The post in which I tell you why I am starting an academic blog about Black hair, identity and women of colour, why this is a conversation long overdue, and why you should be part of it.
When I started my PhD project in 2014, I always knew that this should not just be a project about women of colour, but one for women of colour.
I think I have done a pretty decent job doing research about women of colour. I have spoken to dozens of women in Britain and Germany about their hair. I have listened to their life stories and thoughts. I have observed the processes and culture of Black hair shops, interviewed hair dressers and attended hair shows. As I am starting to write up my thesis, publish articles in academic journals and attend conferences, I can see how my research contributes to an academic discourse about questions of identity and representation as they pertain to women of colour in Britain, Germany and beyond. But I am yet to keep my promise that this is research for women of colour.
When I first started university, I hoped my degree would teach me something about myself and my experiences growing up in Germany. I wanted to learn about the ways we identify people based on their outer appearance, about the individual and how individuals become members of groups.I was curious about the formation of societies and the meaning of culture. But I was also interested in the ways we come to hold stereotypes and how we become prejudiced towards others. . Some of my questions were answered, others remain(ed).
I remember my excitement upon coming across Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Mask, Homi K. Bahaba’s The Location of Culture and Anthoy Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic during my first undergraduate in Germany. Later their voices would be complemented by bell hook’s Yearning, Audrey Lorde’s Sister Outsider and Patricia Hill Collin’s Black Feminist Thought. But the body of literature remains small and limited compared to the thousands of books that fill the libraries of the universities that I attended, and it often maintains the binary language of Black and White. It also remains focused on questions of skin colour; yet there was also the question of hair.
When I first started writing for KrauseLocke.de in 2011, I was pretty unaware of the significance and politics of Black hair. But the more women I met, the more conversations I had, the more I read and wrote, the more I could see that sometimes hair was more important to women of colour’s identity than the colour of their skin.
What is the meaning of hair? Why do some women straighten their hair and others wear it natural? What does it mean if certain hair styles are seen as ‘inappropriate’ or ‘unprofessional’? What is beauty and who defines it?
This was the birth of my PhD research project. It is a social psychological investigation into the identity politics of Black hair. It is a project interested in the decisions women make with regards to their hair. In other words, what do women of colour in the United Kingdom and Germany do with their hair and why do they do it?
As much academic writing remains within academic journals and at conferences, I am using this blog to take my research out of the academic ivory tower and back to you, my dear readers.
I am writing this blog for the women, who had the courtesy and courage to share their stories and experiences with me. I am writing this blog for everyone and anyone interested in the politics of Black hair and how it influences processes of identity. And finally, I am writing this blog for the girls and women out there in search of a little #blackgirlmagic.
To be continued…