"I am Black but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon. Look not upon me because I am Black because the sun hath scorched me." --Song of Solomon
The 1960s not only birthed a political revolution, it created a Black cultural renaissance that impacted music, art, beauty and fashion. Known as the "Black is Beautiful" movement, the era brought a renewed sense of identity and pride.
And the afro, also known as a natural or 'fro was the iconic mane event in Black fashion.
Whether kinky or curly, low-cut or towering majestically, the rounded halo hairstyle became a symbol worn to demonstrate Black pride and resistance against European ideals of beauty that had been forced on Black people. The afro was the complete antithesis to what Black people were being told was beautiful.
It framed the faces of many nationally recognized Black leaders from literary activists Nikki Giovanni to musical icon Gil Scott-Heron. And who could forget the large black Afro of famed Black Panther member Angela Davis? Her brazen beauty made her natural all the more striking to behold and more threatening to the White establishment. Even the nonviolence advocate Rev. Jesse Jackson donned the politically inspired hairstyle.
Today, the Afro hairstyles are back in the limelight, and this time with a unique message of individuality, personal style and fashion frankness, says one hairstylist. But it's not a fashion statement for the faint of heart. It's a hairdo for those who have the guts to flaunt African ancestry blended with today's cutting-edge trends.
"You don't just wear an Afro," said Kari Williams, Ph.D., a natural hair designer and owner of Mahogany Hair Revolution in Los Angeles. "You let it become a part of your personality and professional image or brand, as seen on entertainers such as Ludacris, Lauren Hill, Maxwell and others."
Cal State University, Northridge, Professor David Horne, Ph.D., said that this generation is apolitical. They lack the "political acumen" to make the Afro a political statement.
"I think it's a fashion statement," said Horne. "There are some young people who are doing it because they see it as a cultural statement. But counterculture is in. Overall, the Afro (today) is not a political statement. Young people are wearing the Afro because entertainers are wearing it. So it's cool, it's funky, and it will get them noticed."
There are other differences about the afros worn today versus those of yesteryear. According to Williams, the 1960 naturals were sharply manicured. "But today, they are no longer the perfect halo. Women and men are wearing more textured afros. They are layering the hair, twisting it and it has more body. Men like D.L. Hughley come into the salon and he has coils. It's still an afro, but men don't want their hair blown out, and they don't want locks."
Williams said the motivation behind the natural is also different for many women. She notes that the move toward more natural hair allows them to be more health conscious and exercise more frequently. "It prevents them from being held hostage to their hair," added the hair-care specialist.