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Afro Hair Expo Fights Racism And Empowers The Black Community

The Afro Hair Expo was held on Oct. 25 in the East Forum to celebrate the natural hair texture of people in the African continent and diaspora, Oceania and some parts of South and Southeast Asia.

Oct 26, 2019

(Editor's note: This piece was originally published in issue 166 but is included in our new issue #BlackLivesMatter to highlight the voices and experiences of Black members of our community.)
The Afro Hair Expo was held on Oct. 25, in the East Forum to celebrate the natural hair texture of people in the African continent and diaspora, Oceania and some parts of South and Southeast Asia and to inform about the role of Afro-textured hair in cultures of African descent. The event was jointly planned and held by Africa Global, a Student Interest Group dedicated to representing and celebrating people of African descent from Africa and its diaspora and their cultures, and AZIZA, a recently established program in collaboration with SLICE devoted towards the empowerment of black women on campus.
Type 4 hair, mostly found amongst people of African descent, typically features a tight coil or “kinks”. Over the decades, due to institutionalized racism and marginalization, Type 4 hair has often been seen as undesirable and unattractive. The Afro Hair Expo, in its celebration of Afro-texture hair, is an attempt to reclaim the image associated with Type 4 hair and steer it toward the cultivation of empowerment within the black community.
Director of Events at Africa Global, Furqan Mohamed, Class of 2022 said: “You know for so long black hair has been seen as unattractive or ugly, so many people do procedures to straighten it or to alter its appearance. Afro-textured hair has a heavy significance amongst black people but actually you can find Afro texture hair amongst people of all cultures. So exploring and touching on this topic would appeal to many others as well.”
People of African descent have integrated into different cultures all around the globe, yet, their hair remains to be one of the most distinctive features among them. Therefore, the representation of Afro-textured hair can be seen as solidarity amongst the diversity of black culture. On this, co-founder of AZIZA, Tatyana Brown, Class of 2022 commented: “Afro-centric hair has been seen as one of the least practical, least beautiful and most difficult to tolerate, which is disappointing but not surprising and black identity is so diverse that hair is really one of the only things we can all stand in on, so we thought it was important to address that.”
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The Afro Hair Expo does not only explore the empowerment of people with Afro-textured hair, but also the practicality and management behind Type 4 hair. Racism against black culture and identity has resulted in very little representation and common knowledge regarding Afro-textured hair, with scarcity in black hairdressers in many countries as well. Other than addressing this marginalization, the Expo also planned and provided booths and panels on how to care for, style and manage Afro-textured hair. For female-identifying students with Afro-textured hair, a separate workshop was also held after the event with booths tackling specific issues of to them, such as how to tie a hijab, while workshops for men focused on how to “fade” male afro-textured hair.
Recent media coverage on black identity has also revealed a concerning trend in the appropriation of Afro-textured hair, with celebrities and influencers frequently wearing the distinctive cornrows or dreadlocks associated with Afro-textured hair in the name of spreading cultural diversity. On this topic, Brown said: “I think knowledge is the most important thing in what’s considered appropriation and what’s not. A lot of people with non-Type 4 hair don't really understand the implications behind hairstyles such as cornrows.” Brown believes that events such as the Hair Expo will also reveal aspects regarding the practicality behind popular black hairstyles and hopes that understanding will allow many to become more mindful when representing Afro-textured hair. “I do it [cornrows] personally because it locks in moisture which isn't a problem for people with non-Afro-textured hair. Being informed can take you a long way.”
Both Africa Global and AZIZA, despite their differing missions as SIGs, hope for the demystification of Afro-textured hair and education of the culturally ignorant. “What we’re really trying to do in the end is to demystify Afro-textured hair and give it a spotlight where it’s normalized, cool and a special thing,” said Mohammed.
Ming Ee Tham is Deputy News Editor. Email her at
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