Most black people are aware of the story behind the straightening comb and the work of the first black millionaire Madame C. J. Walker’s work revolutionize the art of hair grooming. Willie Morrow deserves a shout out for his historical work and look at the reasons so many of us hate our hair. Morrow published, 400 Years Without a Comb in June, 1984. Unfortunately, it is out of print with limited availability. Fortunately, the book turned documentary is available on You tube.
I located a hard copy of the book in 1999, and was able to borrow it from Sister Nefertiti the owner of Truth Bookstore in Southfield, MI. I was preparing a “Happy to Be Nappy” workshop for teens. Morrow’s book took me on a historical ride from Africa where we honed the art of craft of creating hair styles that were uniquely African and re-created across the diaspora for centuries. He talked about the slave trade and the disdain white owners held for black hair. We were beaten if our unkempt hair was seen.
The only time allowed for hair grooming was on Sundays and that was hardly enough time to undo the damage of sun and sweat drenched head rags worn for six days straight. Since no hair grooming tools were givenhttps://www.vissastudios.com/wp-admin/post-new.php we had to make do with tools like shears that were found in animal stalls and used for grooming livestock.
Added to that enslaved Africans used the craft of woodworking to make pics and combs in efforts to comb through neglected hair. Not an easy task they hand crafted tools allowed us to have some sort of pride when it came to our hair.
Our love-hate relationship with our curly/kinky tresses is by design. When Malcolm X asked, “Who taught you to hate yourself?” He meant for us to look at all the reasons we denounce our God given hair that so many envy as evidenced by the outpouring of nosiness and bad press around black celebrities who go natural, or keep their children’s hair natural.
Whether we are natural or permed it is good to know what our history of hair struggle looks like. I recommend watching the video with kids and elders and having a collective conversation around black hair.