Newly elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has never been one to shy away from talking about hot-button topics. In the past, she has spoken out against everything from sexism to socioeconomic inequality. Now, Ocasio-Cortez can add “hair activist” to her list of accomplishments.
In a post shared to her Instagram story, Ocasio-Cortez shared her latest hairstyle: a single corn-rowed braid on the left side of her head.
Ocasio-Cortez described her decision to wear the braid as a way for her to “honor the African and Indigenous heritage that is part of being Puerto Rican.”
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Own your power. . For so many, it’s radical to feel comfortable in your own skin – and to know that you are more than enough, just as you are. . One of my favorite quotes is from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” . So take up space. Speak up. Hold the door open and take others with you. Accept that you will be criticized no matter what – that is the price of fighting for change and innovation. I consider constructive criticism a blueprint for improvement and a medicine for ego. . Ultimately, the people who get down, stay focused in adversity, and do the thankless work of change are the ones who transform society. We can all be a part of that, if we so choose. We can all knock a door, register our cousin to vote, or educate ourselves on an issue we’re curious about. . We are all capable of awakening and commitment. And because of that, we can all be great. . 📸: @gigilaub
A post shared by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@ocasio2018) on
Needless to say, the House of Representatives is hardly a place where braids are commonly seen on the heads of its members. Obviously aware of the precedent, Ocasio-Cortez explained why she felt it was necessary to wear her hair in a braid as a Congresswoman.
In her post, Ocasio-Cortez wrote, “My family is Afro-Latina. When my niece was very little, it upset me to see how early she started to feel that her big, curly, beautiful, natural hair was anything other than gorgeous. I don’t want my little nieces to ever be told that their hair or their braids are “unprofessional”. That’s why I chose to wear one today–to MAKE it normal and celebrated, with respect and honor to our ancestors, and to let every little girl out there know that they can bring her braids to congress too”.
Ocasio-Cortez’s words rang true for many Latinas on Twitter who have gone through their own personal natural hair journeys.
TFW you're pretty much sure you're in love with someone and then they say something that resonates so deeply with you, you didn't even realize you needed those words… grateful for @Ocasio2018 emerging on the national scene this year and doing things like this 👇🏽👇🏽👇🏽 pic.twitter.com/XkdeDlUDgl
— Dr. Vanessa K.Valdés (@valdes23) November 22, 2018
Sometimes it’s hard for marginalized communities to even know what they’re missing in terms of representation until someone shows it to them.
Afro-Latinas responded to the heartfelt message with ones of their own.
“They can bring their braids to Congress too,” 😭😭😭
— D (@daynajclk) November 21, 2018
As trivial as it may sound to some, something as simple as wearing a braided hairstyle in a space that has historically been dominated by white men is enough to make a profound impact.
This fellow Baricua gave a shout-out to Ocasio-Cortez for using her platform as a woman of color to uplift other WOC who leave their hair natural.
— Phoenix Aurora 🌺♈️🇵🇷 (@Taino_Library) November 26, 2018
In the past, women of color who have worn their hair curly or in traditionally black hairstyles like cornrows or braids, have been lambasted by employers for looking “unprofessional”. As we know, the standard for “professional” hair is socially constructed, with straight hair (i.e., white hair) being upheld as the ideal.
And of course, others decided to celebrate the fact that Ocasio-Cortez recognized her Afro-Latina heritage, which can be difficult for some Afro-Latinas.
— The_Shaman_The_Griot (@KngWzr_D) November 22, 2018
As many of us know, many Latinas are hesitant to embrace the mixed black ancestry of their background because of Latinidad’s unfortunate inheritance of structural racism against Black people.
It would be an understatement to say that a politician talking about the ubiquity of Euro-Centric beauty standards is new territory. The fact that Ocasio-Cortez understands and speaks about the complex identity of being an Afro-Latina is groundbreaking in politics. Furthermore, her speaking out against the widespread idea that natural hair and braids are “unprofessional” is also groundbreaking. Again, this just proves that Ocasio-Cortez is exactly the type of phenomenal Latina our country needs in its government to truly make a difference.