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5 Times Hair Was a Sign of Resistance

There’s no room for argument—Black identity is politicized and, as indicated by our skewed criminal justice system, the racist perception of Blackness has been institutionalized.

Because of widespread prejudice, afro features (and yes, that most definitely includes hair) can be a bold signifier counter to mainstream whiteness. For instance, wearing hair naturally instead of using relaxers or weaves, was a sign of resistance during the late ’60s civil rights era. The look is embodied by the iconic Angela Davis and the Black Panther Party.

While styling your hair a certain way is largely a fun way to express yourself, sometimes that expression takes on a deeper meaning. Here are some times hair was a sign of resistance and served to combat injustice.

The Afro

After centuries of dealing with hyper-aggressive hair shaming, the Black Is Beautiful movement overtook the late 1960s. Part of the movement was to encourage the celebration of black features and defy Eurocentric beauty standards, which prompted many to grow out their hair. Because the movement was closely aligned with the Black Panther Party and the active fight against racism, the afro took on radical associations. Chad Dion Lassiter, president of the Black Men at Penn School of Social Work, Inc. at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice told Ebony, “The Afro was Black beauty personified without white validation, and it did not care about critics. For many Black men, it was about cool pose and hyper-masculinity in the face of police brutality and constant oppression.”


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Again, there’s no coincidence that dreadlocks, a style closely aligned with Black identity, has been considered subversive. Even children with dreadlocks are seen as a threat and have been barred from taking part in commemorative events, such as graduation or from attending school altogether, simply because of their hair. Even celebrities aren’t exempt, like when Zendaya was dragged for “smelling like patchouli” because she decided to rock dreads.


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A radical style for women, the buzzcut laughs in the face of gender norms and proves femininity is deeper than hair. Worn by Black icons like Grace Jones and Pat Evans, the style also rebukes white beauty standards specifically. Evans told an interviewer for Black Beauty that she adopted the style after being fed up with how black models were pressured to conform with having long, straight hair. For her, shaving it off was the most effective way to protest.


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Long Hair

During the tumultuous ’60s, having long hair (especially as a man) meant you occupied a solid position within the counter-culture and were a “hippie.” The style had so much significance, that John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged a nonviolent protest against the Vietnam War in their bed, with signs displaying “Hair Peace.”


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Part of what is now known as the “Allen Iverson Rule,” the NBA banned players from wearing certain clothes, including “headgear of any kind” in 2005. This was a direct attack on Black players and a statement against the hip-hop aesthetic that was popular at the time. Durags are still banned from schools and many nightlife establishments, and just another example of how something as innocuous as a piece of cloth can be considered criminal when associated with Black men.

Hoping to boost your support for the Black community this February? HERE are seven new Black-owned hair brands to shop!

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