An afro, sometimes called a "natural" or shortened to
"fro", is a hairstyle in which the hair extends out from the
head like a halo or cloud. This may or may not include wearing such afros
long, to several times the diameter of the head. An afro requires curly
hair and often, but not always, Afro textured hair, which typically people
of indigenous African descent naturally have. Wearing Afro's became a fad
in the 1970s.
Anyone of any ethnic background is capable of acquiring an afro if they
have curly hair. With naturally kinky hair, the spiraling, tightly coiled
curls can be straightened out somewhat, giving the hair added volume and
length, by first braiding the hair, then separating the coils using an
afro pick. The afro pick is an adaptation of a traditional African
grooming instrument, which is essentially a narrow comb with long, widely
In 1963, when most Black women were loath to be seen in public with
unstraightened hair, actor Cicely Tyson sported cornrows or a
"TWA" (a "teeny, weeny afro") in the popular network
television series East Side, West Side. Following the example of
Bob Dylan - who is Jewish and who had let his curly hair grow out - Jimi
Hendrix became one of the first popular entertainers to have a large afro.
The afro also had political connotations with Malcolm X calling conked
hair "a step towards self-degradation". The afro style was a
repudiation of the use of hair straighteners to mimic the straightness of
Oscar Gamble (how did he keep his cap on?) and Darnell Hillman (a 7
footer, until he had a haircut!) had two of the best 'Fros in the
Super70s sports world.
Courtesy of Topps
The afro gained popularity during the 1960s and 1970s, in connection
with the growth of the Black Pride and Black Power political movements,
and the emergence of blaxploitation
films and disco music. Among Blacks, afros were considered a
proclamation of "Black is Beautiful!" a popular slogan of the
time. They became symbols of race pride; progressive, often leftist
political leanings; and militancy. In northern and western states Afros
were seen popularly worn in ghettos such as Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant,
and Watts as early as 1965 and 1966. In the southern US however, it was
not a popular hairstyle until 1969 and 1970. However, during the later
half of the 1970s, the style passed into the cultural mainstream and for
many people became simply a fashion that sometimes even Caucasian men (and
women) with looser, less curly hair adopted.
Afros are not always worn by Blacks only - for an humanoid in the
Dustin Hoffman film Marathon Man of Cuban or Puerto Rican descent
sported an Afro in the film and In the Blues
Brothers feature film (1980) - musician Donald "Duck"
Dunn was seen with an Afro, not to mention Don Henley (the music video for
which usually shows on VH1 featured Henley with an Afro).
Afros enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence in the early 2000s, and have
remained popular with many African Americans, who continue to wear them as
an affirmation of the natural beauty of African descended people, a
rejection of European aesthetics and a symbol of political consciousness.
Others, including members of other ethnic groups (e.g. Pacific Islanders),
wear the style simply as an edgy or retro fashion.
Afro's in Today's Pop Culture
Today afros are used in popular culture for comedic effect, especially
in comedies from the 90s era due to their unique dimensions. A common joke
involves the hiding of objects in the person's hair. In the movie Leprechaun
in the Hood, for instance, a character played by Ice-T pulls a
baseball bat from his afro; this scene is a satire of a similar scene in
the blaxploitation classic Foxy
Brown, in which Pam Grier hides a revolver in her afro. Another
Grier film, Coffy (1973)
depicted a scene where she plants razor blades in her afro before a
Another kind of afro joke is seen in a 70s flashback sequence of the
Leslie Nielsen comedy The
Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, where Nordberg (played by
unconvicted killer O. J. Simpson) sports an afro so large that he's unable
to walk through a door. One of Victoria Principal's films (1974's Earthquake)
featured her character in an "afro", and the James Bond film Moonraker
depicted a scene with a member of Drax's master race sporting an
"afro". Afros often pop up in anime with characters such as
Nabeshin and Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, both of whom seemingly derive mystical
powers from their afros. Additionally, Noboru Yamaguchi of the series
Cromartie High School sports an afro which seems to change in size and
consistency during a scene.
Black beauties with
colorful hair grace a float during the
annual Bud Billiken Day parade along Dr.
Martin King Jr. Drive on Chicago's south
side. Up to half a million people view one
of the largest events of the year, held for
blacks of all ages and economic status. The
parade also includes black politicians,
black businesses displaying their products
and black bands. NARA