Last month, we celebrated little Black girls we adored on relaxer boxes in a viral social media thread. Gracing the cover of a perm box is akin to a celebrity figure in the Black community. Much of the inspiration for the beautiful hair of our dreams came from the Black girls who blessed relaxer boxes.
But what it all meant to us then reveals something far more alarming and unsettling today. While social media asked what happened to the perm box girls, I wondered more than anything, what happened to all the Black girls out there who struggled to look like the girls on the perm boxes?
Black girl hair more often than not, symbolizes survival, strength, resistance, diversity and celebration. Generations illustrate a cultivating reflection of Black hair from varied and nuanced perspectives. A Black girl’s hair told you a story of who we are from the root. While the importance of our hair represented empowerment, commemoration and appreciation, it was also marked as a tool of targeted criticism, discrimination and oppression.
In the early 1900s, while conducting experiments in his sewing machine shop, Garrett Augustus Morgan discovered a liquid solution that gave his needles a high polish and prevented the fabric from burning as he sewed. Morgan wiped a hard day’s worth of work and solution off onto a wool cloth and the next day discovered the cloth’s smoother texture.
Morgan figured that if the solution could smooth out a wool cloth, then it could potentially duplicate the same effect on hair. After testing the solution on a curly-haired dog, Morgan tried the solution on his own hair. After what he deemed a success, Morgan established G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company and began selling products in predominately African American communities.
The idea that it was possible to change the structure of a hair shaft when certain chemicals penetrated it was an invention Morgan couldn’t ignore. However, what may have been a success for businesses and profits, was a deep-seated damage Black hair is still burning to recover from.