Story originally seen at slate.com.
When I saw the title of this story I was immediately intrigued. Not because white women had had their hair styled in a "black way" but because I was curious about which styles were being classified as "black".
Beyond braids and the Afro I have never really thought about what other styles are truly "black". Black hairstyles are "black" because only black women tend to style their in this way. We do so because our hair texture is highly flexible, you can do anything to it.
How did these white women come to have black hairdos?
A young, black artist in New York called Endia Beal took a bunch of middle-aged, white women and made them agree to having a black hairstyle and then have a portrait photo taken. She chose the styles that each woman would have. The result, is these pictures:
Why middle-aged women?
Endia wanted to start a discussion as well as to challenge pre-conceived, accepted notions and stereotypes about how someone is supposed to look like in the workplace. Endia thought that many young white women may already have experienced looking different in the workplace but the vast majority of people aged 40+ would not have had this experience.
Choosing this segment of the population made her pieces more striking.
How did Ms Beal come up with the idea?
Ms Beal is tall slim and black. She interned in the IT department at Yale where she was getting a qualification in photography; whilst she was there many of her colleagues were shorter white men. To add to the difference she rocked a large red afro. She then found out that large swathes of her colleagues were curious about her hair - they wanted to touch it.
So what did she do? She set up a camera and let everyone not only touch her hair but pull at it and tell her how they felt about the experience!
This small project led to the portraits.
How did the portrait "subjects" react?
All the people who took part were excited by the experience and the ability to ask normally awkward questions without the awkwardness.
When their hair had been styled and a picture taken, not even a single one wanted it taken down. They were taking photos on their smartphones and posting them on Facebook. They couldn't wait to go home and show their families. They embraced the look immediately.
What do I think about the project?
I love the idea. I myself know what it's like to show up to work in a non-conformist hairdo.
These images will challenge views and negative stereotypes about hair that people may not even know they have.
However, I am realistic, I know this project won't lead to a plethora of white women wearing black hairstyles; not because they don't want to but because their hair doesn't style as easily and it also doesn't hold styles as well as black hair does.
What can we do to support Endia?
She hasn't asked for support but I've looked her up and I'm following her in all these places:
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By Heather Katsonga-Woodward
I was a natural hair blogger and mixtress living between London & Chicago from 2012 to 2017. I always thought I was 4C but some say 4B; images below - you decide! Heather xx