For black women from Africa and the Caribbean settling in the U.S. means many changes. As immigrants their identity is shifting, as women they feel pressure to fit in and feel beautiful.
Listen to the Podcast Here:
On this podcast, Miranda Shafer and Sally Nnamani visit hair salons and the homes of immigrant black women from Africa and the Caribbean to talk about hair.
Sally left Nigeria when she was 12. She knows first hand the pressure recent immigrants face. When Sally’s parents broke the news to her five siblings that they were leaving Nigeria for the United States, her mom said to her and her three sisters “you girls are going to have to get your hair done!”
In Nigeria, having styled hair was a sign that you had money and that you came from a good home. Sally says, “We would get our hair done for big occasions. My mom wanted us to look our best and that meant synthetic hair.”
Some of the women interviewed have similar stories: straight hair is equated with “putting your best face forward, ” having confidence, being beautiful. While women all over the world spend lots of money trying to be beautiful, the black hair care industry in America has a powerful story to tell. In 2012 this segment of the hair care industry brought in an estimated 684 million dollars, according to Mintel (a market research group).
Immigrating to the U.S. means leaving some things behind and picking up new ideas and customs in your adopted home. Black women’s relationship to their hair has been contentious for a long time: relaxers, perms, irons can be toxic to the body and the bank account.