Black Women’s Hair: Salisbury Style
Tahlia McLendon braids hair for a living, a professional calling rooted in family, regional, and cultural history. In the 1500s, braids were a mode of communication between African societies. Hair style also communicated details about an individual’s identity, such as marital status and beliefs. Though some see haircare today as a form of fashionx or vanity, it actually remains a complex assertion of Black culture and identity. Viewed by some as the “first form of fiber or textile art,” hair has played a major role in Black history and continues to be a symbol of resistance, freedom, and of creative and emotional expression. Whether bringing families together or helping children establish a sense of self, the power and significance behind Black haircare carries deep roots.
Born and raised in the neighborhood once known as Waterside in Salisbury, McLendon and her sisters learned about hair management from their mother, Salisbury Councilwoman April Jackson. A feminine bonding ritual that happened while the women in the family gathered in the living room or around the kitchen table, these experiences tell a story of family and identity–where discussions happened and lessons were learned. With these memories deeply ingrained, McLendon pursued a career as a beautician. She works at Thee Essenze Hair Salon and Barbershop in New Castle, Delaware, but frequently visits her family in Salisbury. Specializing in braiding, flat-iron services, and natural haircare, McClendon feels that she learned about 70% of what she does as a beautician during those bonding sessions at home, including her interactions with clients. As a stylist, she has to have an open personality as well as people skills, and be relatable. Frequently, hair stylists act as advisers and provide therapy and life coaching. “When you come into a Black salon, you get an experience,” she exclaims.
Demonstrating different techniques of hair braiding, McLendon and her sisters, Raeshema Hitch and Dia Hitch, will also share the importance and meaning of this family-turned-occupational tradition. Whether it’s an upscale salon or at home in the kitchen, the beauty shop is a symbolic icon rooted in culture, tradition, and identity.