Why do some people out there feel like they're entitled? So so entitled, to the point that they feel like they can reach out and feel Black hair like they would an animal at a petting zoo. Sir, I don't know where you've been. No one wants your dirty ass fingertips touching their hair. And I specified Black African hair because this ignorant behaviour is an important part of the African experience, and y'all already know this blog is about NOT taking away from said experience. So let's just make sure we're recognising our privileges, whatever they may be you know. Said what I said, okay, whatever, back to it. I feel like every single person of African heritage out there can relate to this experience. Black, mixed, light skin. You know that dreadful experience where you've just met someone, and literally within the first 30 seconds of knowing about their existence, they say the words "your hair is so cool!" and proceed to touch it. ummm? Chile. WUT?? Then you're standing there like ?? Why would you do that? Why would you go out of your way to make me feel undignified and uncomfortable? Let's get something straight. My hair is not there for anyone's visual satisfaction, except maybe my own. I don't care if you consider yourself a friend or a mere acquaintance or anything in between. Having my hair touched by someone, without me really knowing them or without my consent, will always have negative connotations for me. Now you might be thinking but sis it's only hair. Chill tf out. What you so mad about? Please believe me when I say my hair for me, like so many others with this hair type and texture, represents so much more than 'just hair'. My hair represents the fact that I come from a longline of strong, resilient black women. It represents a history of undertone racism. And to you, it may at times be visually pleasing. To me, it can at times be my main source of anxiety.
A fun fact. The only people in the world who have ever been granted the liberty to experiment and use my head of hair as a canvas for their art, are my Mum and my two aunties who aren't really my aunties but they're African and older than me, so Sands makes me call them my aunties. Just as a sign of respect. I don't know, it's an African thing I guess. But it's cute and I kinda like it. I suppose that's the positive of being a Person of Colour in your little white dominated town. You kind of become friends with other melanin blooded queenies and kings on the basis that you're both POC and other people around you are not. And then along the line, you become close because of the fact you feel isolated by the rest of society. But when we're together, it's a whole family. That's besides the point. I mean, actually I guess that has everything to do with what I'm about to say. It sort of emphasises this idea that for me to let someone work on my hair, there has to be some sort of trust there. It comforts me to know that the person touching my hair, working with it and nurturing it, has been through the same battles with their own hair. When I sit down in front of them, my hair freshly relaxed, conditioned and stretched, let loose for their eyes only, ready for braiding or weaving or for the wig to be secured, I know that my Mum or Auntie Josie or whoever they may be, has 0 judgement inside of them. It's nothing they haven't seen or dealt with before. They don't see my hair as being difficult or unusual or they won't have a freak out, causing me to freak out because they don't know how they're going to tackle it. I've avoided any hairdresser that doesn't have "African" in the title or description, my whole life for these very reasons. When I sit down in front of my people, there's no anxious thoughts running through my head. No panicking about what they think of the condition of my hair. No 'but what if they accidentally do something to damage it'. No passive-aggressive comments about African hair. No nothing. It's what 100% level of trust feels like. Mostly because, even though we're everywhere in 20121. Even after insisting society is slowly moving towards acceptance. Even after 'hearing' and 'seeing' the Black community. I'm afraid, all you have to do is go and stand in the hair care aisle of Boots to know that society's like yeah, our arms are open to you and we'll become accustom to you, so long as you're willing pay. Whilst we're at it, we can mosey on down to the cosmetics counters and struggle to find a perfect match foundation to take home because apparently the skin tones in between light skin and dark don't exist. There's an unspoken struggle in this community that we all know about, but maybe don't communicate. It's the way in which the very fact that so many hairdressers across the country aren't trained in how to deal with African hair (at no fault of their own), or that we can't even take decent care of our own hair without having to pay an arm and a leg for the right products, slyly pushes the entire community to the outskirts of society. African people know African hair. They know the burden of having and caring for African hair in an environment that doesn't cater for it. So that's why my Auntie Josie from Ghana will spend her only day off that week, braiding my hair for 8 hours straight. And damn right, she'll do an immaculate job of it too. We don't have to do it for each other, but we want to. We want to because we know it's going to make life that little bit easier.
When you catch me with a fresh set of braids like my name is Janet Jackson and I'm about to star in a movie called Poetic Justice alongside Tupac (please see figure 1.), an honest conversation with the Queen of Cape Town probably came first. One that goes like "Tyra, your hair's breaking badly" and then I'll say "should we braid my hair". And then she'll try and pawn me off onto someone with the
seeds in their finger tips to make my hair grow because she insists her braiding breaks my hair, when in actual fact she just doesn't feel like sitting braiding my hair for hours and hours. I mean Black girls, light skin girls, mixed girls, we can't help looking fly in braids, I guess it's just our internal wiring. But, I'd say a good 7 out of 10 times, that's not why we get them done. And let me tell you. I never ever get them done to feed a white person's weird fascinations with African hair. So please, for the love of the good Lord above, stop with the following questions:
Can I touch it? No.
Is that all your real hair? Girl, mind your goddamn business
How do you wash it? See, now I know you know what shampoo is
But how long is your REAL hair? A lot longer than my attention span, which you have been wearing down since we started this conversation
I'm always so fascinated by how intrigued a single person can be by synthetic hair. Amazes me every time. It really screams out to me 'I know I might be making you uncomfortable, and out of place asking you all these questions, but right now I'm just going to dismiss your feelings'. And this is what frustrates me the most about why the conversation about the appropriation of African hairstyles, isn't bigger and more prominent. You can't love Black hair and culture without knowing anything about its background, and I for one, firmly stand by that. Most girls who body display signs that maybe, they kind of, you know, really are into black fishing, are always the most quiet about the demanding of rights for POC. That's where the real issue of appropriation lies. It's too easy to excuse it by saying things like 'but it's only a hairstyle' or 'but isn't this argument just causing more division?'. We have to start acknowledging the hard truth, which is that, in light of it being rejected for the longest time ever, Black culture is not for the taking to any extent. And no, it definitely does not go both ways. Let me explain why real quick, seen as American Black History Month is coming to a close and everything. A long, long time ago. Before colonisation. Before the continent (not country, sis) of Africa was seen as being the land of the unfortunate. Before our ancestors roots were watered down, an African woman's tribe could be identified by her hair. Whether it be cornrows or durang, that's how the people of the town or village would know which tribe a woman belonged to. And then, you know, cue the Europeans arrival and the beginning of the slave trade. Now African hair has a whole other meaning. No one cared about being edgy or inventive. It was all about survival. Women would braid directions and maps into their hair, so they could deliver directions for their escape to other captivated Black people (I refuse to refer to them as slaves), without alerting their plantation owners. That is correct. Just one more time in history the so called 'inferior' race outsmarted their 'superiors'. Ha. The irony. That's our history, and that's why it's not or never will be 'just a hairstyle'. Now next time you talk your mess like 'but it's okay for Black people to straighten their hair?', consider this. There was no other choice. Black hair was called messy and unprofessional and ghetto. It was conform to a white dominated society or suffer the consequences.
Sometimes I come downstairs, hair wrapped in a silk scarf or wig on the nightstand and my Mum laughs. I'm like girl why you laughing, I have to do this because of the hair you gave me. She'll make a joke about how I better marry a man from a Black family because he's already used to seeing his Mum and sister in their nighttime state. He knows what has to be done in order to protect my hair. It's funny but it also brings up a lot of insecurities I guess. Do you know how long it took me to convince myself that actually no sis, you look fine, people are just prejudice. I find people respond better to me if I'm wearing a wig or weave. But hey, that's on them. To me, there is nothing more strong, beautiful and powerful as a Black woman who unapologetically rocks their natural hair. It's like Kehlani said. If you don't want me at my goodnight then you can't have me at my morning glory. Live by that. I have plenty of people in my life who see past it all, but not to the extent that they don't acknowledge and appreciate Blackness, the way it should be acknowledged and appreciated. They're the people I surround myself with now. One day, I will get to a place where I feel comfortable enough to just let my natural hair do its thing. I'm just not there quite yet. It's about unraveling the doubts that have been there for years for me.
You already know how much I love the Knowles sisters, right? There are just some songs that really resonate and speak to you. For me, Don't Touch My Hair by Solange is one that really spoke to me. It said 'help me protect black autonomy and dismiss this societal idea that Black people are exhibitions'. By touching my hair, you're threatening my pride and my femininity. So let's make a deal, okay? You don't touch my hair, I won't kick you in the balls:)))