Black Women Who Wear Hair Bonnets Face Backlash — Here's the History Behind the Controversial Debate

The relationship between Black women and hair bonnets is complex — here's a comprehensive history of the controversial debate that has the community divided.

Pretty Honore - Author

Jun. 28 2023, Published 7:25 p.m. ET

To say that Black women and our hair have a painful history is an understatement. From hot combs to chemical relaxers, there are no lengths we haven’t gone to meet Western standards of beauty. But thanks to OG YouTubers and social media influencers, the natural hair movement is the new wave.

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Solange said a word when she dropped “Don’t Touch My Hair,” in 2016, yet, there’s still so much to explain. Let’s take the ongoing argument about hair bonnets, for example. What once was a simple protective hair covering has now left the Black community divided.

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However, to understand the debate surrounding hair bonnets, there are a few things you need to know about Black women: Number one: we don’t play about our hair. Secondly, refer to number one ...

Black Women and Hair Bonnets: A comprehensive breakdown of the backlash.

Looking back on American history, hair bonnets date all the way back to the 1700s — granted, the bonnets they had back then looked much different than the ones that are sold for $3.99 at the beauty supply store.

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While the accessory was a symbol of status and wealth for decades, later, it was used as a way for slave owners to differentiate their indoor and outdoor slaves. Needless to say, that trend died out around 1865 …

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Fast forward a couple of hundred years to the 60s and 70s — by this time, printed headscarves had become a statement of Black power. Meanwhile, wearing a bonnet in public wasn’t socially acceptable.

The question is, can Black girls sport a bonnet outside today? According to Mo'Nique, the answer is hell to the nah.

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In 2021, the comedian went viral after she read us our rights in an Instagram video. “The question that I’m having to you my sweet babies is, when did we lose pride in representing ourselves,” she asked in the clip, referring to people who wear bonnets in public.

The Parkers actress added: “When did we step away [from] ‘Let me make sure I’m presentable when I leave my home? Let me make sure I’m representing the family I created so that if I’m out in the street I look like I have pride in myself.’"

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After her post made its rounds on social media, it evoked a strong response from the public. While the OGs of Black Twitter agreed with her, she faced backlash from just about everyone else. Our auntie was likely well-intentioned, but her message kind of missed the mark.

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You see, Webster defines respectability politics as “a set of beliefs holding that conformity to prescribed mainstream standards of appearance and behavior will protect a person who is part of a marginalized group, especially a Black person, from prejudices and systemic injustices.”

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The dictionary entry continues: “Black respectability politics embraces the illusion of a level economic playing field.”

Contrary to popular belief, Black women are not a monolith and neither are our hairstyles. That said, for many of us, the pressure to conform is innate.

After all, the world has never asked us to come as we are — that’s exactly why we keep our nails polished, edges laid, and our noses powdered. But what if maybe, just maybe, Black women were allowed to just be.

Call me crazy — but what if, in some weird alternate universe, Black women could walk the earth without fear of embarrassing our entire race?

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Yeah, I know ... it's unlikely. But a girl can dream, right?

Before I hop off my soapbox, I urge you to consider: a Black woman wearing a bonnet to the airport is no different than a white man wearing a onesie and furry slippers on a plane. It may not be your cup of tea, but then again, no one’s really asking you to drink it.

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