I began exploring my roots, which funny enough started at the exact time that I did my “big chop”…and I have NEVER gone back.
This challenge speaks to my love of history, and most importantly to my love of hair-story.
I like to use my hair to help educate. I feel, that when people learn their story, they can start to build self-esteem and get a new perspective on life – including questioning and shifting their perception of hair and beauty.
Instead of viewing history through a lens created by a dominant society – you can start to see how incredible you are through the legacy of YOUR-story (and of course) your hair-story.
This shoot, allowed me to explore my hair-story. Here, I want to show Black hair over time, through a historical lens, not through the eyes of dominant society, but through the eyes of a Black woman – me.
I want to explore the power of hair and how transformative yet, how hated and tormenting having Black hair can be, even today.
Throughout the shoot, I wore the same wooden ring (half-painted black) to represent a connection throughout time and a passing of a hair-legacy from age to age.
My first shot, represents a pre-colonial Africa. I represent an African woman who is proud and strong. You see determination in my eyes and strength in my physical presence. I show skin and I am unashamed – I am not compared to or thought of as inferior to blue eyes and blond hair. My head is held high, my hair is free and natural, and my face is clean and soft against an uplifting light background. This shot represents the beauty and power of an “untouched” Africa.
My second shot represents a colonized Africa, a land ruled by its’ colonizers and incredibly changed forever. Here, my hair is partially covered; this represents a very long and difficult period where the African woman is fighting trying to fit in, more ashamed of her natural being as she is now placed in a hierarchy where she is at the bottom. She covers her “cotton” like hair, and looks to the heavens with strife.
This shot represents an internal conflict as over one-third of African’s (mainly from West Africa) are stolen from their land and enslaved. Her body is covered, she is fighting this transformation, but there is pain and a stress she feels, just for being her….
My third shot represents slavery in the United States, all the way up to the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s. The chains not only represent bondage of the body, but of the mind (at least a desire from dominant society to chain our minds). These chains have tried to hold Blacks down physically, but also mentally, trying to put and keep our minds in a place of servitude and inferiority, especially when it comes to education, political power/rights, and beauty standards (specifically the straightening our hair, lightening of our skin and rejecting our natural kinks). Throughout our legacy of slavery, The Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights Movement, the desire to construct an inferior reality was key. You will see in this photo that I am trying to break the chains, but I also understand I am fighting an uphill-battle. After years and years of pain, and taught self-hatred Blacks continue to fight oppression in a variety of ways. My hair is out, representing the passive resistance of slaves as we fought and continue to fight for our freedom. It also represents an upcoming Afro-Centric period, where many Blacks begin to explore their roots. I am in the dark, but there is a light shining on me representing hope and growth. My shoulders are again out, showing a strength and sense of pride that is although hidden at times, always there! Phew!
Shot 4, represents a continued fight and a sense of confusion as people preach an ideology of assimilation. Instead of trying to blend in, many Blacks tried to create a “genre” of their own, but sense how it conflicts with dominant society. You see this in music, style, and politics. In this photo, I want the viewer to see the 80’s. I want them to see an ending or a rough transition to the once accepted afro-centric ideology that many Blacks held on to in the 70’s and early 80’s (especially within the Black Power Movement). I want the viewer to see angst and frustration as I pull at my hair – trying to help it find it’s ‘rightful’ place. Should I straighten it or…? I have bright very pink make-up with fake eyelashes to represent a very confusing time. Who am I?
My last shot is one of hope and one of persistence and growth. Even when skies still seem gray and the environment seems downtrodden at times, society has gotten to a place in history never before…a place where we have elected our First Black president (for a second term), a place where our continued fight is slowly seeing it’s gains. I am standing near a broken window, representing a “glass-ceiling” that is broken, showing how many obstacles we have overcome. I am confidently holding my head high; and I am happy. I am looking up to represent a positive future and a more accepting future than ever before. I have a blazer on showing growth in professional areas not explored before, but I am finding me in a society that has literally fought to keep me down. My hair remained in its’ natural state throughout this shoot – I thought about wigs and other ideas, but I wanted to make a point – even through Black hair has experienced chemicals, the societal pressure to straighten, change and hide, my (OUR) natural hair is still there and will always be there. Chemicals can’t stop it!! I am confidently showing colorful beads and my wooden ring to represent knowledge and a pride in a powerful legacy…all creating my hair-story.