The “Black is Beautiful” movement was sparked by photographer Kwame Brathwaite and a group of creatives at a 1962 Harlem Fashion Show. The goal was to make Black women feel proud of their hair and their Blackness. The show, titled Naturally ‘62, featured Black women models–the Grandassa Models that chose to resist European standards of beauty by walking the catwalk with Afros and African-inspired clothes.
This was the beginning of the Natural Hair Movement that spanned the 1960s and 70s. By the mid to late 1960s, during the Black Power Movement, the Afro became a symbol of Black pride and activism and an important part of the “Black is Beautiful” rhetoric.
Advertisements for Afro products started to appear in 1969, which conveyed a sense of African American pride and Black beauty. The philosophy of “Black is Beautiful” also focused on mental health, affirming natural hairstyles such as the Afro as well as a variety of skin complexions, hair textures, and physical characteristics found in the Black community.
Esperanza Spalding’s Afro captures the audience’s attention just as much as her musical performances. The five-time Grammy winner is a jazz vocalist and bassist that has rocked her Afro her entire 17-year professional career, with many iconic performances, including the White House and North Sea Jazz.
Growing up, her mother didn’t believe in relaxers and vowed never to put lye on Esperanza’s scalp because she felt the chemical lye found in relaxers is toxic and harmful to the body. But during her teenage years, she struggled with her hair identity, and at the age of 15, she relaxed, bleached, and colored her hair. At the age of 17, when she left home to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, she cut off her hair. It began to grow back into an Afro, which she really liked and has been wearing since then.
She likes it when her Afro is wild to express her identity. She describes wearing natural hair as a form of self-exploration. She is not White or European, and her hair isn’t straight. She has no desire to make it straight because it doesn’t speak to the person she is.
Natural hair pride has grown from the “Black is Beautiful” movement to the contemporary movement known as the Crown Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” This is a law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination that denies employment and education opportunities based on hair texture or protective styles such as braids, locs, twists, or Bantu knots.
The Crown Act is a law in 23 states, with the fight to end hair discrimination continuing nationwide. Esperanza’s act of pride is also an act of resistance to European standards of beauty. No matter where she performs–Afro also tells the story of Black women in America who are proud of their natural hair.