Curlfest is a liberation party for black and brown women. The event, which initially began as a festival centered around the celebration of naturally textured hair, has grown into a cultural and political movement where people of color can embrace themselves for who they are—inside and out.
The event is held annually, first kicking off in New York City before heading to Atlanta. This year, New York had a two-day celebration. People thriving to show off their natural tresses, curls, twists and braids, bald-and-beautiful, ‘locks and coils flocked to Randall’s Island in Manhattan on Saturday, where thousands fellowshipped over hair and beauty, food and music, and simply related with one another over shared interests, heritage and culture. Curlfest 2019 concluded on Sunday with “Roller Set,” a throwback ‘90s skate party for attendees to continue the vibe of self-love and to relish in the culture constantly deemed inappropriate and unprofessional within many American arenas.
During a time where there seems to be a constant war on women of color, Curlfest serves as a sanctuary for black and brown women to cultivate their natural essence. Racist and misogynistic attacks are nothing new but the assaults have reached higher altitudes when the president verbally bashes four congresswomen of color, telling them to go back to where they allegedly came from (which would be ... America) as he seeks to shut down their constructive criticism on what could help the U.S. be more progressive and inclusive.
Senator and 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris has faced birther conspiracy theories in an attempt to cast doubt on her ability to run for national leadership. (For the record, she was born in California.) Olympic athlete Caster Semenya from South Africa has been targeted for her appearance and deemed unsuitable to compete with other women in track and field—simply because she doesn’t adhere to Western standards in regards to femininity. Even a 6-year-old boy was banned from a Florida school for having dreadlocks.
Curlfest is the alternative universe to those racist, preconceived notions. Started in 2014 by Curly Girl Collective, its purpose was to change the conversation about what was deemed attractive and desirable in the beauty industry. So many times, black and brown women are chastised for the way their hair simply grows out of their heads in schools, sports, and on the job. And more often than not, those black and brown women are pressured to conform to society’s standards in order to make others feel more comfortable about their hair.
Earlier this month, New York state passed a bill to ban hair discrimination. California became the first state in the country to pass a similar law in June, saying that the discrimination—more or less—was a punishment for black and brown people naturally being themselves.
With events like Curlfest, people of color are able to reclaim their identities, to celebrate who they were born to become. Conversations can help others understand how there are so many avenues of oppression, and hair has just been another layer of stress and angst that black and brown people had to endure for centuries—whether it perpetuated other issues of colorism within their own communities, awkward talks at work that should definitely have been HR violations, and, above all, the amount of self-deprecation and hate that has been embedded for generations within those communities of color.
Curlfest is not just about hair. Far from it. It’s telling those young brown girls playing with dolls that it’s OK to pick the one that looks like them. It’s telling that pageant girl that she doesn’t have to process and damage her hair to wear someone else’s crown. It’s telling a woman that she can stay in the sun as long as she wants, no matter how brown she already is. It’s assuring groups of people that they can “act black” in public and not feel ashamed. Curlfest is the process of turning back centuries of perceived inferiority, and centering an appreciation for ancestors and cultural journeys. It’s a celebration of a rebirth in confidence for someone to have pride in their own skin, head-to-toe.