Braids, plaits, locs, and twists are some of the most common protective hairstyles worn by Black women of all ages. These hairstyles are so popular within the Black community, that they have become a trend outside the community. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? As a Black woman, I understand the powerful influence we have. Our culture is beautiful and we make it look desirable. However, these hairstyles are a part of our history. A history that should be cherished, respected, and not taken lightly.
These hairstyles, for me at least, was like a right of passage to getting my Black girl card. All those late nights sitting in my mother’s lap while her knuckles dug into my scalp, braiding eccentric patterns in my hair. I’m sure many other Black women can relate to this.
So, it is frustrating when we see these styles being worn by those who don’t understand the depth behind these styles. Especially by those who told us we cannot wear these styles outside our home, deeming them “unprofessional.” I want to take a brief moment to educate those on why, sometimes, adopting these styles may come across as offensive.
Braids? Oh, We Go Way Back.
According to an article written by Maya Allen from Brydie.com, braids, also including cornrows and plaits, have been dated back to 3500 BC! In African culture, braids were used amongst tribes for identification. Certain patterns identified social status, marital status, wealth, kinship, and religion. This was popular amongst African tribes in Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia, and Eritrea.
Braids have their significance in Black American culture as well. Slavery in America had a tremendous impact on African American Women and their hair. Early in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, captors would brutally shave the hair of women, stripping them of their cultural roots and identity. Later, after the slaves were sold to plantations, they would braid their hair in patterns resembling escape maps. The slaves used braiding patterns as a way to communicate with each other as well. To prepare for escape missions, slaves would braid produce like rice and beans in the hair. In many ways, braids were a tactful act of survival.
Respect My Precious Locs!
Locs, or Dreadlocks, have also been around for centuries. However, they play a special significance in the Black Culture. During the religious movement Rastafari, believers would adopt the hairstyle as a symbol. It often showed respect to their deity God, Jah, and was a way for them to connect with them.
Besides that, Dreadlocks have been a popular hairstyle in the Black community since the 1980s! This is most likely thanks to the infamous Loc Queen herself, Whoopi Goldberg! She paved the way for many Black people, especially women, to adopt the hairstyle in a way that connected with a sense of normalcy. I mean, just look at the queens like Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu.
Personally, I have no problem if someone outside the Black community wants to wear braids, locs, or twists. History shows that these styles weren’t coined by Black people, they just have a unique history to us. Braids have a long history in Europe as well! However, I do implore those who mindlessly wear these styles to be kind and educate themselves. Many Black women are shamed for wearing these styles that are a part of our history. We reclaimed these styles and made them into something beautiful! They should be cherished and respected.
Deanna Kenner is an Atlanta native. She is a recent college graduate from Georgia State University receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English. Her favorite is blue as you may tell by her funky hair color and she has a passion for writing and reading.