The history of Black hair

As the slave trade began and millions of African slaves were sold to help colonise America, Black hair was dehumanised and described as ‘wool’ by white people. According to several readings, this is when the term ‘good hair’ was first established, creating a damaging narrative that would shape the way Black hair was viewed for centuries to come. ‘Good hair’ was associated with caucasian textures: softer, smoother, lighter, longer. Meanwhile Black hair textures were considered ‘bad’.

1800s: The ‘Hot Comb’ was created

Despite slavery ‘officially’ coming to an end in the United States in 1865 following the birth of the 13th Amendment in America, stigmas surrounding Black people and their hair continued to grow. So much so that the first ‘hot comb’, or electric straightening comb as we’d call it today, was invented by French hair stylist Francois Marcel Grateau in 1872.

At the time, it was simply a heated metal comb that was designed to straighten and smooth kinky and coarse afro hair textures, starting from the roots upwards. While many women, including white women, used hot combs to straighten their hair for various reasons, the tool gave Black women the chance to have the so-called ‘good hair’ they were taught they didn’t have. Straight hair was not only deemed more attractive, but it elevated a woman’s personal, social and economic status and could even result in more opportunities for success. 

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