Hair. Most of us have it. It’s a big deal. But why is Afro-textured hair such a controversial subject? In this podcast, we will explore societal views on textured hair versus straight hair along with the pros and cons of the 4 main hair types.
We will also examine the idea of what “professional hair’ should look like. And of course, we cannot leave out the billions of dollars spent annually in the Black hair industry and the explosion of the Natural Hair Movement. So the question is does discrimination based on hair actually exist in society? We’re living in the year 2020 and The Crown Act was really necessary?
Anyone can sign The CROWN Act Petition globally.
In the intro you just heard Beyonce’s 2014 hit “Flawless”. Many people would agree that Beyonce Knowles-Carter is in-fact: fla-haw-le-hess. We know the BeyHive would swarm your social media page, and sting you with eternal bee posts if you dared say any different. However, even un-deniably beautiful Beyoncé—a music juggernaut, with millions of dollars and millions of followers—still doesn’t feel her naturally curly/kinky/coily hair meets the pervasive beauty standards. And yes, I believe Beyonce truly believes she is flawless—but—ONLY 100% flawless wearing a straight brown hair weave with honey-blonde highlights.
Is Hair Discrimination Even A Thing?
Is hair discrimination really a thing? This may or may not be a foreign subject for you personally, depending on your hair journey and your hair type. But you’ve likely experienced or heard of someone that has faced harsh comments about their natural hair being unacceptable or facing discriminatory acts because of it. This doesn’t just apply to regular folks.
Let’s start with actress Gabrielle Union, one of the most popular judges of America’s Got Talent, Season 14. AGT’s social media presence grew, w/ half of the fans reaching out to Union directly. Variety Writer, Matt Donnelly, broke the story on November 2019, that after only 1 season, Union and Julianne Hough were both not returning to the show—which was allegedly originally a 3-year contract. So what was the issue? Racial insensitivity—"continuity issues" with her hair and Union’s hair being “too Black”.
Continuity issues? Gabrielle Union started her career in movies and I remember her from the urban iconic hit “Love and Basketball” from 2000. So, I think she knows a bit about ‘continuity’ in film production. Was that the core issue here though??
Get a Ballpoint Pen. Any Pen.
So, before we get too deep into this topic, it’s time to get you, the listener involved in the conversation. Wherever you are--I’m guessing you can quickly get access to a pen? Any ball point pen will do. Please do go get your hands on a pen as we get into the curl typing chart.
In the 1990s, Oprah’s Hairstylist, Andre Walker, created the Hair Typing Chart or system to display the different curl patterns of different hair types.
So, you got that ballpoint pen? Now take it apart. Yup. I mean dis-assemble the pen for just 1 minute until you locate the spring inside the pen. Now, tap it out of the pen. Pick up that spring from inside the pen and hold it in between your fingers. You’re holding an exact replica of my hair’s curl pattern: Type 4-C Hair. The inside spring of a pen. That tightly wound spiral…that’s what I’m working with. Now just image the reality that almost. every. single. strand. of my hair—is this texture. And those strands—they want to be left alone to tangle around each other and live their best life. I say almost every strand because the back half of my hair is a little looser, more like a corkscrew curl texture.
Textured Hair Population in the U.S.A
So, let’s get an idea of what we’re talking about in numbers.
About 65% of the U.S. population has textured hair--meaning it’s wavy, curly, kinky, or coily, according to the 2018 TextureTrends Report from NaturallyCurly.com. And an increasing percentage of the women with curls are actually embracing their natural texture.
There have been hundreds of new textured hair products exploding into the market in the last few years. Yet, Lisa Brown of Lolique, a multicultural retail consulting firm reports that less than 20% of coveted shelf space at most drug stores and mass food/household retailers is allocated to textured haircare products.
TextureTrends also verified that 91% of Curly consumers are willing to spend $10 or more on a single product and 63% of curly consumers are willing to spend $25 or more on a single product.
Raise your hands y’all wherever you are if you can attest to those stats.
Why do people with textured hair spend so much more money? Because we have to. It has historically been very difficult to find quality haircare products that actually works for managing curly hair. Products that aren’t full of cheap chemicals. Curly hair has particular moisture needs, so better quality, natural brands often work well while nourishing the hair and scalp.
Curl Typing Chart
Now, back to the Curl Typing Chart. Andre Walker’s Curl typing chart covers the 4 predominant hair textures that most humans have: Type 1 Hair: Straight, Type 2 Hair: Wavy, Type 3 Hair: Curly, Type 4 Hair: Kinky/Coily. Many people even have 2 or 3 different hair textures on their head. That’s 100% normal. Essentially, the major thing that changes is the texture--in how tightly bound the curl gets. And the tighter the curl--the lower the moisture level. It’s basic science and biology.
4 Hair Types: PROS & CONS
Now, let’s get into the 4 hair types: pros & cons. Everyone’s body produces a natural oil called ‘sebum’ that comes through the scalp to add a natural coat of protection to the external hair shaft. Water also travels through the scalp to moisturize hair. So, considering that humans are over 70% water--if you are de-hydrated, your body will prioritize fluid flow and organ functioning over moisturizing the hair. So it’s important for everyone to stay hydrated. Earthtones Naturals: School of Natural Hair helps us with those facts.
*It’s important to keep in mind that we are literally about to go from one polar opposite to another: from straight hair to kinky/coily hair—which have the complete—opposite—issues and advantages.
Type 1: Straight Hair - Biggest Concern: Volume
Straight Hair PROS:
Oil and water that leave the scalp—and because the hair is straight—it travels straight down the entire hair shaft—assisted by gravity to moisturize and protect the hair.
Hair doesn’t tangle and is relatively quick to comb.
Lays flat against the head.
Straight Hair CONS:
This is a very important to get into, because this subject is not widely discussed in society. People with straight hair discuss their hair woes in silohs. Aaaaand at the same time, society props up straight hair to be the ultimate texture to have.
So, some Straight Hair CONS:
The same ease of natural oils coating the hair shaft to protect it--is exactly why people with straight hair struggle with hair that looks “greasy” after 1 day. So this requires daily hair washing to improve ‘perceived’ hygiene.
Straight Looks limp and prone to static fly-away’s.
Straight hair lacks the ‘body’ required to give hair that ‘full look’.
Straight Hair is difficult to style as the hair refuses to be manipulated without a lot hair products like gel, mousse and hair spray.
Straight Hair cannot hold basic styles like a French braid, other braided styles, or heat styling from curling irons.
Straight Asian hair is especially resistant to styling, since the hair cuticle or actual strands of hair are so thick and wiry that strands strongly resist being manipulated at all.
Type 2: Wavy Hair - Biggest Concerns: Frizz & 2 Textures: Straight Roots/Wavy Length
Wavy Hair PROS:
Most of the hair is straight with slight bends down shaft, or “S” shaped curls down the length.
Oil and water that leave the scalp—because the hair has slight waves—it travels down the entire hair shaft relatively easily—assisted by gravity to moisturize and protect the hair.
Hair tangles only a bit and is relatively quick to comb.
Hair can have some body and a slight style built in via the waves.
Wavy Hair CONS:
It can be manipulated, but with hair lots of products like gel, mousse and hair spray.
The more bends in the hair down the length makes it more difficult to moisturize.
The result: wavy, fizzy hair.
Doesn’t have much body or bounce.
Type 3: Curly Hair - Biggest Concern: Frizz
Curly Hair PROS:
The look: Defined and springy curls down entire length of hair shaft but curls may lack definition.
Curly hair: has a Built-in natural ‘hair style’ because of the curly or spirally texture.
Curly hair Lots of natural body, looks fuller—even if you don’t have a lot of hair you can make it look fuller with a diffuser.
It is pliable and can be manipulated and can hold basic styles like a French braid.
Hair products like gel or mousse can be used to define the curls.
Curly Hair CONS:
Oil and water has difficulty traveling down the various curls and spirals, and because the hair grows more in an outward direction, gravity doesn’t help, so oils get stuck at the scalp or travels only about an inch.
Curly hair naturally suffers from dryness because of this, since the natural oils and water can’t find their way down the twists and turns in the hair shaft.
This dryness leads to frizz, which leads to split ends and breakage.
Hair tangles and is relatively challenging to comb.
“Shrinkage”: means tighter curls tend to “shrink” the hair close to the scalp making hair look shorter than it actually is.
Type 4: Kinky / Coily Hair – Biggest Concern: Dryness
Now a reminder that we are at the polar opposite hair texture of straight hair.
Kinky/Coily Hair PROS:
Kinky/Coily has a built-in natural ‘hair style’ because of the zig-zags or tight spirals and corkscrews.
Kinky/Coily Hair actually de-fies gravity and grows in an upward and outward pattern.
Hair has a lot of body. The natural body of curly hair can make it look fuller—even with low-density hair (people that don’t have a lot of hair).
Kinky/Coily Hair can be manipulated into many styles and will hold, especially braided styles, like cornrows or French braids.
Kinky/Coily Hair holds styles with heat application and minimal styling products.
*Locs or dreadlocs are formed naturally when these tight coils are left to spiral around each other. Interlocking by using the hands and pomade to keep the locs looking neat is necessary. (Remember when I mentioned earlier that my coily ball-point pen spring hair strands want to be left to just coil up with each other and live their best life? This is why it’s easy for Black people to have dreaded hair).
Hair products like gel or mousse can be used to define the curls.
Hair can appear thready, wiry, cottony, spongy, or silky depending on several factors.
Kinky/Coily Hair CONS:
Oil and water gets stalled at the scalp and does not travel down the hair shaft because of the tightly coiled spirals or zig-zags and due to the gravity defiance of growing in and up-and-out.
Hair shaft more dry and fragile because of this and leads to breakage, split ends and single-strand knots.
Sometimes looks frizzy.
Hair tangles around itself tightly and is relatively challenging to comb.
“Shrinkage”: tighter curls tend to “shrink” very close to the scalp making hair look dramatically shorter than it actually is.
So those are the 4 basic hair types. There’s also other hair factors that influence how hair looks and functions: like the strand thickness of fine-medium-coarse. Thick hair tolerates heat better and is holds styles well. Fine hair is very fragile, has difficulty holding styles and often looks like whispy fly-away hair. Density, porosity (water absorption) and elasticity are other factors. Also, any hair type that is treated with texture-altering chemicals; treated with bleach; or excessive heat from blow dryers and flat irons---will automatically suffer from damaged hair.
All hair types, just like skin, just like teeth, just like all the features and attributes of humans--have diverse variations that come with pros and cons. If this fact is true, then why are certain hair types promoted as superior over others? In particular, why is bone straight, blonde hair promoted everywhere as the ‘ultimate’ beauty standard for women over textured hair? Why do women (and some men) of all ethnicities go to such lengths achieve the perceived ‘look’ of straight hair when every hair type has good and bad features? Because the superiority of straight hair over textured hair is a social construct created by Caucasian people.
Here is a quote from Chimamanda Ngozi discussing an aspect of our ‘culture’ from her TEDX Talk, "We Should all be Feminists."
"Culture does not make people. People make culture. So if it is in fact true that the full humanity of women is isn’t our culture. Then we must make it our culture.” Chimamanda Ngozi
Professional Research Studies
So, what does the research say? Does it back up all these stories and the claims of hair discrimination that Black people have been lamenting about for centuries?
In 2019, The Dove CROWN research study delved into uncovering the level of racial discrimination women with natural hair faced in the workplace. The study confirmed that Black women are more policed in the workplace. And the statistics proved it. They surveyed working women: just over 1,000 Black women and over 1,000 non-black women, ages 25-64.
Here are the stats:
Black women’s hair is 3.4X more likely to be perceived as “unprofessional”.
Black women are 83% more likely to report being judged more harshly on her looks than other women.
Black women are 1.5X more likely to be sent home from the workplace—because of their hair.
Black women are 30% more likely to be made aware of a formal workplace appearance policy.
80% of Black women agree with the following statement: (quote) “I have to change my hair from it’s natural state to fit in at the office.” (end-quote).
I 100% percent agree, because I have as well. Who else can admit that? I see no lies here.
If that research isn’t convincing enough:
In 2017, The Perception Institute partnered with the Shea Moisture brand and surveyed over 4,000 participants in “The Good Hair Study”. They found that bias definitely exists against Black natural hair. They administered the Implicit Association Test or IAT, where rapidly-changing photos of Black women with smooth hair and Black women with naturally textured hair, were combined with rotating word associations.
Here are the results:
Black women are almost 2X more likely to experience social pressure at work to straighten their hair.
They affirmed that Black women suffer more anxiety around hair issues and spend more on hair care than their White peers.
A majority of people of all races and genders hold some bias against women of colour based on their hair.
The Study also reports the bias is learned behaviour that can be un-learned.
Millennials, in general across the board were more accepting of textured hair.
The study concluded that White women showed the highest level of implicit and explicit bias against textured hair. White women rated textured hair as the following quotes:
“Less professional than smooth hair”
So—They highlighted the fact that it’s usually White women in middle-management and making hiring decisions about staff-so this is particulariy troubling because these implicit and explicit biases against Black women’s hair are being factored into the hiring equation. More than other factors like qualifications, competency and experience, etc.
Apparently, White women in contact with Black women naturalistas expressed less bias.
The Crown Act
So, now onto The CROWN Act, who’s slogan is: “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”
So, those very recent, real life examples are why there has been a mission in the USA, to end hair discrimination in K-12 schools and workplaces.
According to their American website: “The CROWN Act ensures protection against discrimination based on hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles in the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and state Education Codes.”
The Act was first tabled in January 2019 in California. Then, Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Act into law on July 3rds 2019. The CROWN Act went into effect as of January 1, 2020.
The various States that signed The Crown Act after California are:
New York: July 12, 2019
New Jersey: December 19, 2019
Virginia: March 4, 2020
Colorado: March 6, 2020
Washington State: March 19, 2020
And these local and county municipalities have also signed The CROWN Act: Cincinnati, Ohio and Montgomery County, MD.
On December 5th, 2019, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Los Angeles Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-LA) introduced The CROWN Act of 2019 in both federal chambers of U.S. Congress. Currently, over 20 other states are reviewing The CROWN Act.
Beauty brand Dove is one of the founding members and core supporters of The CROWN Act.
Canadian Crown Act?
I think we also need a Canadian Crown Act. The discrimination against not just curly or kinky/coily hair but all textured hair that is still prevalent in 2020 is concerning. Comment on our IG page with your story as to why we need the CROWN Act in Canada.
The necessity of The Crown Act being written into law says we have a far way to go in overall perceptions and discrimination of Afro-Textured hair.
The Crown Act being written into law also says that we are making progress in this area because the top governmental decision-makers supporting this Act are also white men. It shows that there are many law makers of all ethnic backgrounds that supports the rights and freedoms of all people in society and oppose unfair and discriminatory practices on any basis.
This cultural discrimination against male and females with naturally Afro-textured hair is not fiction.
Anyone can sign The CROWN Act Petition globally.
For those listeners with longer hair past your shoulders—or who have had longer hair throughout your life: imagine coming back to school or work after the holidays and being told that if you ever wore your hair down--that is past your shoulders--that you would be breaking that organization’s new “Dress Code” and you would get suspended from your job or school. While you might struggle to believe that scenario is real, it was a reality for an American youth this year.
Ellen DeGeneres highlighted the story that broke on January 22, 2020 about DeAndre Arnold, an African-American high school senior in Texas that was suspended from school because of wearing his dreadlocks down. He was told to cut off his dreads before he is allowed to return to school. He was also informed that he cannot walk across the stage to graduate unless he cuts his locs short. I’m referring to an A/B student in school and a good citizen. Yet there are many females in that same school that DeAndre went to—with long hair—that they wear down—or up—or however they want to wear it. They are not suspended.
This story came full-circle because DeAndre ended up getting a $20,000 scholarship and Gabrielle Union and Dwayne Wade invited DeAndre Arnold with them to the Oscars on Feb 9. Gabrielle Union and Dwayne Wade were producers of the now Oscar-winning short film called ‘Hair Love.”
Consider in 2019, a high school athletic youth named Andrew Johnson was about to compete in a wrestling match. Then the officials insisted that his dread locs are a problem—even though his hair was tied back. Then a blonde, caucasian woman appears with scissors from who knows where and forcibly and jaggedly cuts off his hair—right in front of the entire crowd that came to watch their friends and family wrestle.
The trauma and colonialism of it all.
Think hair discrimination is just an issue in the U.S.? Think again. Here are recent Canadian cases:
Global News broke the story on March 19, 2019 about a Montreal restaurant called Madisons. The owner sent African-Canadian Hostess, Lettia McNickle home because she was wearing cornrows. The Quebec Human Rights Commission ruled in fall 2019 that Lettia McNickle was the victim of racial and gender discrimination. She won the case and was to be awarded $14,000.
In 2016, CBC news Toronto reported that a Jack Astor’s Restaurant server named Akua Agyemfra was sent home from work because she wore her hair slicked back in a neat bun. The manager claimed that all female staff had to wear their hair down. Wearing hair in a bun was against company policy she allegedly claimed. After Facebook and Twitter users got wind of the story, some planned to boycott the restaurant.
Canadian Journalist Nam Kiwanuka
Canadian TVO Journalist Nam Kiwanuka, show host of “The Agenda in the Summer” & “Climate Watch”, wrote an article in 2017 called The Politics of Natural Hair. Kiwanuka now proudly wears her Type 3-C Curls with auburn highlights to compliment her fab T.V. personality. But the Ugandan-Canadian admits in the article that with the consideration of that very TVO job opportunity, also came the heavily weighted decision of whether to straighten her curly hair. She seriously discussed this choice with friends, as it had always been a personal and professional source of stress. Kiwanuka shares that she has in fact discussed her hair with her show’s Executive Producer, because online comments have shown that some viewers don’t like her hair.
She also notes that several years prior to her current job that she auditioned for a job in the US with a major news network. In the follow-up interview—she was asked whether she would consider straightening her hair. Even though her hair was curly in her DEMO reel and in the interview.
Education System & Cosmetology Schools Biased Against Textured Hair
To further punctuate this issue: most of the cosmetology schools in Canada have shown educational bias against teaching future and current professional hairstylists how to properly manage any textured hair—especially Type 4- kinky/coil hair. Their student education—which is focused on practical application—only has 1 module that briefly covers textured hair and on top of this—there is no practical experience provided or opportunites to learn to manage curly hair.
Don’t believe me—walk into 3 hair salons when it an appropriate time and ask if they have any stylists available that can do curly hair. You will likely hear the response, “Sorry, No.” or the clearly petrified look on the stylist‘s face that you encounter will make things clear. Even my friend with type 3 curls that are actually quite large—like sidewalk chalk says she cannot find someone that can cut or style her curly hair.
Combine this lack of education and interest with managing textured hair with the scarcity of good options on regular store shelves—this is partly why the Black hair industry is so lucrative.
Curly Hair Designs
There’s such a huge demand for skilled stylists that can manage naturally curly hair that Red Seal, Licensed Stylist Paula Whitlelocke of Curly Hair Designs Salon in Ottawa, ON, typically has a 4-month wait list to get into her salon for the 1st time. Have you ever had to wait 4 months for a hair appointment? Ya. She is a passionate curly hair expert and educator that teaches regular hands-on classes to other hair professionals out of her salon. The demand is constant. Her business has been booming for years.
The Natural Hair Movement Celebrates Waves, Curls, Kinks and Coils
But whose standard of beauty are we talking about here? This is one of the huge reasons that The Natural Hair Movement started and exploded—the world-over.
The global natural hair movement started over 20 years ago, as demonstrated partly by The annual Taliah Waajid World Natural Hair Show in Atlanta, that was set to host it’s 23rd year in April 2020 (and of course the event was cancelled due to the current COVID-19 Pandemic). Women with textured hair all over the world began to embrace and proudly wear their textured hair and learn to manage it. The Natural Hair movement really gained traction in the last 10 years. Now there are many yearly global natural hair events. Throughout the year the North-American markets now have many male and female supporters—curly peeps and professional stylists alike.
CURLFEST, held annually in New York is a huge outdoor celebration of Black Hair and Black beauty that began in 2011. The CURLFEST website says:
“CURLFEST® was born to be the change that was long overdue in the beauty industry. To flip the false narrative around unruly brown beauty, and create one that accurately showcases the glory of our crowns, the richness of our skin, and the joy of our culture.”
I personally had the privilege of traveling to Brooklyn, NY in 2018, to experience the amazing phenomenon that is CURLFEST. It was of a huge outdoor park BBQ packed with a sea of people--thousands of people. There’s many hair product vendors and good food and even better vibes! CURLFEST 2019, held on Randall’s Island in New York State, had an even bigger reason to celebrate: the signing of The Crown Act.
In Winnipeg, I started the Naturally Gorgeous Curls Event in 2017, to educate and support women, men and children in loving their natural hair texture. Check it ou on our Events Page.