Headwraps and the African-American Slave

Top Left:  Slave women and men wearing  headwraps   Top Right:  Black " Mammy " taking care of white child  Bottom:   African and Afro-Latina  slaves in headwraps

Top Left: Slave women and men wearing headwraps Top Right: Black "Mammy" taking care of white child Bottom: African and Afro-Latina slaves in headwraps

Headwraps were once worn by both male and female slaves as a sign of power (or lack thereof) in the days of American slavery. Soon, it became solely a woman’s accessory. Most slave owners viewed headwraps as a sign of poverty and subordination so they made sure that the slave women had enough material to wear the head garments at all times. In fact, much like the Tignon Laws of the late 1700s, slave women were required by law to wear these headwraps.

Emerging from the stigma behind black female slaves and the headwrap, the character “Mammy” evolved. The mammy, which is a stereotype that still exist today, is a representation of a black woman who always wears a headwrap, takes care of a white family, and remains faithful to her “owners” or employers. The headscarf in this case is crucial in the same way that the cowboy hat is to the cowboy. Due to this stereotype, the African-American female slave and the headwrap became inseparable.

But the headwrap was not all negative connotations. It served as protection for the hair of slaves while they worked under the sun in harsh conditions. Just like we wear protective styles now, black female slaves tied their hair in various styles so that it did not get damaged from the sun. Before these women were shipped off into slavery, they used other protective styles like braids, plats, and twists. But once they were sold, they were shaved and erased of their identity. As their hair grew back, they did not have the the resources nor time for these styles, so they took on the headwrap.  They tied these wraps in different ways to reflect the cultures from which they came.

The hair of African-American women has always been a topic of debate. For instance, in recent years, we still see black women losing their jobs because of the way they wear their natural hair. Luckily, black women continuously find unique and beautiful ways to both protect and show off the gift that they were born with.