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Symbolism and Black Hair

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

The extent of social messages in hairstyle choices did not end on the continent of Africa. As late as the 1980’s Black men wore a style known as the high top fade, a hairstyle where the sides of the head are shaved with the top portion growing upwards and as high as possible.

The style conveyed various cultural and political messages such as images of Africa, corporate logos, partner’s names, and other symbols were etched into the hair or onto the scalp. The high top fade was a modern day method of illustrating the multifaceted symbolism of Black hair—a thing that can be used as the message itself or to state a particular message. Additionally, true to African epistemology, spirituality has played and continues to play an essential role in Black culture.

It is an understatement to suggest that hair is merely part of African cultural identity, as hair and identity are inseparable. For both African men and women hair is intricately connected to cultural identity, spirituality, character make up, and notions of beauty.

Of particular importance to the African was the comb. The comb had cultural meaning that indicated one’s particular group and other spiritual symbolism, personal history, and class status long before Europeans engaged in the mass enslavement of Africans in the 17th century. Men carved these symbols and spiritual demarcations into their combs that were specifically designed with long teeth and rounded tips to untangle African textured hair.

Source: Johnson, T.A. and Bankhead, T. (2014) Hair It Is: Examining the Experiences of Black Women with

Natural Hair. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 2, 86-100.

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