usually from family members, friends or strangers, but not co-workers or supervisors.
While 84.5% of respondents feel that discrimination targeting Black women for wearing their natural hair ef-
fects Black women, only 3% indicated that they have been very much affected, and 23% indicated that they
were somewhat affected.
These preliminary findings challenged the expectation that they researchers had upon approaching this study.
We were surprised to find that so many Black women indicated frequently wearing their hair naturally while
experiencing favorable responses and feeling accepted in multiple environments. As a cautionary note it is im-
portant to remember that the sample for this study includes a relatively young, highly educated group of Black
women who likely wear their hair naturally more than most in the general population of Black women. Could it
be that higher socioeconomic status is associated with a greater likelihood of wearing Black hair in its natural
state, and having a favorable social response for doing so?
While large scale survey research methods have not historically been employed to assess feelings about natu-
ral hair wear among Black women, the researchers believe that the findings from this study may indicate a new
and progressive trend towards natural hair styles and societal acceptance, particular among younger, highly
T. A. Johnson, T. Bankhead
97
Table 6. Teasing, taunting or ridiculing as a result of wearing black natural hair.
Variable n Valid %
Co-workers 82 18.3
Supervisors 32 7.2
Family Members 194 43.3
Friendship Circle 111 24.8
Strangers 123 27.5
Note. n refers to frequency of negative response participants received from specific subgroup.
Table 7. General discrimination against black women for wearing hair naturally.
Variable n Valid %
Not at all common 9 3.2
Not very common 35 12.4
Somewhat common 161 56.9
Very common 78 27.6
Missing or Don’t Know 246
Total 529 100
Table 8. Discrimination that respondents have experienced due to wearing natural hair.
Variable n Valid %
Not at all 114 32.9
Not very much 143 41.3
Somewhat 78 22.5
Very much 11 3.2
Missing or Don’t Know 183
Total 529 100
educated women of African descent.
Implications for Identity Development
There is an association between favorable responses from society, earning middle class income, having ad-
vanced degrees, and wearing hair naturally among Black women. We also found that Black women who wear
their hair naturally generally felt better about themselves. We maintain that feeling good about oneself leads to
greater life and academic success. The narrative that deems it necessary for Black women to wear their hair
straight in order to attain success is challenged by our research findings and suggests that this conceptualization
may be outdated, particularly among younger, more highly educated and upper or middle income Black women.
It is important that we teach Black women and girls self-acceptance of their natural hair and how to have a posi-
tive natural hair identity. No longer should it be acceptable to state that one must conform to European ideal of
beauty in order to gain academic success and overall well-being. We put that forth a new narrative that Black
women can wear their hair in its natural state, feel good about themselves and achieve financial and academic
success.
6. Significance and Conclusion
This study is significant because it emphasizes the importance of natural hair for Black women and their devel-
T. A. Johnson, T. Bankhead
98
oping relationship with it. Minimizing the role of hair in lives of the African people continues the trend of mar-
ginalizing Africa and her people. The long-term impact of the dismissal of a group’s cultural identity cannot go
ignored. Many may feel as though hair was not an important academic research topic, but we reject this notion
because of the evidence of mental and emotional damage caused by such claims. We argue that young black
girls need positive images of themselves that allow them to feel normal in an oppressive society. We hurt the
spirits of our girls with messages that they are inferior when we reject any aspect of their natural physical beings,
cultural experiences, or authentic lives. It is crucial that as a society, we send the message to Black women and
girls that they are worthy of admiration and respect in their natural states. Hair plays a crucial role in identity
formation that cannot be ignored. Giving voice to this issue sends a message of self-acceptance, which is neces-
sary for well-being and overall health.
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Appendix A. Bankhead-Johnson hair esteem scale.
On a whole, I am satisfied with my hair. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
At times I think my hair is no good at all. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
I feel that my hair has a number of good qualities. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
I am able to care for my hair as well as most other people. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
I feel I do not have much to be proud of about my hair. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
I certainly feel my hair is useless at times. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
I feel that hair is of value, at least on an equal plane with others. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
I wish I could have more respect for my hair. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
All in all, I am inclined to feel that my hair has failed me. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
I take a positive attitude toward hair. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
Appendix B. Rosenberg self esteem scale (1965).
1) On the whole, I am satisfied with myself. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
2) * At times, I think I am no good at all. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
3) I feel that I have a number of good qualities. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
4) I am able to do things as well as most other people. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
5) * I feel I do not have much to be proud of. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
6) * I certainly feel useless at times. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
7) I feel that I’m a person of worth, at least
on an equal plane with others. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
8) *I wish I could have more respect for myself. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
9) *All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
10) I take a positive attitude toward myself. Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
... The historical background associated with the devaluation of curly and coily textures (Dawson et al. 2018;Kobena Mercer 1987) reverberates in societies where the trade of African slaves took place (Ingrid Banks 2000;Chanel Donaldson 2012;Tameka Ellington 2015;Nilma Gomes 2003;Johnson et al. 2014;Carolette Norwood 2018). The development of scientific racism in Europe in the 17 th and 18 th centuries, which underlies the African slave trade, is based on deterministic principles that rank the biological attributes of human beings (Kobena Mercer 1987). ...
... According to Kobena Mercer (1987), such a racist ideological code has fostered a classificatory system of human value polarization, in which African elements-whether cultural or physical-have been devalued, while the European elements have been appreciated and praised. The aesthetic dimension does not escape such hierarchy, and while whiteness has become the benchmark of beauty, the impossibility of beauty rests in Blackness (Dawson et al. 2018;Chanel Donaldson 2012;Tameka Ellington 2015;Johnson et al. 2014;Kobena Mercer 1987). Therefore, curly and coily hair textures are stigmatized attributes operating as a body stain capable of positioning the individual as the "other" in social relations through a privileged white aesthetic (Sueli Carneiro 2015) that not only submits others to a pattern of established beauty but compels them intimately and subjectively to conform to such a standard (bell Hooks 2019). ...
... Now, this powerful gender believes it a right to exercise the privileges over the weaker one and this type stereotypical representation of female gender may be observed in literature. Johnson and Bankhead (2013) have studied the portrayal of female gender in African feminist writings. The Western discourse presents the black women and girls as ugly, uncultured and silenced slaves. ...
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Artes feministas, Artivismos e Sul Global parte de um diálogo interdisciplinar entre a história da arte, a sociologia, a filosofia, a antropologia, a história e as discussões mais atuais sobre o Antropoceno. A opção por uma narrativa interdisciplinar se justifica porque as epistemologias da história da arte feminista partem da interdisciplinaridade, como todos os estudos que emergem com o cultural turn nos anos de 1990, abrindo para a pós-modernidade ou modernidade tardia. Por outro lado, as várias camadas e dobras simbólicas das próprias obras em análise requerem um percurso longo e imbricado. O nosso ponto de partida assenta numa perspectiva de entendimento das raízes e desdobramentos de um processo imaginativo criado por Juliana Notari, artista plástica feminista brasileira cujas obras – que se estendem já por um período de 20 anos - têm apresentado uma crítica e uma denúncia de uma história oficial opressora e falsificadora de fatos. Se a arte tem como umas de suas principais premissas a crítica ao sistema oficial, a partir de rompimentos filosóficos que levam a outras percepções do real, e cria, a partir desses imaginários, novas linguagens plásticas, então a atividade artística sempre vai na contramão da história dos vencedores, na qual a realidade é apresentada como um lago de águas serenas. Assim, quando olhamos de outra perspectiva os dados fornecidos pela história oficial e institucionalizada, percebemos que o real é uma tempestade de fragmentos-despojos. Augusto Santos Silva (2021) mostra que, para sociólogos, historiadores e economistas culturais, a natureza criativa de uma prática artística e de seus produtos não é apenas um ingrediente da cultura, mas antes uma dimensão relevante de forma transversal a vários setores e atividades da economia contemporânea. Para Silva, o foco analítico de uma investigação ou concepção social não deve, portanto, residir em visões românticas dos artistas como gênio. Pelo contrário, o autor destaca um ponto que nos parece fulcral para a elaboração deste livro, que é a adoção de uma visão dos artistas e da arte enquanto instrumento de teoria econômica ou sociológica. É claro que a singularidade das obras e do processo criativo é um ponto inevitável numa discussão desse tipo e, nesse aspecto, autoras como Nathalie Heinich (2009) são determinantes. Heinich procurou demonstrar a importância, em relação às artes plásticas, do regime de singularidade em detrimento de um regime de comunidade, tradicionalista. Assim, a singularidade neste livro assume um significado específico, uma vez que o objetivo dos sociólogos reside na captação das regularidades da ação social e na identificação dos padrões que a organizam (Silva, 2021). Augusto Santos Silva, Paula Guerra e Helena Santos (2018) também se debruçaram sobre essas questões, ao procurarem analisar os impactos da crise econômico-financeira europeia através de produtos artísticos, nomeadamente através da música, adotando uma espécie de parceria epistemológica (Péquignot, 2007), na qual a arte se revela como instrumento de investigação, e não apenas como tema de investigação sociológica. Então, se antes dissemos que a arte tem como premissa a crítica ao sistema oficial, aqui acrescentamos que a arte pode auxiliar na compreensão desse mesmo sistema oficial, especialmente no que diz respeito às vivências e às simbologias individuais e coletivas (DeNora, 2000). Neste livro, buscamos seguir de perto a abordagem de Maria Paula Meneses e Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2010) na exata medida em que ambos os autores usam a expressão Sul Global para fazer referência a regiões periféricas e semiperiféricas dos países, anteriormente denominadas de Terceiro Mundo. Estamos, assim, perante uma expressão utilizada para retratar a complexidade e a diversidade de fenômenos sociais nessas regiões, tais como o de exclusão social, o de pobreza, o de desigualdades de gênero. É uma expressão que visa retratar as assimetrias políticas, sociais, culturais e econômicas, no sentido em que o Norte Global é entendido como sendo o dominador que as criou. Além disso, o Sul Global é atualmente encarado como um espaço de expressão e de contestação, onde proliferam alternativas contra-hegemônicas de leitura face aos fracassos históricos que se têm perpetuado desde a Revolução Industrial até o presente. Na ótica de Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2014), é o contraponto atual do epistemicídio de que foram objeto os países do Sul por mais de 500 anos. Outro conceito essencial para este livro é o de arte feminista. Entendemos por arte feminista uma esfera de expressões no campo das artes plásticas e visuais que concilia e estabiliza o encontro da produção artística de mulheres com a multiplicidade dos feminismos. Este campo emerge aproximadamente entre as décadas de 1960 e 1970, após a terceira onda dos movimentos feministas e, também, da virada epistemológica ou cultural nas ciências humanas e sociais. Longe de ser um campo da arte acantonado na suposição de uma arte feita por mulheres, as historiadoras da arte feminista, como a estadunidense Linda Nochlin, em seu texto seminal Why have there been no great women artists? [Por que não houve grandes artistas mulheres?], publicado pela primeira vez em 1971, apontavam em suas pesquisas para as diferenças sociais e políticas que as mulheres experimentam em suas vidas, as quais deveriam ser consideradas em suas produções artísticas, uma vez que tais experiências são distintas das vivências políticas e sociais masculinas. Para Nochlin: "A culpa não está em nossas estrelas, nossos hormônios, nossos ciclos menstruais ou nossos espaços internos vazios, mas em nossas instituições e nossa educação." (2021:23). Na contemporaneidade, ainda que os debates iniciais estejam em andamento, eles têm sido cada vez mais adensados por jovens artistas feministas, as quais passaram a adotar uma abordagem que incorpora outras preocupações, como a interseccionalidade entre raça, classe e outras formas de privilégio, bem como identidade e fluidez de gênero. Podemos dizer que a arte feminista caminha em conjunto com as pautas dos vários movimentos feministas. Nesse sentido, a arte feminista continua a evoluir. A arte feminista e a interseccionalidade são campos emergentes e multifacetados no Sul Global. Isso explica o fato de a obra da brasileira Juliana Notari se posicionar na interdisciplinaridade própria da arte feminista contemporânea, bem como das produções artísticas pós-modernas. Suas obras suscitam camadas interpretativas que abarcam vários campos do saber. Trata-se de uma obra aberta, em processo, como defendia Umberto Eco (1970). Um autor determinante para abordarmos as chamadas biografias artísticas é Norbert Elias, partindo do pressuposto de que tais biografias são uma forma de ficção que pressupõe um sentido de vida completo (Guerra, 2017). Na verdade, o principal contributo das obras de Elias residiu na tentativa de superar a dicotomia indivíduo/sociedade, ou seja, a ideia de que os indivíduos são exteriores à sociedade. Norbert Elias postula um conceito que – no âmbito deste livro – nos parece determinante para compreendermos as obras de arte aqui mencionadas e analisadas. Falamos do conceito de figuração (ou configuração), segundo o qual só podemos analisar os indivíduos e a sociedade por via das interrelações que estes desenvolvem sistematicamente (Guerra, 2017). O conceito de figuração é fundamental, pois nos incentiva a “dar novamente importância ao simples fato de que um todo é algo diferente da soma das partes constituintes, e possui uma regularidade própria que nunca poderá ser decodificada ao levar em consideração os seus constituintes” (Elias, 2004:25). Além disso, Elias enuncia também a importância do espaço e do tempo, duas variáveis fulcrais na abordagem teórico-conceitual neste livro apresentada. Assim, encontramos em Juliana Notari a consciência de La mestiza, como descrita em Gloria Anzaldúa (2005), porque obra e artista se movem para além das formações cristalizadas no habitus (Bourdieu, 1979); procuram o outro lado do pensamento convergente, do raciocínio analítico que se serve da racionalidade como um meio de atingir um modo de fazer distinto do ocidental. Obra e artista movem-se, então, “para um pensamento divergente caracterizado por um movimento que se afasta de padrões e objetivos estabelecidos, rumo a uma perspectiva mais ampla, que inclui em vez de excluir” (Anzaldúa, 2005:6). Neste sentido, as contribições de Lahire (2010) também sustentam que os produtos artísticos não devem ser desconectados da realidade social. Tendo como ponto de partida Franz Kafka, Lahire nos diz que, para perceber o que Kafka escreve, é necessário perceber também a forma como ele escreve. Ou seja, que o texto literário não deve ser olhado à distância, que deve ser levada em consideração a forma como a obra penetra na carne. Paralelamente, também o conceito de margens de liberdade de Norbert Elias se revela interessante (Guerra, 2017), pois pressupõe que as interrelações não são equilibradas e equitativas, uma vez que dependem de diferentes posições de poder. Analisar a produção artística de Juliana Notari é percorrer um longo caminho que não se restringe apenas à arte feminista e suas críticas à heterossexualidade normativa, mas é aprofundar as construções assimétricas de poder que foram - e continuam a ser - impostas ao outro da colonialidade/modernidade, tal como definido pela antropóloga feminista argentina Rita Segato, em Las estructuras elementales de la violencia: Ensayos sobre género entre la antropología, el psicoanálisis y los derechos humanos (2003a) é fazer um questionamento da história e das démarches políticas. Tomando como base essas constatações, decidimos partir dos estudos feministas produzidos no Sul Global para procurar entender a artista Juliana Notari e a sua obra, uma vez que as camadas de significações referentes às suas produções artísticas corporificam uma crítica política à colonialidade, evidenciam um pensamento feminista contemporâneo e corporificam a própria arte feminista contemporânea, já muito distante do seu caráter binário inicial. A historiadora da arte feminista Griselda Pollock, no prefácio da obra The sacred and the feminine: Imagination and sexual difference (2007, formula quatro perguntas ao estudioso das artes visuais na contemporaneidade: “O que você acha das artes visuais hoje em dia? O que está acontecendo com a história da arte? Quais são as novas direções? Ao que devemos permanecer leais?” (Pollock, 2007:7). As criações artísticas de Juliana Notari, as suas performances e a sua escultura Diva, parecem apontar para possíveis respostas às perguntas colocadas por Pollock, uma vez que partem de uma constatação milenar da assimetria de gênero dentro de um sistema de práticas sociais que encara homens e mulheres como diferentes (Berkers & Schaap, 2018), uma condição que é evidente quando nos focamos no campo artístico (Raine & Strong, 2019), e mais concretamente ainda quando nos centramos nessa artista do Sul Global (Santos & Meneses, 2010), pernambucana, brasileira e feminista, que busca um reposicionamento artístico e social face aos dogmas sociais e institucionais inerentes à arte e às mulheres, ao mesmo tempo em que ressignifica a mulher no quotidiano e no campo artístico. Essa questão é tanto mais evidente se observarmos o lugar e a posição que a mulher ocupa na sociedade brasileira, a qual exibe uma das maiores discrepâncias de gênero da América Latina (Berkers & Schaap, 2018). Tomando um novo “ponto teórico” (Viveiros de Castro, 2012), pretendemos estabelecer uma reflexão em torno da obra de Juliana Notari, colocando-a primeiramente em diálogo com as linguagens contemporâneas e conceituais produzidas no campo da arte feminista brasileira, visto que, ao ultrapassar a binaridade de gênero, a obra de Juliana torna-se uma imagem e uma representação de processos de violência, construídos por uma ordem patriarcal que, ao transmutar-se na longue durée, se instalou na “crueldade da colonialidade do poder”, onde “a soberania opera sobre a vítima sacrificial” (Segato, 2019). Em segundo lugar, também podemos posicionar a obra de Juliana no campo de obras artísticas que invertem a imagem e a representação do conceito de abjeto, tal como discutido pela filósofa e psicanalista Julia Kristeva . A pensadora apresentou o conceito pela primeira vez em 1968, na obra Pouvoirs del´horreur: Essai sur l´abjection. A abjeção, para a pensadora, é uma operação psíquica através da qual a identidade subjetiva e a de grupo se instituem eliminando qualquer ameaça às fronteiras do próprio sujeito ou do grupo em questão (Kristeva, 1974). Assim, para Kristeva, “surge, dentro da abjeção, um daqueles violentos e sombrios reflexos do ser dirigido contra uma ameaça que parece emanar de um exorbitante externo ou interno, ejetado além do escopo do possível, do tolerável, do pensável (...) mas não pode ser assimilado. Ele implora, se preocupa e fascina o desejo que, no entanto, não se deixa seduzir. Apreensivo, o desejo se afasta; doente, ele rejeita (...) uma certeza o protege do vergonhoso (...) uma certeza de que é orgulhoso que se apega a ele. Mas simultaneamente, da mesma forma, aquele ímpeto, aquele espasmo, aquele salto são atraídos para um outro lugar tão tentador quanto condenado. (...) O abjeto tem apenas uma qualidade do objeto - o de ser oposto a mim” (Kristeva, 1982:32). O importante em nossa análise é que o conceito de abjeto parece ter sido tomado por Juliana Notari, bem como pelas artistas feministas em obras desde os anos 1960, como potência de afirmação do feminino e da arte feminina/feminista. Quando Kristeva (1982:33) diz que “de seu lugar do banimento, o abjeto não cessa de desafiar seu mestre”, tal afirmação nos oferece uma perspectiva para abordarmos a postura tomada pelas artistas face ao cânone artístico, face à sociedade e face às pautas feministas. Se a mulher e os Outros - negros, indígenas, minorias transsexuais e todos os excluídos do sistema - sempre foram o abjeto para o homem branco ocidental, essas artistas parecem ter invertido a noção, uma vez que ao assumirem o abjeto em suas obras, o potencializaram, atribuindo-lhe novas significações. Se a abjeção é o estado de fusão com o Outro e com o que se encontra fora do ser, nomeadamente com uma das suas formas conhecidas como o vômito, as fezes (ou o cadáver), há todo um conjunto de sistemas que nutre esse relacionamento (Kristeva, 1974). É de Kristeva a afirmação: “.. é fossa e morte; isso perturba até mais violentamente aquele que o confronta como frágil e falacioso. Uma ferida com sangue e pus, ou o cheiro doentio e acre de suor, de decadência (...). Esses fluidos corporais, esta contaminação, essa merda é o que a vida suporta, dificilmente e com dificuldade (...). Se esterco significa o outro lado da fronteira, o lugar onde não estou e que me permite ser, o cadáver, o mais repugnante dos resíduos, é uma fronteira que invadiu tudo. A fronteira tornou-se um objeto. Como posso estar sem fronteiras?” (Kristeva, 1982:35). Ao comentar suas criações artísticas, Notari nos fala das “fronteiras” mencionadas por Kristeva: “... minha produção passa pelo abjeto de uma forma contundente”. Elementos como “o cabelo, o sangue, o animal” são para a artista “abjetos por essência porque a sociedade os transforma em tabu” quando deslocados de seu lugar: “o sangue, o cocô, o cabelo tornam-se tabus (...) a sociedade ocidental os transforma em abjetos e eu os transformo em potência.” Assim, as criações de Notari, ao transitarem pela economia da abjeção, explodem as dicotomias mulher/natureza e puro/abjeto, para transformar o Outro em potência, ao mesmo tempo em que traduzem os traumas, perturbações e feridas históricas, a partir da poética do afeto, feminina e feminista. Por essas razões, podemos classificar a obra de Notari como uma forma de artivismo. Estamos perante uma linguagem que mistura a arte e o ativismo social: o artivismo. Podemos referir que o artivismo surgiu no início do século XXI muito associado à street art e à arte urbana no geral. O artivismo mistura várias práticas artísticas, desde o graffiti ao do-it-yourself punk e tem como referência os espaços urbanos. Tal como refere Guerra, surgiu inicialmente com pequenos grupos artísticos e acadêmicos nos Estados Unidos da América e, atualmente, encontra-se disseminado um pouco por todo o mundo. A arte, no âmago dessas linguagens, tem um papel crucial na resistência e na subversão do status quo; implica uma ruptura com a visão da arte pela arte, mas também se afasta da realidade social e das representações que pretendem retratar tal realidade “como ela é”. Ambos os aspectos estão presentes na obra de Notari e como tal merecem reflexão, pois é feita uma conjugação entre a sua intervenção estética e a performativa. Então, num contexto de politização artística, temos visto cada vez mais a ligação às questões sociopolíticas (neste caso, relativas ao gênero feminino), ao mesmo tempo em que se observa um afastamento dos modos usuais de ação política (Guerra, 2019). Outro aspecto interessante está no fato de Notari nos fazer pensar no artivismo dentro e fora do espaço urbano. Este último é o local onde as práticas artivistas são tipicamente realizadas, uma vez que é o locus dos movimentos sociais, o que enfatiza ainda mais as práticas contraculturais. Mas as criações de Notari alargam o artivismo porque, ao incluir a Natureza e os “não humanos” (Tsing, 2019), suas criações carregam uma crítica ao modo como o capitalismo, em conjunto com a colonialidade do poder, transformou até mesmo Gaia no seu Outro. Este livro divide-se em 14 capítulos. Começamos a nossa abordagem, no Capítulo 1, com uma contextualização da performance Doutora Diva e da escultura a céu aberto Diva. Ambas se localizam no campo da arte feminista contemporânea, e, assim, se inserem na tradição de uma produção artística feminista que começou a ser realizada nos Estados Unidos da América e na Europa nos anos 1960 e, no Brasil, nos anos 1980. Dessa perspectiva, não só assinalamos as contribuições da obra de Notari no campo da arte feminista, como confirmamos que, na contemporaneidade, a arte feminista caminha em consonância com as pautas feministas e dos movimentos de todas as demais “minorias” identitárias. Em seguida, avançamos no Capítulo 2 para uma discussão entre filosofia, antropologia e sociologia. Tomamos conceitos das filósofas Simone de Beauvoir e Judith Butler e as etnografias da antropóloga Rita Laura Segato, com o objetivo de refletir sobre a emergência do patriarcalismo enquanto sistema político (Segato, 2019) e enquanto engendramento que colocou a mulher no campo da imanência, transformando-a no Outro do homem. Tal operação impossibilitou à mulher construir uma relação simétrica e de parceria com os homens (Beauvoir, 1970). Para consolidarmos as análises de Beauvoir e Segato, examinamos no Capítulo 3 as descrições da natureza da mulher no mito da Deusa Mãe, analisado pelo historiador das religiões Mircea Eliade (1992) como uma construção mítica que vem desde “os tempos primordiais”; e na qual, em nossa visão, já se percebe uma perspectiva patriarcal. Nos dois capítulos seguintes, os de número 4 e 5, analisamos dois mitos cosmogônicos das sociedades originárias da América Latina: o de Tlatelcuhtli, a deusa de vagina dentada da cultura Asteca, e as Hipermulheres, dos Kuikuro do Alto Xingu, Brasil. No Capítulo 6 passamos para uma discussão que entrelaça filosofia e história, para discutir visões construídas sobre a mulher desde a Antiguidade e que, relacionando a feminilidade com a feitiçaria e à loucura, chegaram à modernidade. Por essa via, chegamos ao pensamento da filósofa Silvie Federici, especialmente nas obras A história oculta da fofoca: mulheres, caça às bruxas e resistência ao patriarcado (2018) e O Calibã e a Bruxa: mulheres, corpo e acumulação primitiva (2004), com o objetivo de relacionar o assassinato de mulheres na Europa entre os séculos XV e XVII, prática conhecida como “a caça às bruxas”, com a expansão colonial e a dizimação dos povos originários no continente americano. Tal operação sustentou o rígido policiamento sobre as mulheres em ambos os lados do Atlântico e, como argumenta a antropóloga Anne MacClintock em O couro imperial: raça, gênero e sexualidade no embate colonial (1993), apoiou, por meio do discurso sobre “raça”, o genocídio dos povos ameríndios e a construção do “Outro sacrificial” (Segato, 2019): mulheres, negros e indígenas. No Capítulo 7 recorremos ao livro Inferno atlântico: Demonologia e colonização: séculos VI-VIII (1993), da historiadora Laura de Mello e Souza. Essa autora mostrou, a partir de uma extensa pesquisa nos arquivos na Torre do Tombo, em Portugal, como a imaginação europeia sobre a caça às bruxas foi usada pelos conquistadores como um discurso para apoiar a violência e a dizimação das populações autóctones, a violência contra as mulheres e a escravização das populações negras africanas, na consolidação do processo de acumulação primitiva do capital - construindo-se, a partir daí, a colonialidade/modernidade (Segato, 2019). Ainda nessa discussão, recorremos à obra da historiadora Mary del Priore. A partir de um estudo minucioso nos arquivos coloniais brasileiros, ela demonstra em A mulher na história do Brasil (1984) como as brancas pobres e - as ainda mais oprimidas dentre as mulheres: as negras forras ou escravas e as indígenas - sofreram no Brasil colonial os mais diversos abusos e violências por parte dos homens e do Estado colonial. Ainda hoje, são vistas pela historiografia brasileira como imersas na luxúria, o que reforça uma visão misógina e sexista sobre as mulheres. Vale ressaltar que tais visões depreciativas, ancoradas num passado colonial, tornaram-se tanto mais evidentes com o advento da internet e das novas tecnologias. Esta é uma questão que vem sendo tratada por autores como Al-Natour (2020). Esse autor tem se debruçado sobre as representações de aborígenes australianos nas redes sociais, uma vez que os mesmos são retratados pela propagação de estereótipos tóxicos, arcaicos e coloniais, que incluem considerações de que os povos aborígenes são inferiores, subumanos, animalescos, sujos, incivilizados e precisam ser exterminados. Al-Natour infere que essas representações se encaixam num legado de colonização que produz várias perspectivas depreciativas sobre a identidade aborígene, cujos discursos racistas buscam subjugar, oprimir e colonizar ainda mais os povos aborígenes, processo esse que é semelhante àquele sofrido pelas mulheres. Acrescentamos que José Machado Pais, no livro Enredos sexuais, tradição e mudança e As mães, os Zecas e as sedutoras de além-mar (2016), também fornece uma visão atual dos estereótipos construídos em torno da mulher brasileira. O sociólogo viajou inúmeras vezes de Lisboa para Bragança, uma zona rural no extremo norte de Portugal, quase a fazer fronteira com a Espanha, para investigar o fenômeno das Mães de Bragança e sua revolta contra as emigrantes brasileiras, descritas como prostitutas e tidas como bruxas que vinham roubar os maridos portugueses. Trata-se de uma obra fundamental na sociologia portuguesa para compreendermos os estereótipos e as acusações persistentes que, ao contrário do que se pode pensar, têm uma gênese sócio-histórica. No Capítulo 8, fazemos uma incursão aos meados do século XVIII para analisar uma luxuosa berlinda coupé, viatura usada em Portugal por uma família da corte dos Bragança. O objetivo é mostrar como as figuras humanas pintadas nos painéis decorativos do veículo mantêm os ideais de masculinidade e feminilidade dos pintores da Renascença e como os aplicam aos nativos do Novo Mundo. Prosseguimos com uma discussão, no Capítulo 9, sobre a “iconografia da bruxa”, com o objetivo de ressaltar como a experiência artística do Renascimento esteve enraizada na economia do abjeto, na qual o artista exprimia e purificava, ressaltando em suas obras o componente essencial da religiosidade e que, talvez por isso mesmo, sobreviveu ao colapso das formas históricas das religiões (Kristeva, 1982:55). Tomaremos, para tanto, as análises da história da arte contemporânea sobre a iconografia renascentista realizada por artistas do norte da Europa, como Hans Baldung Grien, Urs Graf e Albrecht Dürer; e, também, na Itália, pelo artista Dosso Dossi, para articular os discursos de desvalorização do feminino, visto como abjeto, poluído, fora da norma, uma feminilidade bestial e irracional - apoiando assim o discurso misógino da Igreja, dos Estados Mercantis e da burguesia na exclusão das mulheres da esfera pública na Europa. Seguindo no mesmo rumo, tomamos no Capítulo 10 as análises dos historiadores Charles Zika e Ronald Raminelli e da filósofa Silvie Federici para mostrar como o discurso visual criado pelos artistas europeus para representar as bruxas europeias misturou-se à iconografia criada por Theodore de Bry e Hans Staden, os quais construíram uma imagem das populações ameríndias do Brasil como canibais e bestas inumanas. Do encontro de bruxas e canibais criou-se um imaginário para justificar, aos olhos do Ocidente, não só a colonização, mas a dizimação das populações nativas, bem como o tráfico e a escravização das populações negras. O pretexto para as acusações de adoração ao demônio e a introdução da caça às bruxas no Brasil eram as práticas culturais e religiosas das populações locais e dos africanos escravizados, percebidas pelos colonizadores como práticas de resistência dessas populações à colonização e à escravidão (Federici, 2004; Zica, 1997; Mello e Souza, 1993; Raminelli, 1997). Muito embora o foco deste livro sejam as artes feministas e o artivismo no Sul Global, fazemos no Capítulo 11 um desvio sobre a produção de três mulheres que ganharam notoriedade como pintoras, na Itália dos séculos XVI e XVII, para especular sobre o modo como essas artistas - numa época em que a crueldade contra as mulheres e o desamparo em que viviam se amplificava com o reforço do patriarcado na Europa em conjunto com a expansão colonial - conseguiram autonomia como sujeitos, criando uma linguagem própria na pintura. Sabemos que as três artistas estavam estrategicamente bem-posicionadas nas hierarquias de classe e de raça - mulheres brancas, pertencentes às classes sociais privilegiadas européias. Ainda assim, habitavam um mundo radicalmente desequilibrado na hierarquia de gênero, nesse sentido encarnando o outro da norma. Já no Capítulo 12, voltamos à questão da posição da mulher no mundo colonial, para discutir como o processo de demonização e opressão do feminino se manifestava no cotidiano das mulheres no Brasil Colônia. No Capítulo 13, retomamos as criações de Juliana Notari com a análise das obras realizadas em Belém, especialmente as performances Mimoso e Amauamas, as quais, em conjunto com a performance Doutora Diva e a escultura Diva, são representações de uma artista mulher que regurgita toda a história de opressão narrada nas páginas anteriores. Sua obra enfatiza uma “objetividade feminista” (Haraway, 1995), uma vez que o “olhar particular” proposto por Haraway (1995:10) se opõe à visualidade “não marcada do Homem e Branco das sociedades pós-industriais, militarizadas e racistas” (Haraway, 1995:7). A partir do “olhar particular”, Notari fabula um modo de corporificar e representar o terreno dos saberes subjugados. A artista desconstrói a história oficial e a posiciona na “diferença”, desvelando em suas obras como as construções sobre as mulheres e todos os Outros foram tecidas pela história e pela cultura. Partindo de seu “olhar particular” mostra “como nós [humanos] somos apenas uma mínima célula desse organismo vivo, fluido e sem fronteiras, Gaia” (Krenak, 2014). Assim, a artista acena para outras formas de viver e criar no Antropoceno. As criações de Notari - seja do ponto de vista da luta feminista que, no terceiro milênio, busca um encontro com todos os Outros na construção de uma nova existência; seja do ponto de vista da própria arte - expõem uma nova imaginação, pois que propõem representar uma nova humanidade, fechando as feridas abertas pelo capitalismo e pela colonialidade/modernidade, em busca de uma nova “partilha do sensível” (Rancière, 2015), na qual Antropos e Gaia conformem o Uno. No Capítulo 14, lembramos brevemente como, no presente, as populações subalternizadas, não apenas as mulheres, também negros, indígenas e homossexuais, resistem. E, finalmente, no Posfácio, arriscamos imaginar uma história alternativa, para desafiar o leitor a, embarcando nessa convocação, exercitar a imaginação e, a partir daí, se tornar um agente de mudança social. Afinal, como afirma Fausto (2014) : “O passado não precisa continuar sendo esse passado que a historiografia oficial nos conta. Em mudando, em fabulando outros passados, a partir de histórias subterrâneas, abrimos espaço para a criação de outros futuros”.
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