African American Hair Styles Over the Years: Background information when reading Americanah

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  • First Published:
    May 2013, 496 pages
    Mar 2014, 608 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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Beyond the Book:
African American Hair Styles Over the Years

Ifemelu remarks that there is no better metaphor for race in America than black women's hairstyles, and the history of Afro-textured hair would seem to support her observation. In Africa, especially prior to the slave trade, hairstyles were used to communicate a variety of messages from status to identity to fertility. Dense, thick, clean and neatly groomed hair was highly prized. Hair stylists were well-versed in a variety of hair designs that helped them to create styles that would conform to the local standards of their villages or tribes. Braiding, which is a multi-million dollar industry in America and Europe today, was, during this time, a free and communal affair, an opportunity for female bonding. Braiding sessions included shampooing, oiling, combing, braiding, and accessorizing. Palm oil and palm kernel oil were used to moisturize the scalp, while shea butter and North African argan oil were used to protect the scalp and/or hair from intense sun and heat. These sessions could...

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