Roots of Natural Hair Run Deep for People of Color, And So Do Its Stigmas

For the hair-lovers who routinely apply products to their hair after every shower, who spend hours perfecting a hairstyle and who buy $40 conditioners, going away to college can mean a reluctant farewell to your trusted salon. 

From The L Salon, Suite 124 Salon, Tressol-mi, Lemon Tree Hair Salon, Lush Eco-Salon, Shapers and JEM Hair Studio, there is no shortage of hair salons here in New Paltz. 

However, local hair salons aren’t necessarily tailored for every resident, and places like Tressol-mi and Lemon Tree Hair Salon are often dictated by Eurocentric beauty standards. 

Among the services the community of New Paltz provides — both on campus and in town — there lies a vacancy: a place where people of color (POC) can go to get their hair braided and maintain their natural hair. 

“Having someone to braid or cut your hair for you is definitely an obstacle,” said second-year digital media management major Amber Elson. “In a predominantly white institution, options are limited.” 

With it being a rarity to find a salon that styles POC’s hair, POC must rely on the few students on campus who can braid hair. 

Second-year secondary education major Stephany Almonte began offering her hair braiding services on campus last year. For Almonte, braiding hair is a way of relaxing and escaping from stress.

“Braiding hair means a way of creating beauty even though we are all different and unique,” Almonte said. 

Almonte is no stranger to the struggle of finding a reliable hairstylist for POC while away at college. Many of her classmates and friends go back to their hometown to get their hair done because “they don’t want their hair to get damaged due to how white culture does hair differently than POC’s culture.”

The hairstylists at predominantly white salons are typically unequipped to braid POC’s hair. Their go-to is to straighten their client’s hair, which proves to be extremely damaging on POC’s hair. 

“Having some talent with braiding made me realize that I should make use of it, since not everyone can braid and college students wouldn’t have to go back [home],” Almonte said. 

Considering that New Paltz’s population is 15% POC, according to the 2019 U.S. Census, and 38% of SUNY New Paltz undergraduates are students of color, there is a clear mismatch between the demographic in the community and available hair care that caters to their beauty needs. 

To unite the POC community in the name of natural hair is SUNY New Paltz’s first natural hair club, Kinks, Coils and Kurls. 

The club’s goals include teaching members about growing and maintaining natural hair, celebrating the role of hair in Black culture, embracing natural hair regardless of texture, porosity, length or pattern, and embedding self-love in New Paltz students. By fostering a safe space, naturals on campus can come together and share their interest in kinky, curly hair.

“[It’s] a club that emphasizes the importance of ‘all hair is good hair’ to break the stigmas about natural hair,” said third-year theatre major and Co-Vice President of Kinks, Coils and Kurls, Ellie Satin. 

A deadly concoction of Eurocentric beauty standards and a white-male dominated society results in negative perceptions of coily and kinky hair; stigmas like natural hair is not “professional” looking, it’s not “taken care of,” it’s “ugly” or “nappy,” the list goes on and on. 

“This makes it hard for many to navigate in professional settings because hair is often judged before one’s voice is heard,” Elson, co-president of Kinks, Coils and Kurls, said.

Not only do stigmas toward natural hair harm POC in the professional arena, they strip POC’s freedom to express themselves. 

“We were forced to straighten our hair. We didn’t have the choice to keep it natural, our parents made the choice,” Almonte reflected. “Parents think straight hair looks prettier and they want their children to fit into the white dominated society.”

The role of hair in the POC community is deeply rooted in history, and deserves to be combed through. 

In early African civilization, different hairstyles identified which class, tribe or family you were a part of. In Senegal, men wore their hair braided when they would go to war. Since African hair is fragile and high maintenance, the braids were a prudent way to keep their hair maintained and out of their face during combat. 

During the time of slavery, slavetraders would shave the slaves’ heads before being sold. 

“Black hair’s role in Black culture is deeper than it looks, it empowers and acknowledges our roots. [It means] our simple human right [is] back of being able to be in charge of how we want to look,” Elson said. 

In the 19th century, post-abolishment of slavery, many POC felt pressured to blend into the white-dominated society, and so they put chemicals in their hair to make it silky and smooth. 

It wasn’t until the late 1900s when POC began to rebel against the normative beauty standards and lovingly embrace their natural hair. This cultural and ideological shift is why the “afro” was a staple hairstyle in the ‘70s, according to Satin. 

In Black culture, hair remains to be a significant part of one’s identity. Even so, the lack of hair care options in New Paltz does not deter POC students at SUNY New Paltz from celebrating their kinky, coily and curly selves. 

“[Having natural hair] means being our genuine free selves without allowing Eurocentric beauty standards to affect how we treat our hair and ourselves,” Elson said. “It’s also about self-acceptance. Being told our natural hair wasn’t pretty by society since birth, and now becoming proud of how our follicles grow naturally out of our heads is-self love.”

Tomorrow at 6 p.m., Kinks, Coils and Kurls will host an event titled “What’s Going on DevaCurl?” at SUB 418. After hearing consistent claims of the hair product Deva’s harsh effects, the club aims to discuss unsavory ingredients in our hair products. The event will include a game of bingo where the winner takes home a prize.

For more information on how to grow, maintain and embrace your natural hair, stay tuned for Kinks, Coils and Curls’ upcoming events and programs via their Instagram page:

Nicole Zanchelli
About Nicole Zanchelli 82 Articles
Nicole Zanchelli is a fourth-year journalism major with a sociology and Italian studies minor. This is her third semester on The Oracle. Previously, she worked as a sports assistant copy editor, an arts & entertainment copy editor and features copy editor. Her favorite articles to read and write deal with exposing corruption and analyzing social injustices.