Black hair discrimination has gained increased visibility in recent years. This is partly due to reported stories of discriminatory school or work policies that have prevented Black women from wearing their natural afro or curly hair out in work or school environments. Black female public figures, including former American first lady, Michelle Obama, as well as Dutch politician, Sylvana Simons, have also been the targets of Black hair discrimination. In Sylvana’s case, an appearance on a Dutch programme called De Wereld Draait Door, resulted in a series of racist responses online aimed at her afro hairstyle. This raises questions about how racial representations of Black hair influence the socio-political position of Black women in western societies and more specifically in the Netherlands. Black hair as a racially charged symbol can evoke negative reactions which can have damaging effects on the social realities of Black women living in urban spaces. In an attempt to investigate the extent of these effects, qualitative research was conducted to interrogate how race is articulated in Dutch capital cities through imagery of Black hair salons and the experiences of Black women who frequent Black hair salons. In order to examine how race manifests in contemporary Dutch society, the roots of race and racism were traced back to the colonial era. By tracing the historical legacy of race and racism in Europe, race relations in the Netherlands was contextualized and served as a point of departure for the examination of the articulation of race in modern urban spaces. In order to understand how Black women connect their Black hair practices and experiences of going to Black hair salons to their positionality, interviews were conducted with 10 participants. To supplement this inquiry, 60 images were collected of Black and White hair salons in the nexus of the cosmopolitan cities of Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam. Critical discourse analysis and visual analysis were employed to analyse the varied data. The findings highlighted the intersections between race and gender as factors that contribute to inferior representations of Black hair and Black beauty. Ultimately, the research results revealed that race was consistently articulated through dominant representations of White beauty and western aesthetics, whereas Black hair and consequently Black women were undermined through a lack of representation.

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Sommier, M.
Media, Culture & Society
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication

Mashigo, Palesa. (2020, June 29). When They See Our Hair: Detangling the roots of racial representation in The Netherlands through the imagery of Black hair salons in Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam. Media, Culture & Society. Retrieved from