It honestly depends on whom you ask and what their personal reflection of the word ‘alternative’ symbolizes to them. Whether one is talking about a subculture of the Natural Hair Movement (NHM) or merely a trend, there is an image that you can form in your mind on what an afro means in 2014.
An afro is defined as two things: 1) a style where thick, curly hair erects around the head and 2) a natural hairstyle of black people. I prefer the New York Times’ definition when discussing Dante De Blasio’s hair during his father’s mayoral campaign in New York, “The Afro as a Natural Expression of Self”. An afro holds more significance than a hairstyle and I must admit, it means even more than the self-expression.
Sometimes words get muddled and misappropriated with usages that have no real connection and before you know it, they take on a new or expanded meanings. Today when you see a woman sporting an afro, oftentimes she is associated with the terms hipster, bohemian, or even Afro Punk. But what does that all mean? Well, it simply means the afro has transformed from its origin of self-love and freedom of expression within American history into a lifestyle and subculture.
The NHM has brought scores of black woman to a new place in their lives where beauty is no longer gauged solely by European standards. As curls, coils and waves are springing up and demanding to be admired, straight hair is no longer exclusively deemed as desirable. But embracing an afro is manifesting simultaneously with another movement where healthy living, fashion, and political thought encompasses our hair and ties to its existence.
Ties to the Afro
Health consciousness – exercise, natural, organic, veganism, vegetarianism, and reduction of carbon footprint
With the NHM, words like ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ are being overused by beauty brands in an effort to stimulate revenue from the natural hair market. Despite that thinly veiled attempt to milk a new cash cow, many naturals are indeed vegans or vegetarians. Many do pride themselves on healthy eating and using natural or DIY products while also embracing the minimalist lifestyle.
Fashion – bohemian dress, vibrant prints, and vintage dress
Because fashion tends to be trendy, many styles are reflective of the times. Within the black community, naturals tend to gravitate toward thrifting, wearing vintage clothing, and dress somewhat bohemian. I call it a summer festival dress code where comfort meets style and eco friendliness.
Music –alternative, afro punk, neo-soul, and underground rap
It is challenging to assign a true form of music to the afro when black music is no longer just R&B, Blues or Rap. Black music has surged into new genres and welcomed the very differences without judgment. Afro Punk (Indie Rock/ Punk music) is one genre that many naturals are loving and connecting with.
Budgeting – DIY, minimalist living, and thrifting
Budgeting is another trend in but this catalyst is the country’s economic slump. The desire for thrifting and DIY is influenced by fashion tastes and eco consciousness more than necessity. DIY is big in all cultures but naturals have brought DIY to another level with ingredients that most would use for cooking; avocados, honey, olive oil, flax seed…the list could go on forever.
Political – liberal, gender equality, marriage equality, progressive, and race equality
The word progressive has trumped the word liberal, and although it is hard for many to define and differentiate the two, it appears that most afro wearing black women (and men) are on the opposite side of conservatives. There is a push for equality for all people regardless of sex, age, race, and sexual orientation. Now, not all who wear afros or have afro-textured hair fall under these classifications, but a true sense of what the afro means internally and externally are in the eyes of many in 2014. Many sporting the afro would agree that their hair ties closely to their culture and both are openly embraced and appreciated. So, are afros alternative? I would say yes it is, and I see it only evolving far from a fashion trend. It is tied to our beauty, health, political views, and music. Something so deeply rooted could not possibly be a passing fad but a movement worth watching as it continues to progress and thrive