Ending Our Association of Long Hair with Mixed Heritage

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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.

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Black Girl With Long Hair

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila, founding editor of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008), social media and black beauty enthusiast. When I'm not here, I'm moderating a Facebook group for black mothers called Black Moms Connect.

 

201 thoughts on “Ending Our Association of Long Hair with Mixed Heritage

  1. 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 hair you have. you just need to know how to care it.

  2. 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 post is ridiculous! Both of my parents are black!So I am black. Now if a person can say my mom or dad is white or whatever non black person, then yes you are mixed but somebody talking about my grandfathers, father, father, father etc (you get my point) was some type of non black person then get a grip! You are black!

    • 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.

      • 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?

      • 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.

      • 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 BEING MIXED. ARE WHITE PEOPLE ALL MIXED? IF YOU ASKED THE AVERAGE WHITE PERSON WHAT THEY ARE, THEY WILL MOST LIKELY SAY GERMAN, FRENCH ETC.. THEY WOULD NEVER SAY BLACK! SO WHY SHOULD WE CLAIM THEM WHEN SOME OF US HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO EUROPEAN BLOODLINES. I AM BLACK, NOT MIXED, AND I HAVE NATURAL WAIST LENGTH HAIR. DEAL WITH IT!

    • 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 article, maybe you might come away with something else.

    • 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)

    • 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, white, Latin, Asian, American Indians…we are all genetically mixed with a something. Obviously, some more than others, but it’s a scientific fact. And so what? It’s not a big deal unless we make it one.

  3. 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!

    • 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 DIFFERENT COUNTRIES/TRIBES ETC… THAT HAVE LONG BLACK KINKY HAIR. ALSO, WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT FOR BLACKS TO CLAIM BEING MIXED WITH OTHER RACES DO NOT. SERIOUSLY THINK ABOUT THAT. DON’T YOU WANT ALL YOUR BEAUTIFUL FEATURES TO GO TO YOUR AFRICAN RACE INSTEAD OF TRYING TO PIN IT ON THE INDIANS (NATIVE AMERICANS) OR WHITES? EUROPEANS AND NATIVE AMERICANS DONT EVEN CLAIM US AND THEY DONT WANT TO CLAIM US. SO WHY ARE SOME OF YOU TRYING TO HOLD ON TO THIS FALSE SENSE OF RACE FROM THEM? MOST OF YOU ALL ARE BLACK. PURE BLACK. NOT MIXED. WHEN THE AFRICANS WERE BROUGHT OVER ON THE BOAT, ARE HISTORY TELLS US THAT NOT ALL OF THEM WERE RAPED. NOT ALL OF THEM MIXED. SO YOU ARE MOST LIKELY NOT MIXED. WHICH IS A GOOD THING IN MY EYES.

      • 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!!!!!

  4. 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.

  5. 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

      • 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.

  6. 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 come in all the stereotypes (appearance) that is out there. Stop such lucrid generalizations as it only just fuels ignorance on how vast the genetic make up of Africans are.

  7. 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 duplicating their hair regime, it does make a difference. A person who is the direct descendant of a African and European mixture most certainly may have a hair regime that does not work for someone whose grand or great grandparents were the products of a mixed heritage.

    I believe the goals are the same for everyone who views & participates on this website: “don’t hate, duplicate.” But you do need to know the ingredients (DNA) before you can make an informed decision of which person’s regime to follow….

  8. 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

  9. 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.

  10. 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 is ‘good’ and point to the non-black side, need to work on their self image and how they view other people too. What are you saying to the person you are communicating with if you associate the ‘good’ (in my opinion – mainstream) ideas of beauty to peoples non-black heritage? That black is somehow faulty or not quite as good as white, Indian, etc??
    I am a mixture of Black southern African heritages and I love that I am secure in my Africaness. I have never worn a headscalf or anythg overtly ‘African’ but I can tell you even some ‘100%’ black people struggle with their IDs as being black so it’s not just an African American thing. Connie will see this firsthand in whatever part of Africa she goes.
    However, hair; just know yours and celebrate it no matter it’s texture, volume or length. As long as you are doing your best to keep it and you healthy – don’t worry be happy :)

  11. 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 be the same as let’s say Brazil. Being “African American” on the other hand is a better indicator of ethnicity and genetic ancestry than saying “we aren’t 100% black” because what really constitutes as being “black”? Also, even people living in Africa can be technically “mixed” too. For example, my grandfather is part Benin but the majority of my family line is Yoruba. Does that make me more or less “Black” than African Americans?

    • 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.

      • 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.

  12. 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 managed hair. I have gotten the question recently myself. Oddly enough, since I have cut down on manipulation, my hair has reached my collar bone and the statement made from one of my A-A associates was, ‘Girl, I didnt know you were mixed. ShXt, I didnt know your hair grew!’ As if to say that because I am majority A-A with 4b/c hair, my hair follicles were handicapped!

    The biggest point made, that I have to completely agree with is the point that as a people, if we do not have proper knowledge to take care of our hair, we begin to assume that our hair wont do what the hair of people of other ethnic backgrounds will! Its not only a discussion of DENYING our blackness, even though some do; i.e. ‘I have ‘good hair’ because I have [insert random ethnic group] in my family. It is also a discussion of believing that if you are majority A-A your hair just wont or moreso CANT compete with the girl next door who happens to be [insert random ethnic group here]. Lets stop thinking that it doesnt happen, just because its never happened to YOU.

    -peace

  13. 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 deep conditioning and co washing etc. But remember regardless of religion race etc all hair grows

  14. 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.

    • 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 get asked that question by white people, but for me, it was always a black person. I remember Paula Patton said she hates saying that she is biracial because that’s like saying “I’m better than just black” or something to that effect. Why? And by whose standard? Who said white or biracial was better than black? She must think that if that is how she views being half-white. To me, she just happens to be half-white like she happens to be half-black.

      I had a black guy come into the salon while I was getting my hair done to talk to me and he asked me what I was mixed with, I asked him why he asked me that and then said, “Black women don’t have long hair unless they are mixed.” So as it pertains to hair, to think that a black person cannot grow long hair is just plain ignorant. All hair grows. So anyone who makes a statement like that is showing their ignorance. Some people may find it easier to grow their hair than others, but it has little to do with race. Like many here have mentioned, it’s how the hair is being care for.

      I will also say that the lack of representation of naturals in the mainstream perpetuates this ignorance the same way it perpetuates other forms.

      • 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.

  15. 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 hair with out the restrictions of my own former ignorance and limitations. I have been natural for over 25 years and for the first time I believe my hair will grow because I take care of it rather than leaving it up to genetic mystery.

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