Crown Club contributor and Mind 4 Wellness founder and CEO, Miyoshi Dorsey joined us for a free webinar, “The Psychology of Black Hair”.
Miyoshi Dorsey is the founder and CEO of Mind 4 Wellness (M4W). M4W utilizes a holistic therapeutic approach for the mind, body, and spirit by providing talk therapy, administering wellness products, and offering spiritual support. Miyoshi published The Love Thyself Therapy Journal. Its purpose is to discover how to learn, love, and be comfortable with oneself through daily journaling writing prompts. She is also writing a series of books that teach self-care, self-esteem, and self-sufficiency.
When Miyoshi began to grow her natural hair out, she was questioned by many people – why would she even do that? She was even questioned by her employer at the time, but she never wavered. After her own hair journey, while working with clients at M4W, Miyoshi began to meet people who said their employers asked them to straighten their hair or remove their braids. Miyoshi asked her clients if they knew about the Crown Act and their rights.
The Crown Act (which is the inspiration for the Crown Club’s name) is a law that prohibits discrimination based on hairstyle and texture. The Crown Act has been passed in Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington.
The Significance of Black Hair Throughout History
After discussing hair discrimination, Miyoshi began explaining the significance of Black hair throughout history. Throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, after Africans were enslaved and transported, some had their heads shaved in an effort to erase their culture. African hairstyles were significant to tribal identities, marital status, age, and other personal characteristics. Around the same time period, men and women also wore headscarves in order to protect their scalps from sunburn and lice. Since traditional styling tools were unavailable, women began to use butter, kerosene and bacon grease, along with combs meant for livestock to style their hair. Women would use a mixture of lye, which contained highly corrosive sodium hydroxide that caused chemical burns, to straighten their hair.
After discussing the significance of Black hair throughout history, Miyoshi spoke about black hair as a symbol of resistance during the Black liberation movement during the 1960’s. As a way to break from norms and what their white counterparts saw as socially acceptable and mainstream, Black people began to wear their hair in natural styles. The Afro became a symbol of resistance during the black liberation movement.
Social Media as a Catalyst for Change
Miyoshi spoke about how the online hair community has given women of color a sense of belonging. Many identify with one another, whether it is shared experiences, values about black beauty, or seeing people like them. Social media has contributed to the empowerment of black women and their natural hairstyles, regardless of their hair type and texture.
While there have been many advancements to help promote empowerment for natural hair and prevent discrimination based on it, there are still microaggressions and discrimination against natural hairstyles. Miyoshi discussed clients’ stories about being discriminated against. One woman had just given birth and didn’t have time to take care of her hair, so she got it professionally braided. When she went to work after having her hair done, her supervisor told her she couldn’t continue working there unless she wore it in a “smooth” style (which is what getting your hair pressed or chemically straightened is often called by people who don’t know what actually goes into straightening Black hair). This woman got her hair pressed since she didn’t have many options otherwise and needed her job. Eventually, she began wearing wigs since continually having your hair pressed can be costly and damaging. Miyoshi also spoke about one of her own experiences when working with troubled youth. Immediately, staff would tell these young girls they needed to remove their braids. Miyoshi and a coworker went to the person in charge to explain the emotional damage of making these young in trouble youth remove braids, which were central to their identities, and they worked together to change the policy.
The “Good Hair” Study
In August 2016, a study was done to see if Americans have an implicit bias towards certain styles of hair, including to see if Black women had bias towards these hairstyles as well. On average, white women showed explicit bias toward Black women’s textured hair. They rated it as less beautiful/attractive and less professional than smooth hair. Black women in the natural hair community had a more positive attitude towards textured hair. Millennial naturalistas had a more positive attitude than all other women. Black women perceived a level of social stigma against textured hair, which was substantiated by white women’s devolution of natural styles.
What is Marginalized Identity Stress?
Miyoshi discussed the idea of stress caused to marginalized people due to discrimination, harassment, systemic oppression/barriers, stigmatization, and social isolation. This stress can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. These negative experiences can lead to trauma that is long-lasting. Coping with this trauma can lead people to feel isolated from society and paranoid. They can feel invisible, as though their concerns aren’t significant enough to be heard.
When it comes to growing out your natural hair or learning how to style it, women can feel isolated and paranoid that others are judging them for their decisions and how their hair looks. It’s important to remember that it’s not just you – there are many women out there who understand what you’re going through. You’re not alone in this journey. It’s important to take steps to de-stress and manage stress you face in your everyday life. Miyoshi discussed many options to manage stress, like exercise, hobbies, spending time with your friends and loved ones, just to name a few. Don’t be afraid to seek a professional. You can visit your healthcare provider to take the next steps. Miyoshi finished the webinar with a short grounding exercise, followed by a Q&A and a special giveaway!