Saturday, 27 October 2012

African American vs African and European hair experiences

I must first of all state that these are my personal views and in no way am I belittling anyone's struggle.

A few months ago I became aware of the natural vs relaxed hair debate and I remember reading out to one of my friends (who happens to be white), the notion that people who relax their hair are trying to be white. And laughing about the absurdity of it all. I remember saying to her, ''no offence but I am not doing my hair to look like you. But if I was, it's not like there is anything wrong with white people.''

What I was yet to realise was how serious this all was for some black people. I have read a lot of blogs since and discovered that the way many African Americans treat this issue is way different to how we look at this in Europe. I have learned that for a good number of African American ladies, hair relaxer is linked to slavery and therefore letting go of relaxer is letting go of that part of their great grandparent's history. On the contrary, in Europe, most of the reasons for going natural stem from personal experiences with relaxer and/or health reasons.

I have followed this website and read the comments with increasing outrage at what is acceptable in some parts of society. The site must use the word 'black' in it's titles even more than the daily mail uses the word 'immigrant'. This week, this article had me first in stitches, then in outrage afros-and-white-privilege-why-one-womans-self-discovery-with-a-wig-is-pissing-people-off
The gist of it is a blonde girl goes to a theme party, the theme being fried chicken and wears an afro wig. And the black community is outraged because she should not be allowed to wear a wig as she has not faced the same struggles as 'our people' I do not think I can even use the words 'our people' in London and keep a straight face. I realise the stereotype with the fried chicken. A stereotype that has been encouraged by all black comedians the world over. But oh no, how dare she?
While reading the comments, I got this sinking feeling that I may not be black because everyone spoke of 'a struggle' that we should all know about. With relief I realised that I am still black, but just with a different background.

I realise that I have had it easy as I have never been faced with outright racism. I grew up in Uganda, where it was the norm to be black. When I moved to South Africa for university, I was probably sheltered by living in a university town although I remember that music was considered to be the race divider. So if you listened to pop and house, you may as well have been white, and if you listened to kwaito and RnB then have a pew in the black community. Apart from that, everything seemed hunky dory.
I then moved to London which has to got to be the most racially diverse place in the world, where the race card is almost always a joke in the societies that I hang in, and for this I am now realising I have to be grateful.

So regardless of having the same hair type, our hair story is different depending on what part of the world we are in. We may be facing the same hair journey but the next time you see that article saying that you are a sell out because you have a weave, take it with a pinch of salt.


  1. Frankly Leilah, I am sick and tired of the "our people struggled to get this talk" its nauseating to say the least. Here people feel as if to get ahead they have to keep rehashing the past...(you went there baby..get with the program!!! it was your ancestors not YOU.) As for the hair thing... I have never seen people who get offended by the hair topic.. dare you ask what sort of hair they are wearing in I had natural hair till i was 18(natural being non-chemically treated) My stint with relaxers left a bad taste in my mouth but more power to those who choose to relax. Fo me extension are just but an accesory and I have no qualms about letting the other races know that its a wig or extensions. Maybe if they were a bit free-er about the hair thing, they would not take all issues seriously... ain't nobody tryna take away your freedom. Maybe just a little embrace and love of self would work wonders for my African Americans..... they need to realize that it is how they carry themselves that let people treat them the way the do....let me not start on the natural hair nazi's on youtube... the way they act as if black people hair is an unnatural phenomenon is the they act is seen by the world and its sad but true... people do judge a whole race by what they see a few doing... Nice post by the way!!!!Miss Jean ~

    1. Thanks Miss Jean. Great point about loving oneself before expecting others to love you and your hair.

  2. My take is; your hair is a tool, but people have mistakenly used it to shape thier EGO's- how 'other people' see/ perceive you.

    I feel THE SRONG use it as a tool for Enlightenment -to express the SELF - express their understanding of the world... their truth, their patience, their self esteem, their is self awareness and most of all their wealth (health, heritage, beliefs, independence and happiness).

    Socio -economic diseases like racisim, ethinic segmentation, self hatred, elitism and judgement seeded by stereotypes, watered by fashion , music and 'swag', cultivated in consumerism and capitalism - enable the celebration of EGO, natural hair in its various forms connects to socio -economic CURES like strong minded WOMEN & MEN who have confidence, standards and rich lives. Pride in SELF is the KEY.

    Natural hair is a statement. Statements define realities. Reality is happiness.