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The #dmxchallenge celebrates the diversity of women of colour’s hairstyles

TextLakeisha Goedluck

WOC around the world are sharing their hair stories and defying hair discrimination

What These B*tches Want” has always been one of New York rapper DMX’s most popular songs – mainly thanks to the bridge. In the track, DMX positions himself as a casanova and goes on to extensively list his conquests: “There was Brenda, LaTisha, Felicia (okay), Dawn, LeShaun, Ines, and Alicia (ooh).

Featuring a total of 47 names (including three Kims), the line-up has inspired a viral internet challenge centred around hair. The #dmxchallenge involves women cutting numerous photographs/videos together to show themselves sporting different make-up looks and hairstyles to represent each of the rapper’s fabled lovers.

Women of various backgrounds have partaken in the challenge, but the demographic that seems to be the most involved has been women of colour. From different coloured wigs to braids to locs, black women have utilised the challenge to show that hair can be transformative – so much so that a person can end up looking entirely different. With celebrities like Jada Pinkett Smith and Gabrielle Union getting involved in the viral movement, the challenge has become somewhat of a testament to the creativity of WOC. Where weaves and wigs were once emblematic of white ownership for black people during the slave trade, in modern times, fake hair has come to symbolise cultural pride.

UK-based DJ Siobhan Bell received a lot of attention on Instagram for her take on the challenge. “I thought it was funny (seeing the) same person but a whole new person – that’s how I feel when I change my wigs,” she explains. “I actually change my hair all the time and also name my wigs, so (the challenge) made sense.” This opportunity to show how much black women wildly experiment with their hair has given the community an essential outlet says Shantella, a dancer from Atlanta who’s also taken part in the challenge. “Not many women can pull off multiple hairstyles, colours, textures and lengths, but we can and our beauty shines through every time,” she muses. “Black women are magical, and I feel like when people watch the #dmxchallenge videos, they see it.”

“I thought it was funny (seeing the) same person but a whole new person – that’s how I feel when I change my wigs. I actually change my hair all the time and also name my wigs, so (the challenge) made sense” – Siobhan Bell 

Jenn is a self-described natural hair influencer from Ontario who thinks that the challenge has served to uplift people of colour: “Hair has a special place in the black community, whether you’re a female or male,” she says. “It’s brought so many of us together, with a common goal – to proudly show off our hair.” Amriye, a hairstylist from Ethiopia, agrees: “I think this challenge has had a positive impact on the black community in general – I hope that it helps young black people feel confident and empowered in our versatility and beauty.” 

However, whether natural or synthetic, people of colour are still penalised for their hair. A mere two years ago, the US military tried to impose sanctions on hairstyles predominantly worn by black women. Furthermore, it was only in July of this year that the state of New York passed legislation which outlaws the discrimination of an employee based on their hairstyle – and New York is just the second state in the entire country to do so. For now, black people continue to be fired from their jobs and sent home from school, simply for how they choose to wear their hair. 

The #dmxchallenge may seem like a throwaway viral moment for some, but for WOC in particular, it’s an opportunity for self-expression, collective defiance and cultural liberation. In accordance with the natural hair movement that’s also sweeping across social media, the challenge is verifiable proof that black girl magic comes in all lengths and cuts.

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