55 pages 1 hour read

Zakiya Dalila Harris

The Other Black Girl

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2021

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Symbols & Motifs

Natural Hair

It is no coincidence that the headquarters for OBGs and the Resistance are a natural hair café and barbershop, respectively, nor that Nella discovers crucial information about OBGs during a natural hair party. On the surface, each of these locations functions as a gathering place for Black people to acquire hairstyles and compare haircare regimens. Historically and culturally, however, salons and barbershops have functioned as centers of Black American knowledge production and exchange. For example, according to legend, infamous 19th-century voodoo priestess Marie Laveaux was a hairdresser who was able to amass and circulate information through “salon gossip” and buy emancipation for Black women in New Orleans. Moreover, Black hair has always been a political battleground. In the 1960s, Black Panther Party activist Kathleen Cleaver encouraged Black women to wear their hair natural and chant “Black is beautiful!” as a form of resistance against Eurocentric beauty standards, which privilege straight and fine tresses. Harris draws heavily upon this connection between Black history, knowledge production, and subversive acts of resistance, but she is not the first: Many texts and films, including the Barbershop and Beauty Shop movie franchise, explore Black identity and cultural exchange using natural hair as a central motif.

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