What Madam C.J. Walker And Annie Malone Taught Us About Black Hair Pride
On why we can't let companies continue to commodify Black existence.
When thinking about Black history, and the history of Black hair we must honour, Black woman pioneers Madam C.J. Walker and Annie Malone. Known for creating homemade hair products catered towards Black hair textures, Walker invented the “Walker System”, a line of hair care products created to help hair and scalp disorders like alopecia. Madam C.J. Walker was also a philanthropist and a political and social activist who funded scholarships for women at the Tuskegee Institute and made donations to the NAACP, the Black YMCA and other charities.
Annie Malone, born in 1869, in Metropolis, Illinois saw the importance of improving hair health. She also had an early passion for styling her sisters’ hair, which inspired her to develop products to help women adapt to a society that judged them based on how they met the American standard of beauty.
It is important for society to honour the pioneers of Black hair care during the early 20th century, as their success was remarkable and revolutionary. Their ambition to create products that were homemade and specifically curated for Black hair textures showed immense bravery and courage, at a time were Black people were continually belittled for their natural hair textures.
In the present day, Black hair is still policed and targeted for being too loud, distracting and unprofessional though at the same time Black hairstyles and products made for Black hair textures are made "acceptable" under certain conditions. For example, when popularised by non-Black individuals, by which companies follow and commodify Black innovations in a re-packaged form that takes away from Blackness.
There are a number of Black people who can say that they've had the experience of walking into a store, making their way over to the hair care aisle and not seeing products that reflect the hair that sits on their heads. Retail stores have often been limited in stocking hair products for Afro hair, and a majority of the hair products that sit in aisles are for straight hair types, silencing those with textured hair.