The desire for a safe space, a place of sameness, acceptance, and belonging is part and parcel of the black experience in congruence with the long history of the othering of people of African descent. Othering is a concept commonly used in Postcolonial theory in reference to the treatment of individuals or a group of people as less than human. However, othering can also be more subtle to mean any ongoing action that makes a group of people or person feel inferior. The othering of blacks has occurred in many different forms, but the othering of the black body has been the most influential and longstanding method to illustrate how blacks do not fit within the European ideal of normality. This has been especially and painfully true for the black female body, such as the one belonging to Saartjie Baartman, derogatorily known as Hottenot Venus, her body and countless others considered to be illustrious of the Hottenot Venus prototype were often publicly displayed in full nudity and scrutinized and violated by whites both male and female.
As is true with all methods used to oppress African Americans, centuries of the othering of the black body has not been accepted by them without outright rebellion. Take for example, the gigantic Afro’s of the 1960’s and 1970’s parlayed as the African American symbol of rebellion against the white hegemony and beauty standards. However, what many scholars have coined to be the Call and Response of Jim Crow is truly indicative of how blacks have responded to othering. The Call and Response of Jim Crow was the construction of safe spaces such as churches, barber shops, restaurants, theaters, hospitals, insurance companies, political parties etc that blacks created in response to being denied access to public facilities due to racial segregation. The recognition of these safe spaces authored by blacks in the 20th century is necessary because of how these types of spaces have reappeared in different forms in the twenty-first century. By the way of natural hair blogs, black women have embraced the function of the safe spaces indicative of the Call and Response of Jim Crow in terms of community, overarching purpose, and multiplicity in function.
Just as the safe spaces of Jim Crow were a part of an era, natural hair blogs are a part of a movement; the rather recent movement away from the use of relaxers as a permanent hair straightening method by many black women around the world, which is often referred to as the Natural Hair movement. As the name suggests, natural hair blogs are websites or blogs dedicated to providing information to black women about how to care for their hair in its chemically unaltered state. These blogs are the embodiment of safe spaces for black women because they are focused on uplifting the beauty of the black woman’s hair in its varieties of textures and are an immediate opposition to the mainstream beauty standard for women to have long, straight hair, which has made black women with their hair of curls, kinks and coils feel ugly and inferior. These blogs are even in opposition to the Afro’s of the 1960’s and 70’s because having a short afro is not frowned upon today as it was back then, as a matter of fact, it has been embraced as a natural part of the process of a black woman’s hair becoming free of chemicals to such an extent that black women have coined a phrase to describe this process, which is lovingly and excitedly known, as the Big Chop. As exhibited by these functions of natural hair blogs, natural hair blogs have fully embraced the nature of Call and Response by being spaces created in response to the othering of black women’s hair.
Natural hair blogs also foster community much like the safe spaces of Jim Crow created by African Americans fostered community on a local basis, however, the spatial reach of natural hair blogs due to their existence on the web have enabled them to create a global community of women to include black women of the African diaspora & Africa. In this way, natural hair blogs have made real what was once viewed as an irrational sense of connection, on the part of African Americans, to their African heritage through their hair. One way that natural hair blogs have connected black women all over the globe is by giving black women a format to share their hair stories. This is usually done in a question answer format where visitors of the site have the ability to answer a series of questions about their experiences with their hair growing up and their current experiences with being or moving toward becoming natural, which often times leads to them talking about their feelings toward their hair in relation to influences within their neighborhood, state, or home country. These narratives, which are placed on the natural hair blogs for readers to read, comment, and share, undoubtedly enable black women to feel connected to one another and foster a sense of community among them as many women who meet on these blogs decide to meet up in person, a practice that has become so popular that they are known as Natural Hair Meet-ups and have already occurred in various cities and states.
The possibility for global and communal outreach created by natural hair blogs gives insight to how they have also embraced the multiplicity of safe spaces. As it is commonly known, the safe spaces of Jim Crow such as churches and barbershops, served many functions other than what they were initially created for. For instance, black churches not only enabled blacks to free themselves from the white church that often preached the doctrine of inferiority and submission of blacks as biblical truths, they were also spaces where blacks came together to plan non-violent resistance to their oppression such as marches and sit-ins.
Natural hair blogs are indicative of the multiplicity of safe spaces created by blacks because along with providing black women with the best hair care tips, black women are also given the opportunity to receive tips for a healthy mind, body, and spirit. Some blog posts may cover health and fitness while others cover the issue of self-esteem and relationships. On one of the most popular natural hair blogs titled, CurlyNikki:Hair Therapy, black women are given the opportunity to share their personal life stories that do not have to be in any way related to their hair and may instead include an inspirational message or moral and may be a therapeutic release for each woman who tells her story.
The most important feature of natural hair blogs in relation to ending the otherness of black woman’s hair is that they enable black women to be in control of the representation of their bodies and also give black women the ability to see themselves as the ideal beauty standard within a community that they can call their own.