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Returning to our roots: the history that's driving natural hair

WEST MONROE, La. - "Hey ya'll! Whats up? It's Raque P. Welcome back to my channel."

That's the signature phrase that starts off each online video posted by natural hair vlogger Raque P.

She started creating videos in March of 2016. 

"I started my YouTube channel just because a lot of people, once I started wearing my hair out and actually being confident with it, wanted to know how did it get like this," she says.  

The University of Louisiana Monroe student has a big personality and even bigger hair! That's part of her winning recipe. 

Since launching her channel, she now has over 14,000 subscribers, a national presence and a partnership with hair care brand Shea Moisture. 

"You're able to touch base with someone not just at the same school as you, you're able to relate to someone that's maybe in Africa or New York," says Raque. "I think it just brings about a sense of community." 

The success of Raque's YouTube channel is possible, thanks in part, to more and more black women "going natural." Instead of straightening the hair with chemicals and high heat, women are showcasing their natural God-given curls, coils and even kinks. 

Stylist Etta Cullins says that going natural is something that is beneficial to the hair. 

"After getting the hair chemically processed for so long it can become over processed and then next thing you know your hair is falling out or breaking off," says Cullins. "The best thing  you can do is go natural so you don't have to worry about any of that anyway." 

For many women the natural hair journey starts with hair health. However in the end, the natural hair journey can have an even bigger impact on one's self image. 

Young Professional Brea Joyner wears her natural hair and agrees that there are many benefits. 

"I definitely think it started as a health booster for my hair, just in it's entirety and then for my esteem because I was able to be the true Brea," says Joyner. "You know, I didn't have to hid under the bobby pins and wigs."

With the virtual instruction of YouTuber and beauty articles, Joyner is able to do her own hair at home. It's a labor of love that takes a lot of time and effort. 

"I want to say I need a solid three hours," says Joyner. 

"I  have 4C which is the thickest coarsest hair and it's a lot to deal with," she says. "I've had a lot of regrets. A lot of arm cramps in between doing my hair," she says. "But after a year of really taking the time out to really try different products and try different styles, I got more and more into it and wear it a lot more often."

For both Brea and Raque, it hasn't always been big coils and self love when it comes to their hair. 
In fact, both ladies say they actually used to be more comfortable wearing straight hair. 

"It just felt easier to deal with. I felt more accepted. I didn't feel like people were tempted to touch my hair as I walk by," says Brea. 

It's a sentiment Raque also shares. 

"For a really long time I hated my hair. I did not want to see it's natural texture and I always wanted it straightened," she says.

Grambling State University professor Kevin Johnson tells me that straightened hair can be traced back to black leaders at the turn of the 20th Century. 

"These reformers, they called themselves race women. People like Booker T. Washington called themselves race men," Johnson says. "They believed that if African Americans acted right, if they looked right, if they spoke right they would get civil rights." 

"Back in that time period, it was common for African Americans to believe that if they assimilated into white culture they would not bare the brunt of the violent oppression that was waged against African Americans," Johnson adds. 

The desire to be treated equally eventually led African American women to alter or hide their hair textures. They used products including hot combs, chemical straighteners, wigs and hair pieces. 

Madison Parish's very own Madam C.J. Walker was one of the leading pioneers of black hair care during the early part of the 20th century.

She made an array of hair products that black women used for assimilation.

"She was the first self-made woman millionaire in this country and from Delta, Louisiana," says Johnson. "She did create skin lightening and hair straightening type products, but she really made most her money through hair replacements products."

"A lot of the chemicals that African Americans were using in their hair was causing the hair to fall out and Madam C.J. Walker figured out a way to make up for that and sold products," says Johnson.

For decades beauty rituals like hair straightening and skin lightening persisted. There was an array of products on the market that aided black users in their efforts to mimic European beauty standards. 

During the Civil Rights Movement however there was a cultural shift with more and more black American's returning to their roots, both literally and figuratively.

"During the late 1960's, there was this idea among Black activists that whiteness is not the standard of beauty," says Johnson. " [Activists taught] that blackness can be a standard of beauty equivalent with the white standard of beauty. That's where we get the idea that black is beautiful."

During this period in history, African Americans started to criticizing hair straightening techniques.  

Johnson says more people started wearing afros. Dashikis and other African style clothing was worn as a sign of political protest. 

Today we're seeing similar trends as more and more women of color make hair health, and self acceptance, a top priority.

The natural hair movement can be attributed to several factors; one of those is wider representation in the media.

"I think it's all about commercialism because you see more commercials with women of color or women wearing their natural hair and more available product," says Joyner. 

"I really do think the change came about once [women of color] started seeing other women that look like them and surrounding them, wearing their hair and it looks good," says Raque.  

Furthermore online beauty gurus like Raque P, are also impacting women globally, by publicly showcasing how successfully women can transition from chemically processed hair, back to their natural textures. 

"Just do it, don't be scared. Don't think about what somebody is going to say,"says Raque. "Think about the overall health of your hair and if you think it's going to be healthier in it's natural state, than do it"

Of course, Raque has plenty of additional advice, tips and tricks for natural hair but for that you'll have to visit her on YouTube.

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