My white friends do not understand the importance placed on a woman's hair in black society. Perhaps it is because they don't have quite as many choices to make as I do. A choice of hairstyle isn't only about fashion. To straighten or not to straighten -- that is a weighty decision. There are still some black people who see a woman who straightens her hair as someone who wants to conform with white society. Natural and more ethnic styles like braids and locs are becoming more mainstream but there aren't universally accepted.
I think that black men notice a woman's hair more than men of other races. I've listened to my husband and his friends; they have definite ideas about how they want a woman's hair to look. One of his friends likes short hair on women. He notices the crispness of a fresh cut, and he theorizes that a woman with short hair takes better care of herself because frequent salon visits are required to maintain a short cut. That old joke about the husband not noticing that the wife got her hair done? You won't see that often in a black household.
As a mother, how I maintain my daughters' hair reflects on my parenting skills. A child with matted hair will reflect badly on a mother of any race, but it goes beyond that. A little black girl can't get away with messy hair, even if she has been playing outside all day. A good mother would make sure her daughter's hair was cornrowed regularly to make sure it looked neat in all situations. A very good mother would know how to do the cornrows herself.
I've gone back and forth when it comes to the statement I want to make with my own hair. I am not ashamed of the natural texture of my hair, but I have trouble finding natural styles that I like once they are on my own head. This means I straighten my hair, but I feel guilty about it. My daughters aren't as conflicted. Two of my daughters are happy with their straightened hair. My third girl has natural hair, and the styles that looked unkempt on my head are precious on hers. All three of them are too young to know the implications of their choices; to them, it is all about fashion. Perhaps in another generation or so, black people will get to a point where hair is just hair.