Can A Sistah With Rainbow Hair Get Respect?
What Tami Said
Feb. 28, 2011

Last week, Dodai at Jezebel wrote a post about the debate over the roots (no pun intended) of the colorful hair trend. A recent London Evening Standard article attributes the trend to English street culture, specifically a Dalston salon called Bleach. The blog Black Girl with Long Hair cries foul and says the style originated with black women. Blogger Leila says of the salon owner that is taking credit for candy-colored tresses: "Sam Teasdale, I don’t mind that you’ve managed to sell this style to a number of bandwagon celebs but please give black women and all their hair eccentricities credit where it is due. Admit it! This is not your signature ‘look’. You spotted it on a black girl about 10 years ago."

I suspect Teasdale and Alex Brownsell, co-owner of Bleach salon, are engaging in a little shameless self-promotion, trying to hook their salon to a trend. Folks have been wearing colorful hair since before the 20-something stylists were even born. But I also disagree with Black Girl with Long Hair. The first time I (a black woman who grew up in a predominately-black city) spotted brightly-colored hair was on 70s/80s-era British punks and New Romantics, which had scant to do with Bleach salon or the U.S. black community. I don't know for sure, but I suspect that if one looks through hairstyle history, one might find unnaturally-colored tresses in a variety of communities, including ones neither white nor black. Pinpointing who originated it all is likely a fool's errand.

What I'm really interested in is how Kool Aid-colored dos are evaluated differently, based on the race of the wearer. Black Girl with Long Hair gets at this issue: "Any black girl sporting a weave like this after 1999 would be considered GHETTO/YARDIE/HOOD! Making it hardly a new trend."


Despite the popularity of colorful hair in the mainstream, in my observation, black women and girls who are not Nikki Minaj are judged negatively for adopting colorful hair--even when it is more conservatively styled than the examples above. Rainbow hair on a black woman provokes a whole lot of judgments about class and education, even among other black people. Meanwhile, a bright blue streak in a white woman's hair is accepted differently, I think.

I have a 40-something white female friend who sometimes adds a streak of hot pink or blue to her trendy hairstyles. It is accepted as a marker of her bohemian, hipster, Etsy lifestyle. I suspect, though, that I do not have the latitude to do such a thing (Though I'm personally not a fan of the look, anyway.). It is enough that I wear my hair naturally. That alone provokes attention. And, in a different professional field, may mean the difference between being employed and not.

This has me noticing, again, that black women have far less latitude in terms of personal style than white women, perhaps especially when it comes to what's on our heads.

What do you think? Is my assessment correct?

Also, I'm curious how this plays out across other races.