Black hair has long been a topic of discussion, if not a cornerstone, of the Black community. It is an integral part of Black identity, especially for women. While our hair and what it means to us individually may be unique, what is universal for all Black women is that our locks are closely tied to our beauty, or perception thereof. That’s why we go to such great lengths to care for and protect Black hair, not just in the literal sense, but also from outsiders who try to change or simply steal that part of our identity.
In recent years, with the onset of social media, it’s been easier to identify and call out these perpetrators. Cultural thieves who take Black hair, as well as other aspects of Blackness, and treat it with the same respect a white person treats raw chicken: cut it, be unsure as to how it’s seasoned, and then throw it in a large casserole. (I imagine that’s how casserole was invented…a white woman didn’t know how to cook all the ingredients separately so she just said fuck it, and threw it all in a bowl then set the oven to 350…or 375…but I digress)
Not surprisingly there was a period when white folks, or anyone else for that matter, just didn’t have time to copy & paste our style so they did what they do best—desperately tried to eliminate Black beauty. During the late 18th century, Black and Creole women in Louisiana were forced to wear head wraps, or tignons, because they wore their hair “in such elaborate ways that it attracted the attention of white men.” And when I say ‘forced’ I mean sanctioned, as in the Louisiana government passed laws to effectively regulate Black women’s hair.
The “tignon laws” were to not only prevent Black women from getting (unwanted) attention from white men but also to curb white women’s jealousy. At the time, it was customary for white, Spanish, and Creole men to have placées, or openly kept mistresses. And more often than not, they were choosing Black and Creole women to be their mistresses instead of white women. So, let me be clear when I say this: white women were jealous that they couldn’t be the side chick.
Now, I imagine there were some women who resisted these laws but the overwhelming response was, “LOL. Okay, girl.” Black women began to wear bright-colored tignons, proceeded to adorn them with jewels and other accessories, and used different styling techniques to wrap their hair. What was meant to signify Black women as inferior and hide their beauty was actually used to enhance it, thanks to the women’s ingenuity.
In 2016, we call that #BlackGirlMagic