top of page

Is it really about the hair?

Africans that were brought to the United States, were stripped of their cultural identity and forced to start anew in an alien world of unfamiliarity. Dating back to, “for more than two centuries, African slaves in the United States were effectively forbidden to culturally be African, stripped of name, language and religion, while also prevented from knowing [their] African history” (Robinson-Moore, 69). Earlier, it was stated that the terms African American and Black are used interchangeably, this is due to the African American/Black community lacking a collective identity as Africans. One woman in the 2005 documentary, A Girl Like Me, commented that, ‘it’s like I don’t have an actual culture. I know I’m from Africa, but… [we were] ripped out of our culture. You’re missing a piece of you because of the lack of knowledge about Africa, and the connection between African Americans” (Girl Like Me). So, one can see why and how cultural identity can be impacted due to an absent historical base. Since identity is often tied to culture, the absence of culture leads to the absence of identity among the African American/Black community. This lack of culture lead to the acceptance of how African Americans categorize themselves as a color in the United States. Thus, leading to the departure of calling themselves African American and embracing of Black identity.


If you notice, the only people in the United States defined by color are European/white and African American/Black. Neither are the visible form of the color assigned to their person, but yet this color categorization is widely accepted and still used in society. Although, now the categorization is more so in regards to what nationality a person claims, it is not uncommon to see “white” or “black” as a representation of a category. Race is in fact a, “colorized system of domination of whites over non-whites…where people are hieratically organized and hegemonically dominated…more by consent than by coercion” (Robinson-Moore, 69). This color paradigm has been socially accepted as normal and the standard in the United States. Although as Robinson-Moore notes, the word “Black is colorized and “white” is not, since it is meant to be all colors except black. “This property of whiteness, to be everything and nothing, is the source of its representational power…white domination is reproduced by the way that white people colonize the definition of normal”, just how they colonized the world (Robinson-Moore, 70). This definition of normal is also within the ideas that Eurocentric beauty should be sought by those who aren’t of Eurocentric heritage or nationality. The odd thing is, that other nationalities aren’t given color categories in society or on surveys, they just are represented by their nationality. Race is a social construction, but the construction tends to be based on physical characteristics, mainly skin color, hair texture, eye color and sometimes the size of the lips and nose.


Within race, there seems to be two types of racial hierarchies: “whites over blacks and light over dark” (Cox 1948). On a global spectrum, the whiter and lighter nations, including the United States, tend to be the world leaders and dominate the darker nations. This is another way that race is used to maintain that whites are the dominant social power and that anyone dark is deemed subordinate. Robinson-Moore points out that, “the United States involvement in the African slave trade is important to the evolution in the United States society” because, as noted earlier, a racial group is relative and the equates an ancestral group to belong to. Which is most likely, why our society accepts the idea of racial groups or color stratification.


This idea of color stratification and the ideals of beauty, Robinson-Moore writes, can be dated to the institution of slaver within the United States. Those who had dark skin were kidnapped from their home countries, enslaved and deemed as inferior to their European and fair skinned captors. Ronald Hall states in his article, “A Descriptive Analysis of Skin Color Bias”, that “in a nation where ‘whiteness’ is ideal, light skin invariably represents the standard” (Hall 179). These Eurocentric beauty standards link to why there is a relationship between race, skin color, and beauty. Especially in regards to African American females.


Backtracking to slavery again, darker and lighter skinned slaves were given vastly different slave duties. The darker skinned slaves were mainly made to work in the fields and exposed to the elements of nature, and were treated harshly. Even though all African stolen to the United States were forced to be slaves, there was an apparent social status advantage to be a lighter skinned slave. The lighter skinned slaves were given jobs inside the plantation houses or buildings, and sheltered from natures elements. These, ‘historical advantages given to house slaves, many of whom were light skinned, meant that entire families received a head start over families with darker skin, both educationally and economically” (Graham, 1999). But if you contemplate this fact, in order to maintain having lighter skinned slaves, more had to be born. So as the social status of being a house slave was preferred, this status was the product of forced and voluntary sexual relations between slave owners and slaves. This sexual conduct could have occurred for the simple reproduction of lighter skinned slave children and also the production of plantation worker, resulting in a larger profit for the plantation owner. So this Eurocentric ideal of beauty came with a heavy cost. This intermixing of white and Black, along with the power dynamics from slavery gets perpetuated in today’s concept of beauty, being that if you are of mixed nationality and lighter skin, you are seen as more beautiful than if you were born of darker skin.

bottom of page