Nomadic me

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Natural hair revolution

on October 20, 2012

This was originally published on an old blog of mine in 2010. My thoughts on this have evolved and developed but the fundamentals outlined in this post remain the same.

To fro, or not to fro..that, is the question..

I think I must have been born with a thick head of hair, in all my baby pictures it’s the same, a smiling little girl with an exquisite mass of black hair. My long suffering Ghanaian mother had a job on her hands, and it was a job well done, she painstakingly combed and braided my hair throughout my childhood and early teens. My crowning glory came with a price though, it hurt like anything. So when I reached 19 I thought I’d get it relaxed, so it would be straight, and pretty and easy. No more battling with my afro comb to unravel the inevitables tangles and clumps in my hair!No more sitting for hours upon end whilst someone braided my hair! And no more being envious of the girls who “swung” their hair behind them as they bobbed down the street!It was never about self hatred to me, or about fitting in, it was about what was convenient. And plus it looked good. This was just my preference..I think?

I‘ve grown to realise that there is a fine line between preference and prejudice, and it’s so difficult to unpick the almost invisible thread which seperates these two, or perhaps they are not two separate and disinct things, but rather prejudice is merely a more extreme manifestation of preference, therefore they are on a continuum. Perhaps we need to start rethinking words, and look deeper into meanings; is preference often just a socially acceptable form of prejudice?

That’s what I had to ask myself over the years each time I went to the hairdresser. I had read the bluest eye at age 16 and was moved by the story of racial self hatred within 1920s America, Pecola the main character wanted blue eyes. She was black. This was ugly, and was as distasteful to the author as it was to me. Ironically, having grown up in a very white town in Scotland I had never encountered this before,  so it was a foreign concept to me which I mistakenly put down to being a uniquely American experience. I was shocked to encounter it when I moved down to England and began spending more time with other black people here in Britain,and found so many of them enslaved by the white beauty myth and believing that dark skin, nappy hair and big lips were unattractive for women, and that somehow having light skin, light eyes and “good hair” was the beauty ideal for black women. In other words, the fallacy that black women who look more ‘white’ are beautiful.

It’s almost become an unspoken sentiment in the black community that if we have soft loose spiral curls or “mixed hair’ it’s okay to wear it out, any more afro than that and we need to straighten it, braid or it, or just hide it under Indian remi.

Perhaps now is the time for us to rewrite the rule books, be rebels, be radical, and challenge te accepted discourse on what is beautiful and what is not. So here, in my world I am trying to reignite some debate,passion and the revisiting of old ways of thinking, and to critically appraise and analyse the accepted discourse on beauty, the taken for granted assumptions and “truths” about what is attractive and what is not.

So what is the difference between prejudice and prejudice?The bottom line is, I’m still not sure how what the answer to that is, I’m not entirely convinced that these two things are anaethema to each other, and I would still contend that to some extent- the lines are blurrred. However, I will say for the purpose of this argument that the two can be distinguished by what they are informed by; preference will be wholesome and peculiar to that person for no obvious reason; for example I love the color lilac, I wasn’t brought up to think that, or taught this, nor was it particularly the main colour projected by the media. Conversely, prejudice will often appear to be something intrinsic to a person and therefore will lay masquerade as an inate preference, however under careful scrutiny and honest  reflection it will become evident that it has been formed and moulded by external influences.

So now ten years on from reading the Bluest Eye, I’m still not sure about how much I have been affected by the negative media images of black women, and the focus on white and European as beautiful. I’ve been reconditioning myself and my thoughts, both consciously and unconsciously.  I’ve began to hate the language surrounding natural hair, every time I visit the hairdresser they tell me I have so much new growth?Is my natural hair a tumour or a cancer? Is it something that must be removed or treated?

I give a loud and defiant NO in answers to these questions, my natural hair is beautiful, God blessed me with it and I should not feel that it is unprofessional or too ”out there” to wear it out in it’s pure and  unadulterated afro glory. So I eventually decided that I would relax my hair one more time, and that would be it for the foreseeable future..I began 2010 with a relaxer free commitment and hope to continue with this for many years..if I should go back to relaxed hair I will not feel I have failed. I am not against relaxed hair, and I certainly do not believe it is synonymous with self hate or self loathing, just as I do not believe natural hair necessarily is indicative of black pride.

However, what I am against is the unspoken yet accepted ideal that I must always hide my natural hair, that having relaxed is hair is not a style which I may or may not choose to adopt but it is obligatory. I’ve exercised my legitimate right to choose to use chemicals for the past decades; its now taken its toll on my hair, the volume and thicknes and length of my hair has reduced by about 50%, it’s still far longer than many girls but that doens’t take away from the fact that relaxer has done just that..taken now I’m trying to add, to rebuild, to grow and to nuture by throwing away the chemicals for an indefinite time period. It will do all of these things to my hair,but more importantly.. to my life and to my identity as a young black woman, and hopefuly to everyone I encounter. I hope that the young black girls can look up and see at least one woman who isn’t sending the silent message that our hair must be modified and treated to be tolerated or accepted.

Indeed I would hope that women of any race know that it’s okay the way God made them.

Nothing about our culture, or anyone’s else culture should be toned down, or hidden and swept under the proverbial carpet to be accepted.

Let’s celebrate our differences, there is strength and beauty in diversity.

This was originally published on an old blog of mine in 2010. My thoughts on this have evolved and developed but the fundamentals outlined in this post remain the same.


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