Transvaluation of Black Afro Hair: Barthes & Hall

Here is a link to Part 1

The myth of black hair is able to function in this society because of the how it was socially constructed (its history and struggles). Most people who are part of the natural hair movement have what Barthes termed an alibi, which prevents them from believing the myth mythologized by society. The myth that emerged from the history of slavery that is by transforming tightly coiled hair or kinky hair into something undesirable and ugly. During the Black Power Movement, the history of the fro was emptied out by reclaiming and extolling its beauty and by rejecting the White standards of beauty. By transforming the meaning of the wearing of an afro, they had politicized it by connecting it to the freedom from oppression, both in the mainstream society and black community.

Some chose to read afros through dominant hegemonic reading, negotiated reading or oppositional/counter hegemonic reading. According to Hall, “messages have a “complex structure of dominance” because at each stage they are “imprinted” by institutional power relations” (Hall). The production, circulation, use (distribution and consumption) and reproduction of the messages surrounding black afro hair have been negative and this has implications on how some black women view themselves, their hair and how the beauty industry is constructed.  The use of terms kinky, nappy, wild, untamed to describe black hair others it by relegating its value to the end of the beauty spectrum and in order for it to be considered beautiful, it must be straightened into submission. In the process of equating femininity with long and straight hair, the beauty of the afro has loses its value in mainstream society where it is viewed as something that needs to be “fixed’ and “tamed” by heat or chemicals.

The idea of good (white skin/straight hair) and bad (black skin/ kinky hair) features  being engrained in the psyche of many black women and men who have being taught  from a young age that there is something wrong with their features and to fit into society they must alter it. The messages are disseminated by the media, family, institutions via dress codes and beauty advertisements. Most black children grows up seeing their mothers, aunts, role models with relaxed hair, straight long weaves and when she too is of age, she could look like them. This process becomes a rite of passage for many young black girls who feel like their natural beauty is not enough, but only after going through this transformation do they become worthy  of societies attention.

One of the many reasons the natural hair movements started was because people began to question the “institutional power relations”, they saw through the myth society was mythologizing and they wanted to have the ability to redefine their beauty and regain their autonomy. Although, many in the movement view wearing afros as just a hairstyle, the history and struggles surround the politicization of the black body, especially the female black body begs to differ with that assertion. With schools making policies that little black girls cannot wear afro puffs (equivalent to a pony tail) and business telling job applicants that wearing dread locs or afros are unacceptable and against company codes tells you how important this movement is.

In this so called post racial society, there are still attempts to micromanage black bodies, they cannot simply be. Her “being” (accepting her natural self and turning the standard of beauty on its head) tells the society that she has failed to believe the myth and by that very nature, she is emptying out its contents and creating her own system of representation.



“Here I stand before you – brown.

Color of the mountains

Colossal as the earth

Wrapped so deliciously within my own joy and misery

Feathers of my wings paralyzed by the distance of my mind

Here I stand before you, the color of the night

Frozen by the potential of me

(Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh-uh-uh-uh-uh) An Afro Angel”

Will Smith, Afro Angel

Asana Hamidu


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