For long society has on countless times placed an unbearable burden on how black women should be groomed. As a result, black women have suffered quietly. Institutions such as family, school, workplace and the media often consciously and subconsciously define what beauty is for an African woman.
This overload has resulted in many black women losing self-identity and self-respect. It has forced some black women to become too self-conscious to the extent of altering their looks in order to blend into what can be termed as ‘white culture.’ It’s beginning to seem as if to be a black woman comes with a heavy price. Life requires us to actively fight for our right to identity and dignity if society is ever going to respect us.
Society should accept black women for who we are rather than exploit us through dictating what we should do with our appearance. The incident that took place at Pretoria Girls High where black girls were being forced to straighten their afro hair, failure of which would result in suspension, is surely a cause for concern to me and I guess to every other black woman in the world.
My hair, my politics
Like the black girls at Pretoria Girls High, I suffered the same predicament when I was still in school. My headmaster never wanted to see any sign of hair on our heads, if he did we would get punished or he would take a scissors and cut a section of the hair in order to humiliate us. The code of conduct in ghetto schools clearly stipulate that pupils’ heads should be neatly shaven because afro hair is still considered untidy and dread locks are never an option. Private schools allow girls to keep their afro hair on condition that it is not running all over the place. Since afro hair is difficult to tie back, some girls prefer to plait it in order to look tidy. Only girls who come from Rastafarian families are allowed to keep dreadlocks which should be tied back so that they are not a distraction.
There has been a number of stereotypes attached to black natural hair. For example, dread locks are associated with spirit mediums and are considered to be habitats for evil spirits. Afro hair is the same, and in addition, it’s viewed as untrendy or unprofessional. Both are seen as dirty or unclean hairstyles. In some cases a black woman with either hairstyle is associated with bad luck. Even after finishing school, keeping afro hair is considered untrendy and most black women I know would rather straighten, plait or wear weaves and wigs.
But to be fair, hair stereotypes are not the only factor to black women straightening their hair. Black women’s natural hair is high maintenance. It requires lots of time and products. In some cases, for this reason only, a black woman might opt to straighten their hair, plait it or put on weaves or wigs.
The entertainment industry, however, manipulates this fact. It has significantly played a role in legitimising ‘white culture’ among black women through advertising hair products using celebrity endorsements. In most cases, the celebrities who feature in the advertisements have long straight hair which is associated with feminine qualities such as beauty and attractiveness. This has somehow conditioned society to believe that an ideal woman should have straight long hair. For black women, young women especially, it becomes a dilemma because our hair hardly naturally grows long and straight.
Natural hair movement
So then the natural hair movement was born. For the past few years, pictures of black women rocking their natural hair flooded social media and the internet. This has all been in hope of encouraging women to appreciate themselves through their hair by keeping their Afro-textured hair. Society for a long time seems to not understand afro-textured hair, hence has tried to tame it. I have friends who do not have the choice to keep their natural hair simply because their parents or spouses or families do not approve of them doing so. Therefore, the natural hair movement is necessary. Once black women understand and appreciate their hair, society begins to gradually do the same.
Society also negates the fact that attempting to tame black hair is subjugation of women. People need to understand that a black woman’s afro hair is and will remain part of her, and thus she reserves the right to do with it what she pleases. No one has a right to dictate what a black woman does with what is on her head. Social institutions should be in solidarity with black women by supporting us to celebrate our Afro hair because that is who we are and we cannot change that.
Black is Beautiful
All women are beautiful. Black African women are beautiful! The challenge we have as black women is that the entertainment industry has mercilessly and in some cases successfully manipulated us into thinking that we are inadequate yet we are adequate beyond measure. We should never be apologetic of our afro hair, skin colour or our bodies. We should not go at lengths in order to fit into what society considers as the ideal picture of a black African woman. Our pride in who we are, and what we freely choose for ourselves is what it means to be African!
Main image, girl protesting against rules on blair hai at Pretoria Girls High School. Image take from www.feministcurrent.com