Hair Peace: A 5-Part Manifesto

From Madam C.J. Walker to the Obamas, our ancestors have spoken to us, groomed us and scolded us through our hair. Isn’t it about time we ended the stalemate?

Author A'Lelia Bundles is the great-great-granddaughter of Madam C.J. Walker

If we can accept the notion that she meant “kinky” descriptively rather than pejoratively, we can take the leap that she envisioned where we are today. We have not reconciled the contradictions, and we probably never will. We all know about the lawsuits that arose when airlines and hotels fired employees because their hair was too “ethnic.” What’s just as bad—and really heartbreaking and outrageous—is knowing that at least one black sorority chapter, a business school at a historically black college and a major black employer have banned some natural hairstyles in the past. 

Still, I am encouraged by the example Michelle Obama is setting in the White House. I love seeing Malia and Sasha alternate between twists, braids and blow-dried styles. I love knowing that the first lady is secure enough in her own skin to let her daughters express themselves and experiment with their hair. I love reading blogs on which today’s self-appointed hair police are outnumbered by the posts from people who think it’s just fine for Mrs. Obama to wear her hair however she chooses 

Behind all the positive hair messaging, I suspect that Mrs. Obama and her girls endure the same hair battles that play out in black homes every morning. Every child’s hair, after all, is a combination of the hair of all her ancestors. And every morning those ancestors demand attention and respect.  

As these battles and minor conflicts flare up in homes and offices across the country, I’ve been thinking about how we might negotiate the peace. I’m starting with my own Hair Manifesto, a kind of personal pledge to help end the hair wars: 

1) Resolved, that mothers will help their daughters learn to love their hair and break the cycle of pain.

2) Resolved, that we will campaign to encourage some enterprising cosmetologist to establish hair care coaching institutes throughout America to help mothers learn to comb, brush, braid and style with less daily drama. 

3) Resolved, that we will be as accepting of the sistah whose natural twists and locks cascade down her back or frame her face as we are of the sistah whose well-conditioned, newly permed coif shines and bounces with every nod of her head. 

4) Resolved, that we will stop making other people wealthy because of our addiction to hair extensions.  

5) Resolved, that we will care for our hair, groom our hair and love our hair because when we do, it will not matter what anyone else says. 

My list is a work in progress, so feel free to add your own resolutions. Start your own peace accord with yourself and the women and girls in your life. The only way the hair wars will end is if we draft the peace treaty ourselves. 

A’Lelia Bundles is author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker and is at work on a biography of her great-grandmother, A’Lelia Walker, and the Harlem Renaissance.


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