Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Black Hair for Non-Black Creators

This is an excellent reference.  It goes into detail about different styles with some tidbits of culture and history.

When I write black characters, I base their hair on what black people do.  The ones who want to fit in wear a style with straightened hair or some kind of hairpiece which mimics that.  Fashionable ones often go for box braids or twists.  More expressive folks may wear cornrows, dreadlocks, a big afro, or actual African styles such as Bantu knots.  People who want a no-nonsense style typically choose a short afro or shave it off.  It's the expressive ones -- the things that make it obvious how black you are -- that tend to upset white people and thus are worn primarily by black people who don't mind sticking up for their own hair.

Now I have an ulterior resource; despite my pale skin, my hair is loosely nappy.  It comes with a kitchen.  It can break "unbreakable" hair equipment.  I shop for hair care products in the ethnic aisle.  When braided, it loses about a third of its wet length; when loose and freshly dried, it loses about half its length and forms a giant mane.  I've had a lot of the experiences which come with nappy hair, and while my skin color has spared me the worst of them, I still sympathize.  If my skin were darker, I'm sure I'd have the rest of those experiences.  People just didn't know what they were seeing on me.

But anyone can do a good job of writing or drawing African-textured hair simply by using references that black folks use.  There are lots of articles about how to wash, dry, detangle, moisturize, style, and otherwise handle such hair.  Plus a lot of talk about what the styles tend to mean, who wears them, and the whole cultural baggage train of issues around it.  Handle with care, but don't ignore it.  Diversity matters.

I still think it's adorable that one of the whitest characters I have, Shiv, knows a lot about black hair care because he grew up in a lot of black families, at least one of which did not entirely suck.  He actually puts a dab of shea butter on his hair to keep it from flying in his face all the time.
Tags: ethnic studies, how to, networking, reading, writing

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