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Hair Matters

Hair Matters: Beauty, Power, and Black Women's Consciousness

Ingrid Banks
Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 197
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  • Book Info
    Hair Matters
    Book Description:

    Long hair in the 60s, Afros in the early 70s, bobs in the 80s, fuschia in the 90s. Hair is one of the first attributes to catch our eye, not only because it reflects perceptions of attractiveness or unattractiveness, but also because it conveys important political, cultural, and social meanings, particularly in relation to group identity. Given that mainstream images of beauty do not privilege dark skin and tightly coiled hair, African American women's experience provides a starkly different perspective on the meaning of hair in social identity."--National Women's Studies Association Journal "Grab your copy at your local bookseller and get hip to what your hair is saying to others with regards to beauty, culture and politics. Learn about how culture has a love for coifs, because after all, so do you!" - Sophisticate's Black Hair Styles Guide Drawing on interviews with over 50 women, from teens to seniors, Hair Matters is the first book on the politics of Black hair to be based on substantive, ethnographically informed research. Focusing on the everyday discussions that Black women have among themselves and about themselves, Ingrid Banks analyzes how talking about hair reveals Black women's ideas about race, gender, sexuality, beauty, and power. Ultimately, what emerges is a survey of Black women's consciousness within both their own communities and mainstream culture at large.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3945-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Unhappy to Be Nappy
    (pp. 1-20)

    In late November 1998, Ruth Sherman, a white teacher at predominantly black and Hispanic Public School (P.S.) 75 in Brooklyn, found herself embroiled in a national controversy after using Carolivia Herronʹs childrenʹs bookNappy Hair(1997) in her third-grade class. The storyʹs main character, Brenda, has long and ʺkinkyʺ or ʺnappyʺ hair. Blacks use these words to describe black hair that is tightly coiled or curled in texture. But ʺnappyʺ is historically a derogatory term. Although many blacks embraced nappy, or natural, hair in the late 1960s and early 1970s, some still perceived the term, and the hair, negatively.


  5. chapter 1 Why Hair Matters: Getting to the Roots
    (pp. 21-40)

    Black women share a collective consciousness about hair, though it is articulated in a variety of ways. The first question I asked the girls and women is how and why hair matters. Given the many personal reflective writings by black women about their hair, I wanted the girls and women to explain if hair is important to them, too, or if the attention it gets is a lot of hype. The responses varied, but most of the women agreed that hair matters in some way to them in particular or to black women in general. It immediately became apparent to...

  6. chapter 2 The Hair “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of Black Womanhood
    (pp. 41-68)

    In the Broadway playThe Colored Museum, George C. Wolfe (1987) highlights the importance of hair among black women. In a scene entitled ʺThe Hairpiece,ʺ Wolfe demonstrates the political, social, esthetic, and personal tensions that arise in issues surrounding hair and black women. The scene focuses on a black woman and her two styrofoam wig heads that come to life as the scene develops. One styrofoam head has long, straight hair, and the other has an Afro. The two heads, or styles as it were, engage in a debate about which style should be worn by the woman when she...

  7. chapter 3 Splitting Hairs: Power, Choice, and Femininity
    (pp. 69-98)

    An important critique of the self-hatred account of hair alteration is that it does not take into consideration hairstyling practices that reflect how black women exercise power and choice, as some women noted in chapter 2. The possibility that hairstyling practices, in whatever form, serve as a challenge to mainstream notions of beauty or that they allow black women to embrace a positive identity is important for two reasons: voice and empowerment. Voice is important for marginalized groups in U.S. society, and it is through voice that black women are not merely victims of oppression. Instead, black women are agents...

  8. All illustrations
    (pp. None)
  9. chapter 4 Women and Girls Speak Out: Five Hair-Raising Sessions
    (pp. 99-138)

    Hair is one of the most talked about subjects among black women. Focus group research can be viewed as a way of recreating these casual discussions. Moreover, talking to groups of women also brings a different dimension to the data collected in individual interviews. Below, I present specific comments and conversations from the focus group sessions I held, as well as discuss the dynamics of each session in greater detail.

    The decision to conduct focus groups with groups of girls and women who are friends proved to be fruitful for several reasons. First, a breaking-the-ice period was unnecessary because everyone...

  10. chapter 5 Black Hair, 1990s Style
    (pp. 139-146)

    In tracing black hairstyling practices during the twentieth century it becomes clear that in the 1990s a variety of hairstyling practices have come on the scene, much of it among U.S. black youth culture. The influence of hip-hop culture and rap music and videos has been tremendous on the styles of black youth, and hair, along with clothes, dance, and lingo has been central in setting style. Rap music videos of the 1990s highlighted diverse hairstyling practices among blacks. Many of the natural styles that have emerged¹ and reemerged² were first seen in popular music videos by rap and R&B...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 147-156)

    While the media in general was fascinated by the fact that a white teacher was reprimanded after using a childrenʹs book about a black girlʹs hair, the point of contention among blacks was more insidious. I again encountered the concern among blacks about highlighting the issue of hair during the summer of 1999, when I spoke at a conference. One of the attendees at my talk shared a comment overheard from another black woman after she read the title of my talk. The woman commented that the reason hair is a problem in black communities is because black people are...

  12. Appendix I: Methods, Methodology, and the Shaping of “Hair Matters”
    (pp. 157-170)
  13. Appendix II: Defining Black Hair and Hairstyling Practices
    (pp. 171-174)
  14. Appendix III: Interviewee Demographics
    (pp. 175-178)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 179-184)
  16. References
    (pp. 185-192)
  17. Index
    (pp. 193-196)
  18. About the Author
    (pp. 197-198)