Capelli e identità. L'evoluzione delle pettinature tra i membri della diaspora africana


  • Giulia Usai



This paper explores the cultural (and psychological) attitudes toward black people’s hair and hairstyles and their significance in the formation of race relations. Starting from analysing the social, political and religious meanings associated to hair in pre-colonial Africa, the text individuates the Atlantic Trade as the event at the origin of a revolution in black aesthetics. In fact, before the massive influence of European standards, determinant in changing African men and women’s approach to beauty and appearance, hairstyles in Sub-Saharan Africa used to represent a person’s marital status, the hierarchical position in a community, the devotion to a particular cult. The Slavery Era, depriving individuals of their cultures’ peculiar elements, caused the loss of many hair’s social and spiritual symbols, although inaugurating new approaches and symbolisms in hairstyles and black beauty culture. From mere imitation of masters’ haircut and wigs, to afros, dreadlocks and cornrows, African-American and African-Caribbean communities’ hairstyles reflect political choices, social condition and self-perception in accordance to the historical period. Observing the evolution of hairstyles through the decades, the essay covers a temporal journey until the current times, finding in hair an instrument to understand the impact of Western paradigms on black identity.


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