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Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America Paperback – January 12, 2002

65 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Whether it's hip-hop diva Lil' Kim's "weave of the week" or activist Angela Davis's Afro, black hair evinces the power to set trends and define icons. In this entertaining and concise survey, Byrd (a research chief for Vibe) and Tharps (a reporter for Entertainment Weekly) revel in the social, cultural and economic significance of African-American hair from 1400 to the present. The opening chapter chronicles the rise of the slave trade, revealing intriguing facts about the significance of hair in African cultureAsuch as that only royalty donned hats or hairpieces, and recently widowed Wolof women stopped maintaining their hair as a sign of their mourning. The authors contextualize issues familiar to African-Americans while explaining black hair culture to the uninformed, so readers who don't already know what "the kitchen" refers to (hair at the nape of the neck, usually the "nappiest") will soon find out. Photos and illustrations are put to effective use, though amusing charts such as "Five Famous Men with Equally Famous Hair" and the "Black Hair Glossary" are out of sync with the text. Meanwhile, significant figures, like Madame C.J. Walker and Nathaniel "The Bush Doctor" Mathis, are revisited in detail in various chapters, resulting in unnecessary repetition. But these are small quibbles with a book that successfully balances popular appeal with historical accuracy, adeptly exploring the roots of pervasive intraracial discrimination while explaining, for example, how the much-maligned Jheri Curl ever became a fad. Agent, Marie Brown. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"[An] entertaining and concise survey . . . A book that successfully balances popular appeal with historical accuracy."—Publishers Weekly

"Taps into the art and history of how Black hair is perceived in America in a way that will no doubt be relevant for generations to come."—The Source

"Hair Story presents an absorbing rendition of American history told through Black hair. In prose that is both humorous and haunting, the authors manage to bring vividly to life a subject most would consider inconsequential. After reading this comprehensive tale, people will walk away with a whole new appreciation for Black hair and all of its wonder and power."—Lloyd Boston, author of Men of Color: Fashion, History, Fundamentals

"From antiquity to the present day, Black hair has been both ornamentation and a medium of artistic expression. At the same time, its changing political and cultural values have often mirrored the current social climate. Hair Story, in documenting our natural hair's beauty and capacity for communication, brings to life and infuses with historical relevance this unique slice of Americana."Harriette Cole, author of Jumping the Broom and How to Be

"[This book combines] keen historical insight with pop-cultural anecdotes."—Entertainment Weekly

"A comprehensive and colorful look at a very touchy subject."—Essence
-- Review

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (January 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312283229
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312283223
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #386,011 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 73 people found the following review helpful By S. Harrison on April 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a subject that really has my attention lately and this book by Tharps and Byrd is a winner!! It discusses our culture from its beginning (pre-slavery Africa) to present day America.
Whether we realize it or not, how we live has much to do with the uniqueness of our tresses. This is not only true of how others view us but also how we've viewed each other over the years. As the authors verify, Hair has been a tremendous source of Politcial as well as Economical advancement and controversy that while less evident in the 21st century, will probably continue to be a strong player in our daily lives.
Did you know that.....
1. In Africa, a hair style can denote if a man was at war or if a woman was married or not?
2) There was a famous woman who proceeded Madam C.J. Walker w/her line of beauty products?
3) in 1988 the Rev. Jesse Jackson conducted a "mock funeral" for the Revelon beauty line of products?
4) the correct spelling is Dredlocks not Dreadlocks? (the "a" should be dropped)
5) the Jherrie curl was named after a white man?
Some things I was somewhat aware of, other things....I had no idea.
Not only was this book informative, it also has an extensive bibliography, pictures and definitions throughout. Read it!! It's not long and cumbersome. And I promise you, you'll learn more about African American culture than just a HAIR STORY!!
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142 of 156 people found the following review helpful By Poniplaizy on July 1, 2005
Format: Paperback
I'm not black, but I am a hair junkie--wanted to go to beauty school but was forced by my parents to attend college (WRONG CHOICE!). So I probably knew more than the average marshmallow about black hair, but this book was really enlightening! By the time it got to the text of the "My hair, your man" ad--which left me completely perplexed and clueless up to now--I felt like that ad was a personal slap in the face. It took me that long to realize what a personal issue hair is for black women. Don't get me wrong, most white women hate their hair too, but it's not such a hot-button topic.

But just if anyone's curious, having white hair does not equate to having good hair. We need industrial-strength shampoo to get out the natural and very nasty grease our scalps pump out like OPEC nations, then conditioner because we f**k our hair up with dyes, perms, dryers, curling irons, etc., then about five tons of gel, mousse, styling glue, hairspray, and spritzes because it won't hold a set more than three minutes without them. And water, humidity, and wind are The Enemy for us too. In fact, if I had the right kind of hair, I'd love to just lock it and forget it. But mine's so slippery it won't even stay in a ponytail.

It would be so nice if hair could be not a separator but a unifier for women everywhere. Maybe in about five centuries...
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Clarissa Bolding on March 3, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Man oh man, the things we go through when it comes to our hair! This is a very informative journey of black hair from the 1400s in Africa, all the way to the new millenium. Byrd and Tharps go into detail about the ways we "tamed" our locks from home-made concoctions to cultural and political aspects to the booming business of today's barber and beauty shops. There are many pictures of styles old and new and I found myself truly intrigued as well as shocked at reading the different experiences our people went through in the quest to straighten their hair. This book is a must have. I highly recommended it for anyone wanting to know about the "roots" of their tresses.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 7, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Do you know why the heads of new african slaves were shaved upon landing on American soil? Do you know about the proud tradition of African braiding and the unique cultural meanings of different styles of braids? Do you know the true reasons for why black hair was originally straightened? If you can't answer these questions you need this book. Excellent source- stocked full of the most thorough and complete history of black hair- from origins, politics, media, and beyond. Great book to share with young and old for a new perspective of our natural, kinky, afro, weaved, permed, fried, lyed, and jherri curled hair.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A Book Lover on October 7, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I love this book so much. Ayana Byrd really did a thorough job in researching both the psycological and spiritual elements involved in this subject of "Black Hair".

We as African American women are so misguided sometimes about what's beautiful. We've been so scarred from distorted generational beliefs that we've allowed the insecurity of ourselves and the fear of loving who we are to become deeply rooted in our spirits. We listen to those beliefs, accept them, and then pass them down to our daughters to let the cycle of ignorance continue.

I personally had to read this book a few times while I was going through my own journey of growing out my naturally tight curls - just constantly trying to cleanse my spirit and renew my mind in what I considered beautiful. After reading this book, I realized that God wanted me (needed me) to stop relaxing my hair with chemicals, and to start embracing His wonderful creativity of me - to accept myself (including my hair) the way he designed so that I can love myself the way He loves me.

Every Black Woman needs to read this book.
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