Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Afro, Braid and Dread Wearing Koreans - I Love It

Regular readers know I wear my hair natural. Now that's not a big deal if you don't know the history and politics behind nappy hair. In fact, it was insulting one time when I was out socializing with two white guys who said "oh, we wear our hair natural too". This was after I'd had a bonding moment in a bar in Seoul with a black guy I met who was wearing dreads.

Let me tell you a black woman wearing her hair natural meeting up with a black man who wears dreads is significant because most black men keep their hair closely cut to their heads and most black women, it seems, either straighten it with chemicals or heat or cover it with weaves or wigs.

Let's just say that while almost every race of people have no problems wearing their hair as is, in black culture it's looked upon as odd and subversive. That's not to say that other races don't seek to change, enhance or otherwise just play around with their hair. It's just a bit different when the texture of your hair has literally been vilified.

Now this comes from Africans being held as slaves, colonization, the Tignon Laws (postbellum US law which required black women to cover their hair as not to "offend"), and the eventually internalization of the "super coily Afro hair is bad" aesthetic within the black disapora. However, I've blogged about some of these issues before (hit the archives or the Blogbar to search - use "nappy" as a search term and that should pull them all up if you're curious - they're both in the sidebar on the right).

This is cool.

There seems to be shock that Asians are have now taken on Afro hairstyles. There is a thread on a forum I'm a regular on where people are just beyond shocked. It's rather funny considering I've been seeing it for awhile and just never thought it was that huge of a deal. However, I can't deny that it's a trend that is spreading, but I say fine with me as imitation is the highest form of flattery. I noticed it from the time I arrived here years ago. I saw Koreans with braids break dancing at the top of Busan Tower. When I wore braids as my signature style I also saw Koreans getting them and saw other shops opening which displayed pictures of Korean models with Afro hairstyles.

Well, there is a salon called Bombhead in Seoul. It has three locations: Bundang, Kangnam and Chungdam.

So for all you fashion and trend plebians, here you go. Have fun browsing.
I chose a few pictures but the site has tons. Just go to the "Nappy and Special Hair" section and click to your heart's content. I just wanted to share and smirk a bit while I'm at it.

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  1. ExpatJane
    Once again great article. I was googling ChineseJamicans and I saw an old pic of ChineseJamican woman with a huge fro. I was like whoa neato.Also I was watching Im Sorry I Love YOu starring Korean actor So Ji Sub(Sup)and he had a fro. People kept referring to it as a Reggae Perm, I was like what the hell is a Reggae Perm there is no such thing. Anyway he looked good in it and these men on the Bombhead ads look unique and I will leave it at that.

  2. Thanks for your comment.

    Just click on the link and they have pictures of the "Reggae Perm". They call it the "Dread Perm" on the Bombhead website.

    I think it's interesting that people seem to think that because they haven't heard of it, something doesn't exist. Even back in the day the question of a tree falling in the forest was never a question to me. Of course, it falls even if I don't see it or witness it.

    The world is a big place. Instead of saying there is "no such thing", learn, instead, to ask questions.

    Check out the site. You'll see the styles they can do.

  3. Obviously Koreans have no intention to give that hairstyle any historical/social meaning. They are just fashionistas, and like following trends and showing off.

    But you know what? I honestly think they look strange with dreads or afro hair. It's not their piece of cake...

    However, I guess this is just another evidence of the fact that globalization is advancing at a fast pace.

    I only hope this desire to look trendy doesn't turn into a sort of mass originality, that would end to water down the meaning of what people do, as it happens with cellphone ringtones.

    If all are "original" then nobody is original...

  4. This time I have to come running to their defense because I see this as trendy for sure, but I don't see it as something Koreans need to give a historial or social meaning to.

    Like I wrote, most blacks don't wear their natural texture with pride either. If anyone is responsible for giving these hairstyles their historical and social meaning it's me and other members of the black disapora. Most of us don't know that history however.

    Honestly, they look no more odd than when I see some with bleached and lightened hair. They're seen with lessening frequency, but they're still around.

    I'm of the opinion that most people look best with what they were born with. However, I'm from a race where, unbenknowst to most of the world it seems, we don't wear our hair in it's natural texture. Yet I don't hear a soul saying that the chemicals, heat, wigs and weaves we slap on make us look "strange". I think it's probably because most people believe what they see and they don't see blacks giving their nappy hair loving care and wearing it with pride.

    It's because it's something not frequently seen that it looks odd. However, I've seen Koreans with braids for awhile, I'm used to it. The more that I look at the picture with the afros and dreds, I see myself adjusting to those too.

    If you click around my blog. I'm not on the anti-Korean whiner train that a lot of other foreigners in Korea are on. If it's on point, I'll take on the culture but I try not to make it a habit. There are enough foreigners here who do that. I will point out the silliness, but the US has it too.

    Since they're imitating the texture of hair that grows out of my scalp, my view on this is very positive. They're not stealing. They're exploring and I'm glad to see people exploring nappy hair instead of straight hair for a change. This is one aspect of globalization I don't mind.

  5. My comment didn't intend to criticize the way Koreans are.

    Their culture, history and society are very rich, and they have lots to teach, but I think they are too focused on imitating things instead of being really original and expressing their spirit.

    I agree that people look better in the hairstyle they were born with, so Koreans in dreads or in afro hair still look unusual, even if they can be pleasant to see.

    It's no mystery they have a sort of inferiority complex about whatever is foreign, especially if it's Western, so they seem to think that imitating western trends make them seem cooler and more cosmopolitan than the other "common" koreans.

    Like every other thing, soon they will dismiss the dread trend, ready to imitate a brand new one, possibly from abroad.

  6. ExpatJane
    Thank you for your honesty and I will make sure to ask about certain things including hairstyles. LOL

    Yeah the world is a big place and I believe these hairstyles are not just in Korea correct there everywhere right like in Japan?

    Werent the Japanese rocking these hairstyles for awhile?Also wouldnt it be cool that instead of just exploring hairstyles maybe some Koreans can explore black culture? and I dont mean gangsta rap and sports.

    I do agree though that we as black women need to put down the dye and the weaves and let our hair grow naturally,just as Hines Ward's mother chastised some Koreans for not being real and dying their hair blonde and red yet in still criticizing her for being with a black man. Crazy world isnt it?

  7. Hey jigae...I just wanted to make it clear that me being critical shouldn't be mistaken for dislike.

    I see it as a positive over a negative. I think them trying something new is great.

    I know most Koreans, in spite of the "traditional" this and that, look to pop culture rather than their own. But it's really no different where I'm from either. It would be nice to see kids embracing their cultures but what we usually see is kids embracing pop culture and not much else.

    It's the rare person that has enough sense to shake off the superficial stuff no matter what society.

  8. Hey d -

    The Japanese have had hip-hop rap girls (I forgot what they're called) but they wear the bootylicious fashions, put tanning creams on their skin, do their hair up (supa-weave style) and do their thing. I've heard of similar trends with hip-hop and other genres. Because Japan, like Korea, is more of a group mentality they tend to run together. I saw a good link to Sista in Tokyo who explains it well...let me find it.

    Here it's:

    She breaks it down quite well. I see the negatives too, but I don't expect some young Korean who has been turned on to hip-hop by watching MTV to have a deep understanding. Hell, a lot of hip-hop artists themselves don't seem to have a deep understanding and certainly don't seem to have much of a mission outside of making sure they make a lot of money.

    It's definitely a crazy world. That's for sure.

  9. Punch perms have been very popular in Japan for decades among men in the 20-30 year range (especially yakuza), and there are plenty of kids who do their damnedest to wear their hair in dreadlocks. Cornrows are big in Japan too, and I can't help but think it is sweet. As far as I'm concerned, a Japanese girl with a cornrow looks a lot healthier than the one who bleaches her hair blonde.

    My kids used to beg me to let them dye their hair black so they could look like their friends. It really is a crazy old world.

  10. I think one of the reasons that many African-Americans(or black people period) have problems with Koreans with "Afro hair" is because of all of the hatred that many of us have towards our hair. Many black people will find it hard to believe that other people can see the beauty in our hair when many of us pay our last dollar to have the hair of every other race but our own.

  11. Hi Mary!

    Yes, I think it's nice to see too. I know they've been on this kick in Japan much earlier. They tend to always be ahead of Korea I think due to differences in economic development and different attitudes towards foreigners and foreign things. However, the Koreans are catching up.

  12. hey beauty...

    I don't think it's limited to black who have a loathing for nappy hair because even people who wear their nappy hair as is have issues with this.

    It's funny though because on the forum I mentioned you have opinions that it's one step shy of blackface. That I don't get because blackface and minstral shows make fun of black people and black features. However, if you're going to commit to braids or a perm to napp up your hair that's not something you can wash off or take off after you've gotten your laughs in.

    That's what I mean behind the issues around nappy hair. I don't think a woman with blond hair would be offended at seeing an Asian who'd bleached her hair, but somehow we get blacks who are offended that Asians who've taken on nappy styles.

  13. Love your blog. I admire you. You live in another country, speak the language and TEACH in it. Wow! That's amazing.

    The Koreans don't look out of place with the "nappy hair" or odd to me at all. I've seen enough Blasians (esp. West Indians) to know better.

    I'm sure the Koreans saw people in Hip Hop that resembled them a bit (Blasians, latinos, etc) and decided to take up the look.

    I wear my hair "natural" too.

  14. LOL, NO...

    I live in another country - yes.

    I speak the language - um, if you mean I can take a taxi, yell at the take out guy with basic phrases (yesterday I ordered take out and it took an hour! - they're maybe two blocks from my apartment), and go shopping - sure I speak the language, but I definitely am nowhere close to fluent. In fact, I'll be starting Korean classes next week.

    I also definitely do not teach in Korean. I teach in English.

    Now with that clear, your admiration of me should be lessened to the appropriate level, I hope.

    I don't think they look odd but it's because I deal with nappy hair all the time. The fact is society doesn't see ANYONE wearing nappy styles, so I noticed when I first said to hell with braids, that people didn't quite know what was happening up there. They did like it but they wanted to know how I did it and how long it took, etc.

    I think everyone is adjusting to seeing nappy styles more.

  15. Hey, I know a Korean guy with a natural afro. His hair isn't super kinky like many black people's, but extremely curly. I guess the biggest I saw it was about five inches away from his head all around, making a big globe-like shape. Some of his family have the same hair, others have straight hair. I remember also seeing a picture once of a Chinese woman with naturally curly hair on a forum somewhere. Oh, found it....

  16. thanks for the links. i know that people of african origin are not the only ones with kinky or nappy hair. but that is the case with most.

    thanks for links to the exceptions. i will check them out when i get back home. right now i am in japan and, for the life of me, i cannot figure out how to switch these keyboards around to an english or korean language configuration. i cannot even manage to cut and paste...damn keyboards.

  17. Ah well, I finally double back and try the link aria gave me but it dumps me onto the general forum. I'm not clicking through every link to find the pic.

  18. Wow I find all this fairly condescending... "smirk a bit while I'm at it." Many countries have had (especially) dreadlocks since time immemorial (look at the sadhus in India) and it wasn't related to identifying with people who had an "ours first" mentality. Everybody's style means certain things to them at certain times.

    It's nice that many black people want to believe their style of wearing their hair was "first" but the patronizing tone is unacceptable: "Obviously Koreans have no intention to give that hairstyle any historical/social meaning. They are just fashionistas, and like following trends and showing off.But you know what? I honestly think they look strange with dreads or afro hair." I would love to hear it explained to Koreans how the terribly complicated social and personal choices that led each individual to choose their own style were actually made up by their desire to be black- maybe you can do this when you speak Korean?

    Can I then argue that painted fingernails that CERTAINLY didn't come from "black" culture are a desire to be Japanese? (They've been painting their fingernails for more than a thousand years. Or maybe you could hark back to the Egyptians who probably started that first more than 3000 years ago?) Does this mean your painted toenails are your buried desire to be Egyptian? Or maybe your jeans are you desire to be a Native- American-killing white first settler in America? Do you wear cowboy boots? What does this say about you?
    There's nothing wrong with having pride in your culture and your physical characteristics, and most people especially do this when they come from a line of people who have been terribly marginalized and mistreated ( as many black people have been and still are.) But if Jewish people started saying that all small hats are try-hard kippahs because we all secretly want to be Jewish, and that we wear hats because we are- what was it?- "just fashionistas, and like following trends and showing off" with "no intention to give" it "any historical/social meaning" you'd probably be understandably pissed off. I know some of this is other people's posts, but it all comes off as pretty offensive.

  19. I'm sincerely confused as to what you're referring to as "condescending".

    And, honestly, if condescending is what you take from what I wrote, then you're completely off base.

  20. OMG come to the South Pacific Islands! We know no "better" so everyone rocks their natural hair! I was actually unaware of the stigmatism re nappy hair and for the longest time (when i was a kid mind) I thought the straight stuff was real African American hair and then i relaised they have hair just like me, they just choose to have fake caucasian hair. So happy my people in Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea wear the nappy head proudly and i hope "globalisation" doesn't change that!

  21. Actually, I'd say that you folks are lucky because you escaped the negative conditioning that comes from slavery and racism. Somewhere along the line blacks living in countries/societies where there was black slavery or colonization tried to imitate their masters, literally. Plus, I'm sure people noted that the lighter slaves or biracial blacks got better work and better treatment.

    I mean it makes sense, right? He or she is your illegitimate child, so you try somehow to cut them a bit of a break. (Of course, what would have made the best sense is to fight against racism, slavery and colonization, but, yeah right, that was going to happen.)

    Anyway, somewhere along the line a portion of the black population of this world started hating how they looked and really started hating their hair. I love that people in Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea wear their hair natural too. Globalization probably won't change it significantly if people in those cultures simply continue to love how they look.

    Thanks for your comment.

  22. Yeah, the thing is, of all the East Asians, Koreans have the most naturally kinky hair. Sure, there are a lot who have the typical silky black hair or whatever, but I know quite a few Koreans who have a problem with curly, frizzy hair. My dad, who's Korean, had a semi afro thing going on when he was in college. Now he uses a straightener on his short curly hair (don't ask me why). My mom is white, and she's got stick straight hair, but I ended up with the curly frizzy deal. I was just in West Africa and I'm dreading my hair now, and even though I look completely Asian, I had Africans coming up to me saying they thought it was really cool that I LIKED the way they did their hair despite the fact that I have "soft hair" according to them.

    And trust me, globalization is happening in every way possible. You know fortune cookies? No such thing in China. A completely American made product.

  23. Actually, I lived for over 8 years in Korea. Most Koreans do have silky straight hair. However, unlike what a lot say, some Koreans have mixed ancestry ;) I did also see natural wavy hair and some with frizz, but most Koreans had the usual straight stuff.

    However, no matter what your texture, you should appreciate it for what it does. I don't understand the mindset of wanting or expecting to be like everyone else. All these different types of people is what makes life both interesting and fun (unfortunately, when they're crazy, ignorant or close-minded, it makes the world dangerous too).

    I try to explain to people that Chinese food changes depending on where you are. In Korea, Chinese food changes to suit the tastes of Koreans. The Chinese don't eat jajangmyeon, 자장면, how the Koreans eat it. I found one or two high end restaurants with more authentic Chinese food, but those are rare. I've traveled to China a few times too ;)

    Enjoy the rest of your time abroad and thanks for the comment! Embrace your curly and frizzy hair. I love mine ;)

  24. I always knew Koreans were really black. Ha!

  25. Since I'm black, I'm not quite sure what you mean by that. It could read as a joke or as an insult if it's based on negative stereotypes. I'll assume the first.


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