There is an underlying tone in the U.S. that straightened hair is a more acceptable or professional hairstyle than the wonderful and natural spiraling, tightly coiled curls called the Afro. What a shame.
In the 1970's the Afro hairstyle emerged into mainstream culture, as an affirmation of Black African heritage, that "black is beautiful," and a rejection of Eurocentric standards of beauty.
Click on the image to the left to see all the different varieties of the afro - from the conservative Executive to the trendy Blow Up. It was an awesome look that whites often tried to imitate with little success (i.e. Art Garfunkel).
The popularity of the "natural" hair style among blacks is often traced back to the TV show "East Side/West Side", civil rights activist Angela Davis, and Black Panther Stokely Carmichael. By the time Jimi Hendrix donned the fro, the natural look had already hit the big time. Before long, everyone from Pam Grier to Dr. J was sporting the hairstyle. "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud," sang James Brown, who had also adopted the look.
Favorite Afro #1: This 1971 album by The Undisputed Truth (famous for their song "Smiling Faces Sometimes") is one of my favorite album covers of all time - I can't really explain why, but I have always been transfixed by it.
Favorite Afro #2: I was an avid baseball card collector in the 1970s and Oscar Gamble's cards were a treasured item simply due to the massive fro. It was legendary - a gargantuan billowing cloud of hair that simply could not be contained by a cap. Sadly, when he was traded to the Yankees he had to cut this glorious mane.
What ultimately killed the Afro? Well we can't blame it all on jheri curl. It may have been disco - everything that was associated with disco became derided and mocked around 1981. Maybe it was a distancing from the "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" vibe that was so prevalent in the 1970s. Or maybe it was just part of the normal cycle of fashion - trendy one day, tacky the next. The afro seems to be reemerging, but nothing in comparison to its former glory in the wonderful 1970's.