Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America

October 23, 2009

Black Hair Books

I’ll keep this one short. You need to buy this book! It’s a fairly quick read and worth your money and time.

“Whether it’s hip-hop diva Lil’ Kim’s “weave of the week” or activist Angela Davis’s Afro, black hair evinces the power to set trends and define icons. In this entertaining and concise survey, Byrd (a research chief for Vibe) and Tharps (a reporter for Entertainment Weekly) revel in the social, cultural and economic significance of African-American hair from 1400 to the present. The opening chapter chronicles the rise of the slave trade, revealing intriguing facts about the significance of hair in African cultureAsuch as that only royalty donned hats or hairpieces, and recently widowed Wolof women stopped maintaining their hair as a sign of their mourning. The authors contextualize issues familiar to African-Americans while explaining black hair culture to the uninformed, so readers who don’t already know what “the kitchen” refers to (hair at the nape of the neck, usually the “nappiest”) will soon find out. Photos and illustrations are put to effective use, though amusing charts such as “Five Famous Men with Equally Famous Hair” and the “Black Hair Glossary” are out of sync with the text. Meanwhile, significant figures, like Madame C.J. Walker and Nathaniel “The Bush Doctor” Mathis, are revisited in detail in various chapters, resulting in unnecessary repetition. But these are small quibbles with a book that successfully balances popular appeal with historical accuracy, adeptly exploring the roots of pervasive intraracial discrimination while explaining, for example, how the much-maligned Jheri Curl ever became a fad.”

-Publishers Weekly

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: