Protective Styling in Black Culture

The history of black hair and protective styling is a complex journey of pride, survival, oppression, and triumph. Over the last decade, we have seen black people truly embrace their natural hair and their personal choice in styling without fear of repercussion.

However, while black people have embraced their styling roots, it seems that the mainstream media has decided to embrace it as well…and not always for the better.

In honor of Black History Month, let’s do a quick dive into the history of protective hairstyles and their impact on black culture.



More Than Just Protection

Braids, locs, plaits, and twists have protected the crowns of black women for centuries. While some may reduce the use of these styles to simple trends to be enjoyed by any and everyone, these styles are rooted in history.

Protective styles have a history of identifying tribe members in Africa, showing escape routes to other slaves, and passing secret messages. Locs alone have a rich history with many historians believing they originated in Egypt. Archeologists have even uncovered mummies with their locs still in tact.

Fighting Discrimination

In June 2019, California became the first state to pass legislation for anti-discrimination of black hair. Since then, several states have followed suit with their own variations anti-discrimination laws against black hair.

The fight has even extended overseas to the UK with activists petitioning schools and companies to protect black hair. Unilever became the first company in the UK to sign the Halo Collective’s Halo Code to protect employees from hair discrimination.

Becoming Mainstream

As black culture has transcended into the mainstream, the 90s and 2000s saw a more prominent display of black hairstyles. From Brandy’s braids in Moesha to Alicia Key’s elaborate cornrows behind the piano, part of the black hair experience was now easily digestible for the masses.

But despite big name entertainers rocking braids for years, non-black tv personalities were given the credit for black hair trends. Does anyone remember when the Kardashians were given credit for the trend of “boxer braids”?

Suddenly the hairstyles of black people that had been deemed as “ghetto,” “unprofessional” or even “unclean” are now trendy.

The journey of black hair has shaped black culture and American culture as a whole. It has demonstrated the creativity and strength of its people while also creating movements and trends. Black hair has even sparked conversations of cultural appreciation vs. appropriation.

While there is still room for improvement for how black hair is viewed as a whole, there is no denying that protective styles are something to be respected. So wear your crown how you desire and with pride because your hair is beautiful.