A while ago I had an impromptu conversation in the computer lab with a girl who unapologetically introduced herself in the most African and natural accent she knew how “Tsego” she said was her name. We went on to speak about hair and how she felt that a young woman didn’t need a weave to look or feel pretty because it is a battle one can never win. After the weave, comes the nails, the eye lashes and eyebrows and the next thing a black girl is introducing herself with the whitest accent they have learned to roll R’s with as “Mbarliegh”. She then explained how she has been told how “African” she looks with her natural hair. She also mentioned how there are certain connotations linked to this African look. Artists have been known to embrace the look better because their field is so artistic and extravagant but dare she as a Law scholar appear in the same light, will be judged, undermined and disregarded because apparently she does not look presentable enough for people to take her seriously as if Artists aren’t meant to be taken seriously.
I thought it was a rather sad truth that people have come to accept that black women cannot wear their hair anyway they want and still be given the same respect and time of day a Westernised African woman would. The struggles black girls have to go through with their hair are ones which often dig deeper than just appearance. It is about embracing and wearing your hair as a statement of freedom and individuality without conforming to the Western idea of woman but also not receiving a certain kind of honour and worship or criticism should they feel they want to embrace it, as long as they still know exactly who and what they are.
I recently attended a seminar held by the Feminist Stokvel and they sparked the same ideologies which Tsego and I shared about hair and being a proud black woman in a world which is largely operating under Patriarchy. I had never really placed the tag “Feminist” to the ideas I had about the role women had in society and the struggles they go through in their feminine bodies and an even bigger outrage should they be fit and masculine. Perhaps I didn’t have to put a label to it. However, that still does not stop me from seeing and being influenced by the daily hassles of African women and their hair.
I remember a time when I was about 8 years old and I had a big afro that I too sometimes failed to maintain it and as a means to restore order, my mother suggested that I cut it down a bit. When we arrived at the saloon, walking in with my older brother, he simply said that I was there for a hair cut. The barber cut my hair so short that I could only do s-curl. I remember crying the entire ride home because I was sad that I lost my hair but I was also sad because I thought I looked like a boy. However, my mother reassured me that now I didn’t have to worry about being afraid of the comb because the afro was gone and subsequently the pain was gone too. Although I didn’t know if cutting my hair shorter would help, it definitely did plant the seed of natural African hair being a hassle and all in all a problem therefore I did not want it in the future. From there on I started using relaxer in the hopes of getting rid of any curly hair that was growing. It wasn’t after I reached high school and having had a weave for a couple of times that I decided to let my afro grow again and I later on decided to lock my hair. I felt I lacked individuality, I was trying too much to be like the girls in the magazines.
I realised that there will always be connotations attached to women’s hair whether it is relaxed or locked. I walk down the street now with my dreadlocks dancing on my back and the hairdressers will be asking if I don’t want to put a weave over them. There is this constant urge to Westernise African women no matter how beautiful and presentable they look, it is never enough until you have a weave and all that jazz that comes with the it. It is as though my dreadlocks are too dirty and naturalistic,I need a weave to actually have confidence in myself. A guy will always approach the girl with the Brazilian weave first before he even takes a glance at the girl with locks. And this stigma is the same even in the corporate world. In the Police department, women are not allowed to wear their dreadlocks out because they are said to be untidy.
I don’t know if I want to one day raise my daughter in society that will not allow her to explore every form and shape her hair will take. My brother never apologised for telling the barber that I was there to cut my hair off and I don’t blame him either. To him it is just hair and it will grow back and he’s right because it did. But there is more to it that just hair. In each thread is a tint of confidence that helps us to hold our heads high. My dreadlocks have grown with me. When they were down to my ears, it was my 17th birthday, when they touched the back of my neck, I went to my father’s funeral. I am 19 years old now and I will remember that I went to the saloon for the first time last on the 3rd of September since I got them. Do you see, it really isn’t just hair? And no, I am not exaggerating or being over sensitive about it, my hair is as an important part of me as my hands or my heart is. Every woman has a story to tell about their hair, we have start making women unashamed of what they have under the weave, the wig or the hat. Your hair is your crown, and in any shape, wear it with pride.