by Elspeth Chimedza
‘Don’t touch my hair
When it’s the feelings I wear
Don’t touch my soul
When it’s the rhythm I know
Don’t touch my crown
They say the vision I’ve found
Don’t touch what’s there
When it’s the feelings I wear’- Don’t Touch my Hair, Solange Knowles
For the first time in my life I feel free…
Three years ago I wrote about ‘good hair’ à la Chris Rock’s documentary and India Arie’s song ‘I’m not My Hair’ stating that I was amongst the many women of colour who would go to lengths to disguise their Afrocentric hair due to societal perceptions and to an extent mental oppression. In 2016, nobody, not even myself would have imagined that I would be caught spotting Bantu knots or writing a whole article on ‘Natural Hair 101’ so as to educate, as well as encourage the natural hair movement. Yes, I am now a natural hair sister, wearing my hair in its natural form, kinks and all.
Initially, it was forced upon me by the universe (economic challenges), but thanks to my cousin who has long, natural tresses, I slowly warmed up to the idea of my own hair. You see previously, if I wasn’t financially capable of getting my hair done, I would opt for a wig because as I have admitted before, I will never be caught dead with my natural hair in public (my hair was only for my hairdressers eyes); but I grew tired of the wig and just ditched it altogether. I then worked with cornrows and twist but later started researching more about taking care of my natural hair.
Fortunately in media there have been some female celebrities who have rocked their natural hair such as Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Solange Knowles and even closer to home, Ammara Brown, who I have hair envy because her afros are amazing. Actually in an interview that I had with Ammara, I asked ‘If you were to have anybody else’s hair, whose would it be?’ and she responded, “To be honest I love the hair that I have. Even my son buried his face in it the other day and said,” I love your hair” and he just turned 2.” I must admit that’s very admirable, actually it takes a very confident woman of colour to not only take pride in her natural hair as well as love it.
Since the last time that I wrote about black hair, there has been a shift around the world as many people of colour especially women in the diaspora are going back to basics, leaving relaxers a.k.a perms, weaves, wigs and opting to get the big chop or transition to a more natural look. However this has not come without resistance as there have been cases of women of colour not being hired, or being fired for having natural hair including dreadlocks, or in the recent incidence in South Africa where a school girl was taken out of school because she wore her hair in an afro. Historically black hair has often offended white people because they never understood the intricacies more so, the beauty of African hair. Remember earlier this year when Beyoncé performed at the Super bowl half-time and her dancers all had afros and wore black berets? Well, along with the lyrical content of her award winning hit ‘Formation’, the performance was viewed as a form of rebellion. You see, for those who might not be in the know, back in the 1960s with the rise of the civil rights movement, the afro symbolised rebellion, black pride and empowerment and with it came the re-emergence of the wide toothed African comb which is dubbed ‘afro comb’. The afro acted as a reminder of pre-slavery and pre-colonial days where Africans of all social statuses and gender had long hair which was styled differently as a form of communication as people could tell an individual’s age, marital status, ethnic identity, religion, wealth and social rank. According to historians, due to diseases and the fact that slave masters didn’t know what to do with black people’s hair, they shaved it off of which to the people of colour that was a form of humiliation.
Followers of the Rastafarian movement actually rebelled by not cutting their hair but instead twisting it into dreadlocks and to date dreadlocks have become a distinct black hairstyle although not necessarily due to being Rastafarian but more of an urban thing. In my country, Zimbabwe, dreadlocks are quite popular with individuals who play traditional instruments such as the mbira, nyunga nyunga and hosho but also young people who are fans of the reggae and dancehall genre. East and West African women are often seen with rather interesting and complicated hairstyles that include braids, natural hair plaiting and thread plaiting and don really long natural hair without the aid of weave extensions. I recall when I was young and living in West Africa, my mother and I always had beautiful West African hair designs and I remember always feeling pretty because I went to a predominantly white school so I felt that I stood out (although the thought of my skin colour never came to mind), I just thought that I had the coolest styled hair, C’est tout!
So what has the new Lady E with her new hair been up to? Remember that I mentioned that scenario where ‘there are two very attractive ‘sistas’, well dressed, but one has the Indian Remy and the other, au naturel African hair. Who is the one, who is going to get the male attention?’ Well, yes, the ladies with the front laces do get attention, but my dms and phone have been blowing up from a lot of guys who always compliment me for being so confident with my natural hair, (on the side I am thinking, maybe y’all are cheapskates and prefer not buying those Brazilian and Peruvian hair pieces and that’s why my natural hair is so appealing but not necessarily attractive). Still, my confidence does not come from drawing attention from the male species; in fact I am confident with my natural hair because it reflects me. I am a young African woman who is mixed in ethnicities, well-travelled, loves to write, is passionate about music and nature and has dreams so big that it’s frightening. For the first time in long time, I am in love…with myself and even more my hair. Although I would rather choose not to be defined by my mane, I have taken pride that through the knowledge obtained on how to take care of my hair and style it, I feel that ‘black girl magic’ that trends as a hashtag on social media. My hair shape shifts, it’s crazy!
So does this mean that I will never wear a wig or weave my hair? No. I now have wider options because to be honest, natural hair is the real high maintenance because it is very fragile so I have changed the notion, black hair is ‘good hair’, maybe we should also commercialize the hair that we cut and sell it as ‘Zezuru hair’ or ‘Kush Hair’ and reverse the status quo, (just thinking).
Whether you are black or white or Asian, we all have to come to a place where we embrace diverse beauty standards as well as teach one another about the beauty of our differences. This is 2016, we are a different generation, and nobody should be dismissed, discriminated or dominated because of how they wear their hair. Afro, dreadlocks, Bantu knots, cornrows are not a form of rebellion, if not in an era where everybody should be allowed to be themselves, black hair is yet another move towards encouraging self-love and self-acceptance and on the commercial side, it’s likely to be a very profitable industry once tapped into, so everyone wins. (Only in my head do I live in a colourless, ethnically tolerant and peaceful world).
And since the first article was inspired by my daughter, well she confidently spots a bold head (because the school doesn’t allow hair), but she always says, “Mummy I want to have hair like yours when I grow up!” Now there, right there, I believe that I have instilled a value of a confident young lady who looks beyond what the world sees yet still can find her identity in it.
‘I am not my hair
I am not my skin
I am a soul that lives within’-India Arie
P.S. Always write your own love story!
Featured image courtesy of Reunion Black Family