As "Black History Month" comes to a close, the “Natural Hair Movement” continues to flourish far beyond the 28th of February. With the embrace of natural hair consistently budding entrepreneurship and cultivating meaningful conversation; it’s only right that we take a step back and question the catalyst. I mean after all, this is not the first time that natural hair has motivated and empowered communities of color to collectivity embrace their natural appearance. But what’s happened lately to encourage so many millennials to literally take it back to there roots?
Many would argue that the eruption of #TeamNatural selfies on “the gram” is simply a part of an ever- growing millennial trend, set forth by new age tastemakers, eager to maintain a cult following. But personally, I believe the prevalence of natural hair in the black community has much more to do with historical reoccurrence, access to online communities/visibility and the need for outward expression to mirror inward emotion.
The visibility of natural hair didn't exist widely prior to the 1960's. Black women with natural hair were not depicted in the media as beautiful therefore, they had to look far and wide to find other black women embracing their natural hair and referring to it as beauty.
During a 1968 interview with Kathleen Cleaver, now law professor and formerly the first Communications Secretary of the Black Panther Party, was asked about her natural hair and the “Black is Beautiful Movement”, of the 60’s.
“This brother here, myself and all of us were born with our hair like this, and we just wear it like this because it's natural. The reason for it, you might say, is like a new awareness among Black people that their own natural physical appearance is beautiful and is pleasing to them”, said Cleaver.
Key word being, “Beautiful.” For decades people of color have longed to be included in the “Beauty” conversation. With white culture traditionally defining american culture, black people were nudged into assimilation, rarely seeing anyone bold enough to rock their natural hair with pride and subsequently never recognizing the power they possessed to become trendsetters.
The Black is Beautiful movement created visibility and highlighted self-love in black communities, allowing both women and men to gain a sense of belonging and pride. The “new awareness” that Cleaver mentions in reference to the movement signifies a shift in consciousness. The same shift in consciousness that we are witnessing today. The only difference is, as millennials, we possess a digital advantage, thus allowing us to seek out others that define beauty and culture as we do, thus sharing our pride with each other by using “at” symbols and hashtags.
With the help of the internet we’re now able to power our own trends, connecting, and translating our culture on and offline as we see fit. Social media allows us to digitally watch natural hair trends as they grow and to monitor the rate of appropriation that naturally follows suit. Given such leverage, not only can we create massive followings but now we can cash in on views, likes and sharability.
Beyond the millennial’s gumption and digital savvyiness to monetize their social situation, The “Black is Beautiful” movement is the same now as it was in 1968. And like Kathleen Cleaver, I believe the “natural hair reoccurrence" is grounded in a sense of self-acceptance and self-expression. Natural hair, now, has much more to do with cultural identity, newly discovered beauty, and pride, than it'll ever have to do with “subbies”, selfies and/or likes.