We all know black women rock hair scarves like no other. This tradition is beyond timeless, and even influences other traditions like our moms’, grandmas’ and aunties’ dramatic church hats and other ways black women style their hair today. But did you know the roots for this trend come from oppression?
Let’s go back a bit. Back in the 1700s, slavery was unfortunately alive and well in the New World. The Louisiana government wanted to regulate how slaves and white colonists interacted. This led to the passage of the “Code Noir” in 1724 — sort of an early predecessor to the American South’s racist Jim Crow laws in the 1960s.
These laws contained many rules surrounding religion (everyone had to be Catholic — so much for religious freedom), the French language and other French traditions. It also banned the mixing of races through marriage.
But the Code Noir wasn’t heavily enforced. There just weren’t enough French women in the colonies at the time, and New Orleans needed to keep its population up African soldiers and labor. Soon enough, Africans and the French were getting freaky together and “Creoles” were born.
For those who don’t know, Creoles are people mixed with European (mainly French) and African descent, usually in the region surrounding New Orleans. Beyonce’s family has Creole ancestry.
Interracial relationships ended up becoming an acceptable thing in the French colony. Years later, when the Spanish came to buy New Orleans in 1786, they were shook at what the hell was going on, all the mixing of races and these lighter skin Africans being made at pretty big numbers.
It is said that black and white women in this colony competed with each other in beauty, dressing and status. Black women added jewels to their hair and the texture of black hair and biracial hair was completely different than white women’s, which intrigued French men. Many Creole and African women became the mistresses of higher-up men, which upped their status as well.
The free Black population was so big that the Spanish changed a lot of laws. In an attempt to lower the Creole culture and put black people, women especially, in their place, the Spanish governor Esteban Rodriguez Miró passed the Tignon Law stating that all African women had to wear tignons (head-wrap), in order to show their lower status in society.
This law was an attempt to make black women feel less than and to hate their hair. Historian Virginia M. Gould noted that Miró hoped the law would control women “who had become too light skinned or who dressed too elegantly, or who, in reality, competed too freely with white women for status and thus threatened the social order.”
Of course black women took this negative and shitty law and made it a trend. Tignons became fashion statements and are still being worn today. Black women decorated their head wraps and used fabric with bold colors and wrapping techniques that were super dope and creative.
The moral of this mini history lesson is to of course say that black women are the shit. Something that was meant to make black women feel inhumane and non-existent in the long run did the opposite.