My Hair, My Choice

Being predominantly of African descent means that I have nappy hair, in fact my hair is 4C, which would put me quite close to the “original” texture of African hair. Sadly though, I didn’t even know what my natural hair looked like till a few months ago. My hair had been processed a few months after I started attending school, so I have basically no memory of what my hair was like because it was chemically processed. In nearly every memory I have, nearly every picture I have, my hair has been straight. When I was younger this didn’t bother me, in fact I remember being proud of it. My hair was straight when nearly everyone else’s was kinky. It was a kind of status symbol back then, and unfortunately it still is.

About ten months ago, I made the decision to stop processing my hair. Initially, I was just fuelled by curiosity because I never had any conscious experiences of interaction with my natural hair. However, after a paradigm shift in my life, I started avidly pursuing all the core values that the White Ideology sought to repress in me. The more I learned, the angrier I got. I felt violated that one of the key identifying factors of my black ancestry had been taken from me without my consent when I was too young to even know the implications of what was happening. I wondered about the stylist who did my hair, how she brought herself to apply a potentially harmful chemical to a toddler’s hair for no serious reason (other than my guardian’s whim) without even a tinge of guilt. It baffled me.

Because of that, I spent hours wondering why it was okay for parents to do that. I have met many girls who were in the same situation; their parents processed their hair before they could agree or disagree to the process. Plus many of them, like me, eventually ended up with damaged straight hair after the years of straightening and had to resort to their natural hair. By no means am I bashing chemical processing of hair; it’s your hair, it should be your choice. But what I am bashing is the chemical processing of a child’s hair before they are old enough or conscious enough to make a decision about what it means.

I think that we need to demolish the belief prevalent in black society that equates nappy hair with impropriety. Looking back, I recall thinking of girls without chemically processed hair as “country bunkers” who either could not afford to process their hair, or did not know of the “benefits.” Society has taught me to equate wealth and beauty with lighter skin and straight hair. The fact that I live in a predominantly black society shows me just how far-reaching the effects of colonial oppression were. Instead of preserving our culture, the strength of our African ancestors and the beauty in our genetic makeup, my people have unknowingly preserved the idea that the White Oppressors used to bend them into submission. These ideas take time and conscious effort to unlearn, but at the present moment I would like to think I have almost eradicated these thoughts from my mind. I want my people to do the same, to rise up and embrace their culture.

It is only recently that the idea has caught on that natural hair can be beautiful, and yet many people still do not recognize it. Persons still opt to murder their precious strands of hair to suit the White Man’s idea of beauty instead of showcasing African pride. I want everyone to examine the real reason why they straighten their hair, if it is just for aesthetic or if somewhere deep down they are ashamed of the way their hair looks, if somehow, they are ashamed of the difference, afraid of what other people will say. I challenge my black sisters to overturn that idea in their minds, if that is the case.

It is your hair, which means it is your choice. But how sure are you that the choice you made was one you made while you were most informed, and that you made the choice off of your own prodding? I long to see natural hair cast in the same favourable light as straight processed hair. I know of little girls longing to have their hair straightened, so they can fit the idea of beauty that has been forced upon them by the White Media. This idea of beauty is explain in an earlier post I made entitled: “What Constitutes Beauty In Your Eyes?” This post and that one are interwoven; this post is merely the product of that initial one.

I strive to break down the idea of beauty that society perpetuates. This involves reaching within ourselves, and uprooting the ingrown ideas that make us want to ridicule another Black Woman for embracing her roots and wearing her natural hair. It is all about acceptance, and love. The unlearning of this potentially harmful ideology is a two way street, and I hope that people will learn to traverse it. Sensitizing people to the magnificence of their natural selves can only bring about a better world.

My hair, my choice.

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What Constitutes Beauty In Your Eyes?

A few days ago, a friend of mine asked for my assistance in marking the test papers of some of her final year high school students. Of course, I readily accepted the opportunity; the paper had a creative writing section, and I thrive on exploring the thoughts of other humans. Sadly, the experience wasn’t as favourable as I would have liked it to be. I noticed a startling similarity among all the prose pieces. Every character that they cast in a favourable light, be it romantically or heroically, was white or was described with white features.

This wouldn’t have been a problem, if the students were of said complexion or heritage. However, I live in a society where the majority of us are of African descent. It shocked me that none of these students, who are at the threshold of adulthood, felt the need to include a character that resembled them in their pieces. Coincidence? Impossible. That would be like calling Antonio Martin’s murder an act of self-defense.

It is agreed upon that for most individuals, especially those that only dabble in creative writing, what they write is usually written from a place of rational fantasy. Life is idealized, and every desire, fetish and liking that they have is personified in even the smallest of details. What a person writes gives you a front row seat to their thought pattern. Granted, these high school students were not akin to Chimamanda Adichie or Langston Hughes in literary prowess, but they still managed to convey one particular idea rather strongly: I think white is the ideal.

This mindset is much older than my generation and much older than my parents’ generation as well. This thought is coming from the days of slavery, where our black brothers and sisters were taught to suppress their culture in favour of accepting the white man’s “morals”. Somehow, I thought that after so many civil right movements in our generation, after so many people have died in the name of racial equality, we would be a little bit farther in realizing the beauty and strength in the colour of our skin. But that isn’t so. Black 17 and 18 year olds in a predominantly black society still prefer the look of light skin over dark skin, the look of straight blonde hair over kinky black hair, the look of blue and green eyes over brown and black eyes. In the 21st century, about 100 years after Marcus Garvey founded the UNIA, an organization meant to reestablish Black Nationalism, black teenagers in his parish of birth still equate beauty to long straight hair, and milky white skin. In the 21st century, almost half a century after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated because of his refusal to be silenced and mistreated by the White Man, black teenagers still think blue eyes are the prettiest. To the majority of the children growing up, beauty is achieved through perfection, and to them perfection equals being white.

What you think about most alters your reality. If these young people walk around revering the appearance of the same race that oppressed their forefathers, the same race that infiltrated their homeland and turned their brothers and sisters against each other, the same race that wantonly massacred their ancestors, what does that say about their view of themselves? They subconsciously view themselves as lesser beings. They subconsciously agree with every lie that the White Man has perpetuated about our race. They see our culture through the “blue eyes” that they love so much, they see their people as wild, vulgar, uneducated savages who must be controlled, oppressed and suppressed at all costs. They are ashamed of how they look and what it represents.

However, the truth of the matter is that children learn from their environment. A child will not just form opinions without some form of stimuli. No child will see himself with dark skin and wish it were lighter without being exposed to someone with lighter skin and observing the benefits that such one would receive in comparison to himself. A child is not going to want a change in appearance without first perceiving an “unsatisfactory” difference between himself and someone more “favourable”. That is where the environment comes into play. The sad truth is that to most black parents, what is left of our culture is a reminder of the inequality between white and black in society, and a reminder of all the burdens and unnecessary struggles that will face their children because they are of African descent. In an effort to “protect” their children from the stigma of being black, they force upon them white culture, they try to rinse them of their black roots and replace it with the White Man’s Ideals. They know what the White Man has done to the Black Man, and they don’t want a repeat, so these parents prefer to sacrifice their heritage in order to live “peacefully.” Sounds familiar? That is exactly what happened during Slavery. The blacks were forced to suppress their heritage, just to spare themselves the horrible backlash of simply being African. It is a cycle that continues today, whether we know it or not and so far it has only ended one way: with the White Man on his pedestal and the Black Man at his feet.

How will this cycle be broken if we do not come together as black people and consciously make an effort to herald ourselves, to exalt our history and heritage as the White Man does? There is much beauty in dark skin, there is much beauty in kinky hair, and there is much beauty in black people, in resilience, in strength. Nonetheless, in every race, the darker you are the less beautiful you are thought to be. (A case in point is Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Helena is made out to be more beautiful than Hermia. Helena’s description originally is tall and fair, blonde. While Hermia, is short and “dark”. Though Hermia is still Caucasian, dark is used as an adjective of lesser connotation. Nonetheless, Hermia has the affection of the two handsome suitors. Even Shakespeare knew what was up.)

I am positive that as the aforementioned students penned their stories during that examination, no flag was raised in their minds regarding the “perfect” fictional characters they were creating. No, the boys were simply bringing their dream girl to life, and the girls were simply imagining the girl that they wanted to be if they had the choice. Still, their mentality reveals a gaping hole in the structure of the black society, in the framework of our existence as a people. It pains my heart to watch us let the value of our heritage be diluted by the White Man’s Ideals.

I’d like to ask you a very pertinent question. What constitutes beauty in your eyes?