Black Lives Matter. Culture Hair and Beauty

Black Tax: How racial disparity creates socio-economic bias in the UK

What is more expensive for Black people, isn’t everything the same price for everyone in the UK? Well in short no, we’re not discussing just monetary value, but the tax of time to do things culturally expected of us, to remain in line with British norms, values and law.

Black tax is teaching your children about their history, because school doesn’t, it’s having to hunt for black toys because shops don’t sell them, it’s making sure they understand stereotypes and racial microaggressions, it’s being aware of your rights in case you’re stopped and searched by the police, it’s hoping for a fellow black face when you go into a new job, or school so you feel like you have an ally, it’s putting your job/livelihood on the line to expose racism in the workplace or dealing with the guilt because you didn’t, it’s having to explain what white privilege is, it’s the knowledge that some white people will use you as an example of why they’re “not racists because they have a black…”

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Another example is hair, it supplies multifaceted arguments to demonstrate the legitimacy of ‘Black Tax’ in the UK, which are further explored in ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ by Emma Dibiri. Hair, most people have it, but what Western nations have yet to understand is the difference in textures, manageability, plus accessibility to products and services.

So hairs are different, surely that just means we have different standards of neatness and ways of styling our bonnets? We may do, but sadly the standards of beauty and respectability of hair in the Western world is still completely blind to these differences, all you have to do is Google image search ‘professional hairstyles for women’ or ‘unprofessional hairstyles’ and you’ll see the glaring racial discrimination.

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Many cases of black children being repeatedly sent home from school or adults reprimanded at work for not compiling with the ideals of a ‘professional hairstyle.’ One woman in this BBC article discusses how she was told to wear a weave at work and said “With a weave I’m seen as equal.”

In January 2020 I attended #TheGoodHairExperience event held by Club Melanin at Buzzfeed’s offices; The event’s aim was to encourage the dialogue of black hair, its care, and to bridge the gap of trusted black hair professionals and the community. What struck me most was the echoing of stories told by black and mixed heritage women of the fears they have of embracing their natural hair, and the lack of knowledge of what their natural hair even was, after years of conforming it to Western standards.

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Stories such as; A model who has to do her own hair (and makeup) for shoots, as her kind of hair isn’t catered for by her industry. A teacher, who uses weaves, from fear of ridicule or worse yet, petting of her natural hair. “These weaves take hours, costly materials and skillful hands to achieve” she explained. Or a lawyer who has spent years having her hair relaxed every fortnight (each session takes 4 hours) as her natural afro would “draw attention away from her work” and make her “unemployable in the corporate environment,” making her hair so brittle she had little idea of what else she could do to it, without losing it altogether. Stories I personally related to, told of years of damage due to straightening hair, to make it less ‘frizzy’ ‘bushy’ or ‘wild’. Many black women have limited experience in salons, regularly going years without seeing a professional because finding a place is risky and time consuming, think about it, there isn’t a single chain of black hairdressers in the UK.

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Being penalised for your natural hair evokes feelings of otherness and humiliation, but also undermines the cost in time and money to be spent on products, styling, maintenance, etc. Greater than the monetary cost, is the cost to health, not only the risk of chemical burns and skin irritation, common practices like relaxers can cause blindness and include chemicals linked with causing cancer. Not to mention the pain of having your hair yanked around by relatives, just to style it in a way that doesn’t offend.

In John Boyega’s speech from the Black Lives Matter protest, he says “I want black women to not have to change their hair, to work in certain environments” and that’s just it, we want natural black beauty to be accepted, we want to not be lumped with taxes for just being black and British, we want equality in every sense.

All pictures taken by Brunel Johnson 

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