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by Nicole Pennant

What do we mean when we assert that we are 100% Black? I have been natural since 2004.  I became a follower of natural hair blogs/vlogs over the last couple of years because I started caring for my own hair at home.  The information that I have learned from these sources has been invaluable. However, I have also observed the often heated debates that occur about natural hair.  One that stands out in particular has been about individuals that have grown long natural hair.  Questions or statements about an individual’s background always seem to arise. The following statements/questions come from the comment sections of a selection of bloggers/vloggers: “Are you mixed?” ‘You’re mixed with something right?”

These questions/responses are then followed by either the individual or others asserting the Blackness of the individual: “Why do people think black people need to be mixed to have great healthy long hair?!!!” “No. No she’s not mixed with something.”

And in some cases people make the claim that they or the person is 100% Black: “Yes, I’m 100% Black.” “[insert vlogger name] is 100% black…” “I am 100% Black and my hair has always been lengthy.”

I find assertions like “100% Black” or those alluding to someone being “all black” to be puzzling since it is just not true.

When I was in college I took a cultural anthropology class while pursuing my degree in African American Studies. It was first time I was introduced to how DNA was being used to trace a person’s genealogy and ancestry.  We watched a documentary in the class called “Motherland: A Genetic Journey”.  In the film, we observed three British African Caribbeans trace their ancestry using DNA.  Since this film then there have been many more programs focusing on the science of ancestry. Some of the most prominent programs have been Henry Louis Gates’ “Finding Our Roots” and “African American Lives.”  I find these shows fascinating because of the history that is often hidden underneath phenotypic characteristics like race.  For instance, on “Finding Our Roots” actor Don Cheadle found out that he was 19% White and that he also had Native American in his family lineage. In “African American Lives” Chris Rock found out he was 30% White.  Samuel L. Jackson found he could potentially apply to be a member of the Sons of the American Revolution because of a White ancestor on “Finding Our Roots.”   

Recently Gates wrote an article in The Root entitled “Exactly How ‘Black’ Is Black America” discussing the ancestry of Black Americans.  In the article he indicated that most Black Americans have mixed race heritage when DNA testing is conducted.
* According to Ancestry.com, the average African American is 65 percent sub-Saharan African, 29 percent European and 2 percent Native American.
* According to Family Tree DNA.com, the average African American is 72.95 percent sub-Saharan African, 22.83 percent European and 1.7 percent Native American.
* According to National Geographic’s Genographic Project, the average African American is 80 percent sub-Saharan African, 19 percent European and 1 percent Native American.

These findings indicate that the majority of Black Americans ARE NOT 100% Black.  Making this claim to percentage of Blackness is simply inaccurate.  Who we are today is significantly shaped by our past.  From my perspective acknowledging this racial mixing does not diminish our history because it is a part of the history. Nor does it downplay the Black experience and what it means to be Black in America. The creation of racial groups in American society was a social construction that had a lot less to do with genetics and more to do with physical appearance.

In the area of hair care I think awareness of this history is also important.  Trying to make claims about Black authenticity or 100% Blackness with regards to something that is actually shaped to some degree by genetics like hair seems odd.  But, we also know that good hair care practices have a significant influence on hair growth and that many of us were unaware of that until recently. A lot of the information that we were lacking was due the uplifting of European standards of beauty and the stigmatization of curlier and textured hair commonly found in the Black community.  Consequently, many of us never learned the proper care for our hair.

So when we observe someone with hair that would be considered exceptionally long or a looser curl pattern we shouldn’t immediately run to determine their racial/ethnic make-up in order to explain the ease of their hair care routine or growth.  For one thing, those same individuals proposing the question are more than likely some sort of racial mix as well. Additionally, being aware of the racial mixing in the past does not minimize the new history being created by Blacks who wear natural hair.  

The Black community is diverse and the differences we observe should be accepted as part of the Black experience instead of being used as a litmus test for Blackness.

Nicole Pennant is a guest contributor.  She is currently pursuing her doctorate in Political Science with a focus on Black Politics.  You can reach her at nicole.pennant@gmail.com.

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noelliste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast. bell hooks' hair twin...

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204 Comments on "Ending Our Association of Long Hair with Mixed Heritage"

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KenyanGirl

I think being black is beyond skin/hair type, it is also a function of the society you live in…In my country any half white half black person is regarded as white. Beyonce/Rihanna would not be regarded as black.

christinanolanXD

Same with my country!!

NapturallyKia

Not feeling this post. At all.

keepin tha peace

Thank you for this article! So appreciative!

Dabney
This is a good article but an incomplete article. The genetic issue was not fully fleshed out. For instance there are a large number of black people in this country who are also of Chinese descent. Like Oprah and Mae Jamison. But that is irrelevant. The bottom line is that we know more now about hair care and how to grow our hair to great lengths and this is a positive thing. Now we have to work against Societies ignorance that thinks its impossible. I find it empowering to have the information on how to cultivate a healthy head of… Read more »
Lizzy

I’m black. Period. But if people want specifics(seldom happens), then I tell them that I’m black of African, Native American, and European ancestry. I’m getting my DNA done to find out what country in Africa my ancesters come from. Some people ask why would I care. And I tell them that I know what country my dog originates from. Seems like I have the right to find out about me.

Zharnée

U tell em girl!!!!

Helen Willis
I follow the frame of thought, Lizzy. Going further, I think that the black people who get upset if you simply “mention” the breakdown of your ethnicity are those that have the problem. I can say, that “Yes, I am genetically mixed with Native American, black, hispanic and European” just as a statement of fact, just as if I say I am a mail carrier or cop. If this then annoys a black person, then that’s your issue not mine. Every person that has ever asked me if I was mixed has been black. I have often heard that some… Read more »
Git

How are you mixed with Hispanic when Hispanic is not a race.You sound as if you think you’re just so much better and above everybody but you really just sound conceited.Like most mixed people.

Shanelle
This stereotype is just plain stupid and ignorant.I don’t need to be mixed to have long hair. Black hair doesn’t grow is just a myth if black hair didn’t grow then why are African American boys going to the barber often?Hair growth is all depended on how you treat your hair. Hair grows half an inch per month (six inches a year) so if you are straightening it everyday and pulling clumps of it out and your not seeing difference in length that doesn’t mean black hair doesn’t grow.you have to take really good care of your hair like moisturizing… Read more »
Odie
I believe a lot of angry or seemly angry comments under this post are due to a lack of understanding the point that the writer was trying to get across. As an African American woman, raised in an African American family in Detroit, I have seen and heard things come out of A-A women’s mouths that truly saddens and surprises me. I have see women of all shades of brown that have been questioned on youtube and other social media sites as well as in public about what race that were due to the fact that they had longer, well… Read more »
Jumoké
This is interesting but at the same time a pointless article. Let me start of by saying there is no such things as race. (If you’ve taken an anthropology of race and ethnicity class, you know what I mean.) society uses it today to classify people based on conceived notions (i.e. skin tone, hair, eye color). Now with that being said, what is determined as “black” or “white” might not fall under the same group if one was to move elsewhere in the world so why are we arguing about this? What is considered “black” in the United States won’t… Read more »
Starr

Race is a social construction, it is as you have said, utilized by society in order to classify people mostly on physical characteristics. Biologically/genetically there is “no such thing” as race, as there aren’t any genetic markers for it, but to suggest that it doesn’t exist is very misleading. You can’t utilize something that doesn’t exist, and race is still used to categorize and classify people. Anthropologically you’re right, sociologically you’re wrong.

Jumoke

I know that but for the sake of this article there is no such thing is race. The writer is speaking form a genetic standpoint which is incorrect. How can she say someone is not “100% black” when being “black” is a social construct? If she had formed her argument around being African American than eh heh it’s a different story and it would be valid.

S. Amy L.
Oh, this one has got the blood boiling with a few people. 🙂 Well, I agree with Glenny and Porter-50+ makes an interesting point about Africans too. At the end of the day, Africans (indigious) range from the Abrabian types (north) to those with very dark skin and kinky hair. I like how South Africans these days have embrassed the ‘rainbow nation’ notion and just go with it. I feel that those – no matter where in the world they may be who jump to their ‘mixed’ heritage to explain why their hair or whatever it is about their appearance… Read more »
Temple

We are constantly under a microscope. Constantly having to prove ourselves and ‘fit in’. sigh

Temple

Why people are so adamant about claiming race isn’t real when it infiltrates almost every aspect of our lives is beyond me… This website in itself is product of being racially aware because black women with natural/afro/’ethnic’ hair need a space of our own since we’re barely represented on ‘mainstream’ (ie white) forums and when they do cater to us, they spread misinformation (have you ever seen those horrid ehow videos on youtube, tho). Yea, race is a social construct, yet that doesn’t negate fact that racism still exists. Bye.

Barbara

So fine most of us are not “100 percent” black BUT 65-90 percent African descent does not equal “mixed”. It just means somewhere allllllllllllllllllll the way down the family line there was “mixing” by force or otherwise.

I’ve never had a non black person show up at a family reunion–ever! I am NOT mixed. IDK why some black Americans are so quick to gleefuLly announced “but we all mixed anyway” SMH

Porter-50+
Growing up in the 60’s & 70’s, we were “Black.” In school (really progressive at that time), we were challenged with this concept: if a “white” person who was born in Africa is considered an “African” were they to move to the U.S., are they now legally an African American? It is well know that every “Black” person has a mixed heritage, otherwise we would all be African. The terminology of Black speaks for itself. I don’t believe that people think ONLY mixed races (either by choice or force) can have only long hair. But, if they are interested in… Read more »
Camille

I disagree. See above, two people can have same mom and dad and totally different hair.

Helen Willis

I agree, the AA terms annoys me to no end. Just like all of the other “Ethnic-American” terms, either you are American or you’re not.

glenny
When some people say “Africans” are just…(Insert whatever stereotype), I cringe. Africa is not a country – made up of 54 countries and Africans do not all look alike! North Africans do not look like each other in terms of (hair texture, skin color, eye color, bone structure, etc) and definitely do not look like their East, West or South Africans who also look different from each other. Regarding hair texture, you should be aware (if not, please go visit some countries in the different parts of Africa and see for yourself or do some legit research) that Africans hair… Read more »
eve-audrey

agree!

mercy

Whoaaaa I sooooo agree! We have 54 different countries and I wonder why people insist on making it seem like we all come from one little village #smh

penelope

The article is contradictory..if race is a social construct (true) then you can definitely be 100% “black” if that is your lived experience. What the author should have said is that African Americans are not 100% African…which everyone already knows. But they can still claim to be 100% black.
And she seems to want to debunk the myth that only mixed people can grow long hair but then she also asserts that all African Americans in the US are mixed so that point seems lost as well…Well, I’m Nigerian so this doesn’t apply to me anyway lol

Nooni

Exactly race is a social construct, so all race talk as a whole is ‘wrong.’

Jo Somebody

Everything you said… included the Nigerian part.

What was the point of this exactly?

Camille

Agree with most of what you said but many Africans are also “mixed”.

Zharnée

They sure are. Blue black ppl with straight ass hair naturally!!

Joyce

Which Africans are you referring to? Africans that are mixed is directly from their parents. Not great, great, great grandpas and grandmas who were Blackfoot, Cherokee, whatever native tribe. American black history and how a lot of blacks feel about themselves doesn’t affect me as I am African and know my roots. Please stop.

Umm Ebraheem

This was a great read. I studied American History in college and have found the Skip Gates’ show to be very fun to watch. People are always surprised by what turns up in their genetic profile. Living abroad has really drive home the idea that I am American, full stop.

Umm Ebraheem

I didn’t mean to use the word “idea,” what I should have said was, living abroad has drive home the point that I am American period, without qualification.

Elizabeth Ashe

I love this article, My thoughts exactly. Great article, she is not saying we are less black. She is just speaking from a genetic, scientific and cultural stand point.

Great Read!

CONNIE1
HORRIBLE ARTICLE! THIS IS EXACTLY WHY I AM LEAVING THE UNITED STATES AND MOVING TO AFRICA. YES AFRICA IS A CONTINENT HOWEVER, I AM WILLING TO GO TO ANY PART BECAUSE THERE ARE MORE PEOPLE OVER THERE WHO ARE PROUD TO BE PURE 110% BLACK AND THEY NEVER QUESTION IT. THIS WRITER JUST WANTS TO MAKE US BELIEVE THAT WE ALL HAVE TO BE MIXED TO HAVE A CERTAIN TYPE OF LOOK. GO TO AFRICA, AND YOU WILL SEE THAT, THAT IS NOT TRUE. EVEN IN AFRICA, DEPENDING ON WHAT PART YOU GO TO, THERE ARE PLENTY OF PEOPLE FROM… Read more »
Camille

You don’t know anything about Africa. Please stop embarrassing yourself.

Shahidah

Good luck Connie. You are in for a big awakening. Wish I could witness the look on your face

Zharnée

But most of them were and speak for yourself because I have Native American great grandma and she loves us now white no some if them are mean but so wat. I love my African heritage too n Hispanic I love all my ethnic backgrounds!!!!!

Helen Willis

I agree Elizabeth, and who’s to say how much black is enough or just right? And who gets to decide? I don’t have these answers and I don’t know if anyone does.

april
This is a waste of a post. Seriously who is the writer to convince? I’m wondering if she think we are just a bunch of idiots. I am very sure most black people that say they are black and not mixed are just saying that the majority of their ancestors are black and proud of it. I am aware that I may be some minuscule drop of white or whatever but I’m not going to go into race details (which I don’t really even know) when someone ask me what my darn race is. Majority rules in this case! This… Read more »
Shirley

I completely agree.

Nicole

You still seem to miss the point. The claim to 100% blackness is still false and ignorance spreading. Yes, you don’t have to explain all of that. But the concept is still flawed as a whole.
It is an ingrained one that needs to be looked at and flushed out with more people being aware and yes, getting a little bit more detailed about their ancestry.

Stace

I don’t know if I really hear too many people (anyone really) saying that they are 100% black , but I do hear alot of people saying simply : “I’m black” , or “I’m just black, not mixed”. Saying that one is 100% black is a major issue somewhere though? That doesn’t seem to have the same effect as a black person saying I’m not black but (insert nationality instead of race here). That to me seems to be a more common “ignorance spreading” than someone asserting their blackness for sake of argument. What’s the agenda in arguing this point?

Nooni

As I said before, TALKING ABOUT RACE IS INHERENTLY FLAWED! The vsat majority of racial statements are based on the idea that ‘race’ exists which it doesn’t. I’m with April. I don’t understand the point of this article at all. Saying you are 100% black is no different to describing yourself as a black person or a white person. Both are equally false since race does not exist.

AS you said, it’s ‘THEIR ANCESTRY’ and they will call it what they wish.

Temple

Race is a social construct, tho. Technically it does exist…

Helen Willis

Shouldn’t you call it what it is instead of what you wish though?

CONNIE1
I DONT KNOW WHO THE WRITER IS BUT GUESS WHAT, SOME PEOPLE ARE TRULY BLACK! NOT ALL OF OUR ANCESTORS WERE RAPED. SOME OF US HAD GREAT GRANDPARENTS, GREAT-GREAT, AND GREAT-GREAT-GREAT GRANDPARENTS THAT ARE BLACK (AFRICAN OR AFRICAN AMERICAN). SOME OF US ARE NOT MIXED AT ALL. SOME OF US HAVE LONG HAIR BECAUSE WE COME FROM AFRICA. THERE ARE PLENTY OF PEOPLE IN AFRICA WITH LONG HAIR. SO THE REASON WHY IT BOTHERS PEOPLE TO HAVE TO CLAIM BEING MIXED IS BECAUSE THEY WANT TO MAKE IT CLEAR THAT BLACKS CAN HAVE LONG HAIR, GORGEOUS SKIN, BEAUTIFUL FEATURES WITHOUT… Read more »
Tam
This article was to address the individuals who go on the videos of vloggers that give tutorials on their long hair and ask about that the person’s ethnicity because intrinsically they believe in the perpetual stereotype that “black people” can not grow long hair, I dont even understand how you came to formulate this argument you have, you can go to Chime edwards, youtube channel and see in the comment section how many people ask about her ethnicity and whether she’s mixed because somehoow that would be the only way her hair could be that long, you should reread the… Read more »
Zharnée

It’s not just about black n white. I am mixed and my family is period. I don’t have to have a white parent and a African American one. I am creole(which contains black)

Helen Willis
Touching upon the fact that you said “don’t really even know.” I think it behooves us all to find out and be more open-minded about it. Look, it is what it is, I think we would be better off knowing that we are more blood-related than we think. Maybe then, we would make greater strides toward becoming a more united nation. I would love for Dr.Gates to give a white supremacist a DNA test and let him or her find out his or her great great grandmother was a slave. Could you imagine? And yes, in case they didn’t know,… Read more »
Mocha Dier
This reminds me of the controversy that was stirred up when Melanie Fiona said she has a good mix for growth. SMH. Yes we all can grow long hair, but the techniques that a 4C hair chick would use to reach waist length as opposed to maybe a 3A or even 2C chick would use, is a lot different. Yes, I understand we need to stop this thing, assuming that it is because 1 is mixed why their hair is so long, and accept out hair, and use techniques to minimize breakage. But being mixed can influence the type of… Read more »
Mocha Dier

This is a pic of me n my bro, we hv same parents, but the gene that determined his hair type was wayy different than mine.

Mocha Dier

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