Thursday, 17 May 2012

Straight Up

In the 19th century a law was passed to allow slaves to attend church and socialize with each other. It also became the day women used to take care of their tress. As mentioned in the previous entry The arrival of doom slave were starting to use axle grease and hot butter knives to straighten their hair. They began to envy the straight hair that their slave master’s wives had and although it was a form of self-hate, it also show how slave were ingenious and very creative. 

The chemical lye, that was and still is in some cases used in hair relaxers.
The natural afro texture of their hair was being frowned upon and the slaves soon started mixing a concoction of lye (a toxin also known as sodium hydroxide) and potato. This was put directly on the scalp to straighten the hair shaft and then rinse with water and a neutralizing agent.  Although the process gave the slaves the desired straight hair, it did not come without a price. The caustic solution burned the skin instantly and usually left the person with severe scabs and abrasions on their scalp.

Over the years, the market grew for those of African descent to straighten their hair, even though the process was extremely dangerous and sometimes painful. In fact, in the mid-19th century it was against the law in New Orleans to be seen wearing their natural hair. It had to be hidden with a wig or wrapped in a scarf.  

Madam C.J. Walker before and after using her product. I liked her puffy bangs. :-)

This new business was booming and in the beginning was dominated by whites, soon African Americans: Madam C.J. Walker, Garrett Augustus Morgan, Sara Spencer and others invented applications to remove or change the curl pattern of afro-textured hair.  Although, I personally do not think the invention of hair relaxers was a positive one, I cannot ignore the great entrepreneurism that occurred. The determination is something we all should be proud of.

Your hairstyle also fit you into a social class that had developed in the 1800s and early 1900s. If you had straight hair you were considered to be classy and affluent and those who wore traditional African styles such as braids or cornrows were considered to be poor and low-class.

It’s interesting to note that although the first relaxers in the 19th Century were much cruder than the ones now used in present day some of the side-effects still remain, scalp burns, scabs and in severe cases relaxers can cause dermatitis and alopecia.

If you could go back to the 1800s, do you think you would you straighten your hair to fit in?

Blessings and Curls,


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