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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Tignon Law: The Public Restrictions on Black Women’s Natural Hair


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Ever heard of Tignon law? The law that prohibited black women from showing their hair in public?

Glad to know that such laws no longer exist. It is no news that Black ladies are highly praised and revered for their hair.

For Black women, it’s not “just hair” for a variety of reasons. Anti-Black hair sentiment in Western society has been present for generations prior to the 1960s.

“Black is Beautiful” and natural hair movements, most notably in colonial Louisiana when a number of laws including Tignon law outright forbade Creole women from showing their hair in public.

Black hair texture is ideal for creating distinctive styles like braids and the afro. 

Even mainstream media frequently imitates fashions created and suited to women with Afrocentric hair without expressing gratitude.

However, there was a time when black women were forbidden from wearing their hair out in public. Yes, their hair was so beautiful that it was illegal. 

They were forced to conceal this beauty using a tignon (A tignon otherwise known as tiyon is a type of headdress worn to hide hair.) 

Early on, a New Orleans Atlas makes a point of highlighting the peculiar ways in which the city and its inhabitants are both pulled together by a shortage of land. 

Early immigration, enslavement, and the persistent class divisions of an ever-evolving metropolis contributed to racial segregation in the 1700s, resulting in a civilization that both seems careless in its racial mixing and antiquated in its rules and the consequent servitude of its products.

In order to separate themselves from the enslaved Africans they had supposedly transcended and the white New Orleanians who still considered them as clearly “other,” Gens de couleur libres (free people of colour) adhered to a special set of laws. 

The Tignon laws were one of several regulations designed to stop people of African heritage, especially women, from fully transcending blackness.

Despite being intended to oppress, humiliate, and carry on the country’s heinous history of controlling black femininity and presentation, these laws and the scarves themselves were reinterpreted in extraordinary ways by women of colour, and the results can still be observed in African-American culture today.

Continue reading to learn more about the Tignon Law and how they were used to exacerbate racial tensions in the United States.

Introduction of Tignon law

The numbers of free Africans and African Americans in New Orleans increased in the late 18th century as a result of new economic opportunities and prosperity. 

This happened as a result of certain people of African origin being able to earn money for the first time, purchase their freedom, and thereby increase the number of Black people who were free. 

To the dismay of colonial officials, this led to a rise in interracial pairings. Charles III of Spain demanded that the colonial governor of Louisiana “establish public order and proper standards of morality,” with specific reference to  women in particular,” as Ze Winters writes in The Mulatta Concubine: Terror, Intimacy, Freedom, and Desire in the Black Transatlantic.

Women of African ancestry were known to arrange their hair elaborately throughout this time. 

Tignon Law
source: Twitter

They displayed the full enchantment and beauty of their gravity-defying strands by integrating feathers and jewellery into their hairstyles, giving the impression that they were wealthier than they actually were. 

These alluring fashions consequently caught the interest of men, including white men.

To address this “problem” black women in Louisiana were compelled to wear head coverings under the Tignon Laws in the 1700s because their stunning, intricate hairstyles were viewed as a threat to the status quo. 

The tignon legislation, often referred to as the chignon law, was issued in 1786 by Esteban Rodriguez Miró, the Spanish governor of Louisiana, which required African women to cover their heads with a tignon. 

Although the purpose of the regulation was to prevent plaçage unions and link freed black women to those who were enslaved, it has been said that the women who adhered to it turned the headpiece into a “symbol of difference.”

A French law known as the “Code Noir,” or “black code,” placed limitations on the lives of people of colour residing in French colonies. 

It was initially developed in 1685 to be used in the Caribbean colonies, but in 1724 it was expanded to include Louisiana. 

A comparable rule was implemented twice by Spanish authorities, once in 1769 and once in 1778. 

Esteban Rodriguez Miró served as Spain’s governor of Louisiana by 1786. His disapproval of certain black women’s actions was based on his belief that they displayed “too much luxury in their bearing.” 

White ladies started pleading with Miró to take action to stifle non-white fashion.

Tignon Law

Regardless of whether they were actually enslaved, women of colour were required to cover their hair with a scarf or handkerchief according to the “proclamation of good government”, which also stated that “the Negras Mulatas, y quarteronas can no longer have feathers nor jewellery in their hair.”

They must, as they have become accustomed to, wear their hair plain or, if they are of higher status.

Miró hoped the laws would control women “who had become too light skinned or who dressed too elegantly, or who competed too freely with white women for status and thus threatened the social order,” according to historian Virginia M. Gould in her book The Devil’s Lane: Sex and Race in the Early South.

But black women didn’t give up hope. Instead, they followed the law and made it fashionable. 

The women’s use of distinctive colors, gems, ribbons, and wrapping techniques emphasised their beauty even further. 

This gave rise to the different headbands worn by women of colour today that have distinctive fabrics, designs, and flair. 

Women in the Caribbean islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Dominica have been seen wearing tignons. 

To make their head ties, they used Madras, a fabric that was popular with both free and enslaved women.

Effects of Tignon Law

The Tignon Law ceased to be in effect after the United States acquired Louisiana in 1803 through the Louisiana Purchase. 

Even yet, some African-American women who were enslaved or free wore head coverings as a sign of defiance against white colonisation.

Empress Joséphine of France eventually embraced the headdress, and although white ladies in New Orleans originally stopped wearing their hair in the style. 

It gradually gained favour in the early 19th century before waning in the 1830s.

However, many Black women started straightening their hair by the end of the 19th century in an effort to fit into a culture that had developed a Eurocentric standard of beauty. 

This all began with the use of heated combs, which a French hairdresser introduced in 1872, and spread under the influence of Madam C.J. Walker, who created a number of products for straightening Black women’s hair and became the first Black woman to become a billionaire. 

Also read: A Brief History on Cornrows

The afro thereafter became the preferred haircut during the Black pride movements of the 1960s and 1970s. It was viewed as a form of protest against the dominant white culture.

The Civil Rights Movement, the abolition of slavery, and the election of the nation’s first Black president have all occurred in the centuries afterwards. 

Nevertheless, have things changed for the hair of Black women? One might say yes in a sense. 

Although even in 2018, many people are still surprised by natural hair. 

People find it fascinating. But times have certainly changed. 

Here we are, removing our figurative tignons and proudly displaying our kinks and curls.

From the former US First Lady, Michelle Obama flaunting her natural hair to the globe witnessing ladies like Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis of Black Panther as they grace screens and stages globally. 

Research claims 71% of Black individuals wore their hair naturally at least once in 2016, and between 2011 and 2016, “Black spending on relaxers decreased 30.8%.” 

It is indeed impressive to see more Black women are feeling at ease with their hair standing up and sticking out. The definition of beauty in our culture is evolving gradually but steadily.

As women of the African diaspora continue to look to the past and find inspiration in this singular historical example of inventiveness in the face of institutional debasement, numerous interpretations of tignons have recently seen a cultural rebirth.

Therefore, keep in mind that history shows that the real reason your hair is considered unruly is because it is so beautiful that it has the potential to overthrow white supremacy. 

This is for all kinky-haired girls who are frustrated with what they see in the mirror, cringe as the comb gets stuck in their coily strands, and are tempted by the allure of the “creamy crack.”

It is beautiful and we love to see it Queens. 


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