Black hair has always been a topic of conversation and fascination in the world.
As of present, we can find conversations about what is and what isn’t cultural appropriation by way of hair (aka Kim Kardashian and her “Bo Derek” braids) or current cases playing out in court about what is and what isn’t discrimination based on a hairstyle. Black hair has always been a topic of conversation.
Most Black women can relate to the struggle of getting braids or weave and having unwanted comments from non-black co-workers. Even young Black girls are subject to ridicule because of their hairstyles. The Tignon Laws of 1786 are proof that Black hair has always been policed in America.
Passed during a time where creole, mulatto, and women of African descent would adorn their textured hair with gems, beads, and other accents that made them stand out from white women, these laws were designed to regulate our hair. During this period, it is believed that white men found themselves increasingly attracted to the exotic looks of women of color, which enraged white women.
In an effort to quell the problem Governor Esteban Rodriguez Miro of Louisiana proclaimed that women of color must cover their hair with a knotted headdress and refrain from adorning it with jewels when out in public. The hope was to calm white men’s desires while also being a class signifier.
Of course being the resilient people we are, Black women turned travesty into triumph. Soon, the tignons became a major fashion statement and they adorned their wraps in spite of the laws meant to strip their creativity and culture.
Using ribbons, brooches, beads, and the most luxurious of fabrics Black women found a way for their culture and spirit to push through. Legally, nothing could be done about the adoring of the tignons, as they were not breaking the law because the law only applied to their hair. The effects of the Tignon Laws are still seen today, as it is still commonplace for Black women to wear elaborate headwraps and headdresses.
While we may not be any blatant laws that prohibit black women from wearing their hair any certain way in public, we do still face the microaggressions that come from appropriation and misconceptions about Black hair. Have you ever heard of the Tignon Laws?