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  • Writer's pictureChrissy's Books

Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture

Rating 9/10

Once upon a time, I was scrolling through the Instagram bookish world and came across this beauty of a book, I knew right off the bat that I HAD to read it! How gorgeous is this book!! Ugh I can’t deal. I also fell in love with the title of this book - Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture - super dope. I would love to thank Harper Perennial for sending me a print copy of this read. I will cherish for years to come. I had previously heard of Emma Dabiri because I follow The Guardian Newspaper on social media quite a bit, seeing as I lived in London for years and years. The Guardian is a British daily newspaper, same league as the NY times, and I had seen Emma do a few posts here and there as a contributor for the paper, and it clicked as soon as I saw the title of this book, and soon realized it was the same Emma that I had been seeing on The Guardian, I love her vibe and her work a lot so I had to read this book. Also, how awesome would it be to learn more about black hair culture? Right?!


Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture is a collection of essays that explore the ways in which black hair has been stigmatized throughout history. It also ponders on race, pop culture, body politics, and Dabiri’s own journey to finally loving her own hair.

For as long as Emma can remember, her hair has always been scrutinized, shamed, and discriminated against, from strangers as well as her own family members. Emma can tell you the first time she had her hair chemically straightened, She can even describe what it smelled like, the salon’s atmosphere, and the range of emotions that hit her when she saw her kinky curls suddenly fall down onto her shoulders. She’s not alone in this feeling.

Despite the increase on liberal world views, black hair still continues to be stigmatized, criticized and appropriated to the point of taboo. Through Dabiri’s personal and historical journey, she gains insights into the way racism is coded into society’s perception of black hair, and how it’s often used for an avenue into discrimination. Dabiri takes us on a journey through pre-colonial Africa, to the Harlem Renaissance, and into today’s ‘bold’ natural hair movement. She explores everything from women’s friendships, to the criminalization of dreadlocks, and even the fad provenance of the Kardashian’s braids.

Through the base and lens of hair texture, Dabiri discusses all facets of black hair culture, and leads us on a cultural and historical investigation of the global history of racism and her own personal journey of self love & acceptance.

My Review:

What an informative and fun read! I feel like Emma Dabiri and I would get along so well! Haha. I loved this book you guys. Obviously, you all know I’m black, and in case you were wondering, I am a 4C hair type (See diagram below)

the very far end of the curly scale or the ‘unmanageable, hard to control, unruly’ hair as described by my hair products. The stereotype and the hair shame that we/black people with a number 4 type hair receive is real. Dabiri covers a plethora of examples and topics that delve into these specific issues. She covers everything to do with black hair, and even explains all the different types of hair textures in this read.

So this book was truly a worthwhile time investment and it was interesting to learn all this amazing history about black hair culture, some of which I knew and some I was completely unaware of. I was very much drawn to this book cover, and this bangin' title, the book definitely lives up to what I was expecting it to be.

Growing up in Ireland during the 80s and 90s, to a white Irish mother and a black Nigerian father, Dabiri shares what it was truly like to be one of the only black girls in her school, or neighborhood and the judgement and hardships that she had dealt with due to her hair and racial background. A lot of black people who have grown up in these sorts of environments would be able to relate to what she had gone through. She takes us on her hair journey and the pressures that she received from society in order to ‘fit in’ to the European standards. Dabiri truly dissects why this came to be, as well as the history of why curly hair is seen as the undesirable type as opposed to straight or wavy European hair.

“Black women might wear their hair straight, but the fact alone does not manifest a slavish reproduction of European aesthetics. The hair may be worn in gravity-defying constructions or in unnatural colors. Often the price paid for this innovation is the label “ghetto”, until it is appropriated and becomes alchemically redefined as high fashion.”

[Dabiri - page 96]

This here is truly one of my biggest, massivest (if that's even a word) things in life that truly bother me to my core. Cultural Appropriation.the adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity.’

(source - wiki)

Dabiri covers this in chapters where she describes the ‘Kardashian’ effect and many other great examples, and I could not agree with her more.

[Dabiri primarily mentions this subject on page 191]

This book was about so much more than just hair. It dives into the cultural heritage of where certain hair styles come from, their origins, cultural tradition from African tribal braiding and customs, as well as the stigma and racial bias that black people have endured throughout the centuries from slavery, right down to our current time. She looked deeply into how this has affected black people as a race and what we have to now try and 'un-do' in order to take apart these stereotypes placed upon us by history, European standards, the media, and by our own family and friends.

“The concept of validation from the white gaze resonates deeply. I am reminded of all the times I was told I was pretty for a black girl, or that I was lucky I was pretty because I could “get away with being black.” That perceived beauty was the price I had to pay for the burden of blackness. My worth as a human being was not recognized because of my race, but apparently the possession of beauty could compensate for my racial inadequacy.”

[Page 181]

Dabiri delves into how hair culture is often used as an avenue for discrimination. I learned so much by reading this amazing book. It also made me feel as always, extremely upset and angry about the racial injustice placed upon black hair culture, and black people all over the world. Racial politics, systemic racism, systemic oppression, all play a key role and are all connected. Dabiri truly shows us this in her extensive and layered research that she did for this collection of essays.

One of my favorite things about this book was that it never felt too dense, or heavy to read at all. It sort of felt like Emma was talking right to you in a very informal and down to earth way. I loved all of the titles for each essay, and found a LOT of this content in the book very relate-able. For example, I have definitely in the past, been discriminated against because of my hair at certain workplace environments. It is completely unfair that one person gets to tell me or tell black people what hair should and should not look like, just because it is different from theirs. It’s racist bullying and discrimination at its highest.

“...when members of groups who have historically benefited from black oppression (which they continue to perpetuate) are then prized for the appropriation of the hairstyles we remain marginalized for wearing”
…”challenging racism and inequality is about transforming the system that continues to perpetuate racism rather than responding to each demonstration of it.”

[Both quotes from Page 190]

This book was short & sweet. I seriously loved it. Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture, explores the current black natural hair movement and takes us back to the historical legacies of afro hair in Africa, through to the Harlem Renaissance, and looks at the very first black hair entrepreneurs of black hair beauty products. I found this chapter especially fascinating! Twisted looks at black hair history, politics, race, pop culture, and of course, Dabiri’s own journey into finally loving and appreciating her gorgeous versatile and beautiful (number 4 type) hair. This is a great book for all black people, and even more so, every race to read. If you want to know more about black hair and it's culture. Read this book. It’s thought provoking, witty, informative & I highly recommend it.

Song Pick:

This song pick was pretty damn obvious to me, and maybe probably to you?

Fun fact: The UK release of this book is called ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’. Which is the song pick for this wonderful read. It had to be the fabulous Solange's (feat. Sampha) amazing hit song - “Don’t Touch My Hair”. Nuff said...and seriously, guys, please DO NOT TOUCH black people’s hair! If you knew the amount of work it takes to wash it, condition it, style it, moisturize it….just don’t...okay, I'm done winging.

Genre: Autobiography | Nonfiction | Race

Publication Date: June 23, 2020

Publication Date for UK edition - ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’: May 2, 2019

Pages: 256 Pages

Reviewed by Chrissy's Books


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