An ode to the Afro is an ode to one of the most recognized symbols of power and strength. It is an ode to our natural texture that has been shaped and picked, moisturized and sheened. It is an ode to our true selves, unaltered by chemicals and the poisons of a controlling society.
An ode to the Afro is an ode to Africa. The Afro was not always a sign of strength. In fact, in pre-colonial Africa, the Afro was a sign of lower status. Hairstyles represented identity, social status, religion, and even marital status. Those of higher status wore elaborate hairstyles that took hours or even days to complete. Unlike these unique styles, an Afro was a sign of mourning, dirtiness, and even mental illness. It wasn’t until much later that the Afro gained the popularity and uniqueness that it is known for today.
An ode to the Afro is an ode to our past. In the 1700s, Voltaire wrote about the beauty of the women from Circassia. These women from the Ottoman Empire were known for their large, round, dark and curly hair. In the mid-1800s these women were featured in P.T. Barnum’s circus as sideshow attractions. As it became more challenging to get authentic Circassian women, the circus began to use fair-skinned black women because their hair was similar to the hair of the Circassian women. They were referred to as moss-haired beauties and used in the circus until the turn of the 20th century.
An ode to the Afro is an ode to a political movement. It is an ode to the prominent leaders of the Black Panther Party. It is an ode to Angela Davis, Kathleen Cleaver, Assata Shakur, and Elaine Brown. In prior years, hair was manipulated to create a more European look. African American women straightened their hair or wore wigs as it was considered more suitable and attractive. It was pressed, processed, and permed to create a style that would be acceptable in the eyes of a European society. But as the times changed, so did the hairstyles. In line with the rebellious attitude of the Black Power movement, African Americans began to embrace their natural hair texture and wear the Afro. It became a symbol of rebellion but was also seen as an acceptance and embrace of one’s historical and cultural identity. The women of the Black Panther Party could all be seen in their natural Afros. Their Afros, full of volume, spoke volumes to the African American liberation that the Black Panthers sought.
An ode to the Afro is an ode to James Brown. His Afro said it all. It said it loud, he was black and he was proud! It wasn’t only members of the Black Panther Party that began to rock the Afro. Women and men alike became fond of the fro especially after the release of Brown’s funk song “Say it Loud- I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Although he had processed hair most of his life, he personified black culture in the 1970s. His Afro was yet another symbol of black empowerment. His approach however was much less militant than that of Black Panthers.
An ode to the Afro is an ode to a rich history. It is an ode to our roots. The Afro is and always will be a unique hairstyle that embodies so much more than meets the eye. It is an ode to our culture. It is an ode to the African American.