In the Western world, afro-textured hair has historically been treated with disdain, by members of all ethnicities. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Atlantic slave trade saw black Africans forcibly transported from Sub-Saharan Africa to North America and, upon their arrival in the New World, their heads would be shaved in effort to not only prevent the spread of lice but to erase their culture, as many Africans used hairstyles to signify their tribal identity, marital status, age, and other personal characteristics. Early on, both men and women would wear headscarves in order to protect their scalps from sunburn and lice but, as time progressed, these hair wraps became more associated with women, who began to wear them in various fashions, based on their region and personal style. In the 19th century, when slaves were no longer being imported from Africa, quality of life increased for them somewhat as they became more valuable in their owners' eyes. Now enjoying Sundays off, black women would take the day to style their hair, uncovering it for church services but keeping it wrapped Monday through Saturday. As traditional styling tools weren't available to them, black women began to use butter, kerosene, and bacon grease and combs meant for livestock to style their hair.
The concept of good hair arose in the time leading up to the abolition of slavery in the United States. Slaves who worked in the home didn't wear headscarves as field laborers did and, as they were often children of a white man in the family that owned them, they were more likely to have straight hair than kinky or curly. To straighten their hair, black women would often use a mixture of lye, which could burn their skin. In New Orleans, Louisiana, in the 18th century, black and Louisiana Creole women were required by law to wear a tignon, to cover their hair, and, in an act of resistance, did so but adorned their wraps with fine fabrics and jewelry.
Madam C. J. Walker, an African American businesswoman, achieved great fortune and recognition for creating a popular relaxer, which would straighten afro-textured hair.