The clarion cry is if you are black you must have natural hair. Or you cannot be black conscious if you do not have natural hair. Black power means natural hair and on and on it goes.
I find that so simplistic as a way of identifying a black woman.
As a little girl my great grandmother used to wear wigs. Watching my great grandmother with her wig there was no sense of not being black or not identifying with being African or being black conscious. I am in Africa, I am growing up in The Gambia, everybody around me is black so there was no correlation between how she wore her hair and who she was as a person.
So for me to come to the West and hear people talking about how having a weave or wig or perming your hair means you are not black conscious makes no sense to me. I grew up seeing people around me wearing wigs and we were in Africa so you can’t tell me that how I wear my hair is linked to my blackness. I just don’t see it that way and to impose an idea of what it means to be black or impose an idea of what it means to be African is terribly out of place and wrong. You can’t prescribe that to me. Everybody has a different experience of being black, everybody has a different experience of being African and so it cannot be prescribed by anybody else.
A lot of the people that are making this noise about how having black hair equals being black conscious have never been to Africa. A lot of them don’t even want to be associated with Africa so how do you define African or blackness to me.
How I wear my hair cannot be prescribed, it cannot be how other people think I should define myself.
My mother and my sister have very long hair--right up to the middle of their backs. Their hair grows really fast and really thick. Mine on the other hand, grows very slowly, it’s very soft and very sparse and very light. As a girl, everywhere I went people would say ‘your sister has longer hair than you’. So to solve that problem I went to the barbers one day when I was 12 years old and I told him to cut off my hair. I was so worried that I looked like a boy that on my way home I placed my school bag on my head to hide it. I was very scared of my mum’s reaction but she just looked at me and didn’t say anything.
And then when I came to university in the UK. I was about 20 years old and one day I just got fed up of having to do my hair in the morning or having to pay money to get my hair done so I shaved it all off. Literally as I took off my braids I followed that with a shaving stick and shaved off all my hair. I was absolutely bald. I was very nervous and scared about it so I went to my lectures with a head-tie on for a few days. I soon got tired of the head-tie and went out without it. The reaction was really great. People loved my bald head and I loved the looks I had on the train. It was just fun and the love of the short hair was truly born.
Since then I’ve had my hair mostly short, coloured blonde, coloured orange, coloured red, braided, permed and left natural. I did my hair in whatever way I it was that I felt like doing it. This Christmas 2018 I decided to wear wigs and a couple of them are quite long. It was because I felt like ‘okay it’s a new year, I will be 48 years old I and I want to feel a little bit more grown-up than I look’ but I know that once I start working and I get busy my natural draw would be to have my hair short again
Because the short hair suits my personality as someone that’s always on the move and I can’t be bothered with hair on my neck and my shoulders when I’m busy and running around. It also suits my youthfulness.
The point I’m making with this is that none of the choices I make regarding my hair has anything to do with me being a black woman or an African. They have to do instead with how I choose to express my personality.
And that is the point of my argument-- black women have to be free to express themselves in however way we choose to do so. In fact, that’s the beauty of black hair- it can be anything on any given day, it doesn’t have to stay the same for any one day if we choose.
So as a black woman you can have it natural if you choose, a perm if you choose you can have it weaved or you can have it braded or bald. That is your prerogative and it cannot be prescribed by anyone else but you.
Because you are more than your hair. Some are wives, mothers and sisters, cousins, professionals across all kinds of fields, intelligent, smart, funny hard-working -- how can all of who you are, be condensed into how you wear your hair. Your hair is just an expression of your identity, just like how you wear your clothes is an expression of who you want to be that day.
All of who I am is not going to be wrapped up and defined by how I wear my hair and that is what I resist and resent about this whole black hair movement.
Anybody can wear their hair how they want to without feeling less than they are, without being mocked because they have a wig or a weave, without being disrespected or feeling like they’re letting down the whole black race
Recently Miss World Afrca who is Ugandan visited President Museveni. He then went on Twitter to say she was lovely but she should not be wearing Indian hair. I was just totally offended by that statement. He has so many other pressing issues to deal with in his country, why is his focus on a young lady’s head? Why does he feel the need to embarrass her, belittle her? Ignore everything that she is and everything that she has accomplished to comment on her hair. Why did he stop there why not tell her not wear those clothes which are probably made in china and then his clothes as well which are not made in Uganda.
In closing, this is my argument--a black woman is more than her hair and therefore she has the right to wear it as she wishes. If people feel that their hair is synonymous with their identity and that is how they want to express themselves whether it’s natural or a perm a weave or a wig then that is what they must do, but they cannot prescribe it on anybody else.
We are more than our hair
By Nana Ofori-Atta Oguntola