Africa, Mental Health, Racism

BAD HAIR OR RACISM?

February is Black History Month in the US. Britain marks hers every October. Perhaps every month should be black history month everywhere. The devil is in the details.

I often encounter people very concerned about why I had ‘spoilt’ my beautiful hair. Some of my favourites are the ones who openly wonder whether I became Rastafarian or Legio Maria. They always have me in stitches.

Did you know that Legio Maria (Legion of Mary) is a breakaway Church whose faithfuls were expelled from the Catholic Church for performing exorcism (an act of African spirituality) which was considered largely antichristian?

Well the decision to loc my hair was as prudent as it was deliberate.

People should know better, considering the dust has barely settled on the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Racism is alive and well globally. We have always had a problem ever since those men from the west set foot here. Independent a continent as we are, we have a problem: the lingering vestiges of colonial racism.

The fact that natural African hair (afro, dreadlocks etc) is routinely judged and scrutinised as unruly, unkempt and unprofessional in our schools and workplaces. The continued association of dreadlocks with dissidence, poor hygiene, homelessness, mental illness, drug abuse, unprofessionalism, criminal tendencies and poverty. The harrowing tales of police brutality and the profiling of young Kenyan men with dreadlocks.

For clarity, the locking of hair is a natural growth process for Black people who refuse to submit to a social construct to cut their hair! It is also a very budget/ user friendly venture for people who care to spend less and those with extra sensitive scalps.

You see, these westeners are mad clever. They are also chronic liars. First they come here and then they convince us that they discovered Lake Victoria. But the whole time our ancestors were here generations through and they had names for it (Lolwe, Nalubaale, Nyanza, Ukerewe etc), and even worshipped facing it! They even teach us that African nations “gained independence” yet there was a people who led very wholesome lives in fully functional societies before colonisation? Why not add a prefix and just say “regained independence” truthfully?

They say they came to ‘civilise’ the natives. Then they reach for our heritage, then start by travestying our culture, then hunt it down and mercilessly murder most of it in cold blood. Because ‘civilisation’ is the much needed salve for our ‘barbarism.’ And they do it so radically, such that they even impose their Eurocentric beauty standards upon us. They know (and see) that African hair is ordinarily kinky, versatile, voluminous and rebelious. It naturally defies gravity, so they brainwash us to start applying harsh chemicals and heat to our hairs to ‘relax’ or straighten them, or wear a shave, or do wigs and weaves, because their idea of acceptable, tame and beautiful is only all the things that look like them. Not us.

A kin was on remand awaiting trial and we happened to visit him. To my dismay, his shoulder length locs had been felled like they were some nonentity. I curiously asked one of the prison officers and I’m still shaken by his unerring ability to stand ten toes down while explaining to me how dreadlocks and thick hair are susceptible to lice infestation and it is their policy to maintain hygiene. I thought lice only care about finding a head that gives them access to blood, without bias to hair type or style!

Tragically, we seem to have conformed as a society; our natural hairs are no longer crowns to us. They are being attacked and faced out, even by our own legislation and policies. That is some internalised oppression and self hate / antiblackness, instigated by structural racism. We hate ourselves. I prefer to call it structural racism rather than institutionalised racism because it has technically gone past our institutions and penetrated into all our structures including our self consciousness. (For example the fact that a Black person is genuinely worried about another Black person rocking their own natural hair).

Victorian culture is in our smallest details–from our names, to our hairs, to our dressing. Nigeria is probably the only African country that has traditional Yoruba attire as one of her official wears.

How do you tell somebody that they just cannot wear their hair the way it grows out their scalp? Hair discrimination is race discrimination, anti-black racism to be precise.

I loc’d my hair to mock the ignorant oppressive / racist system that cared more about my hair than my Mental Health. The very same system that still cares more about your daughter’s braids than they do her grades. When you can’t challenge them, mock them.

As the quiet kid who was always in trouble for having a full head of hair and not utilising the comb enough, I loc’d my hair to celebrate a dangerously awesome level of self awareness. I have a tender heart for all the unfortunates, and very sensitive feelings for eternal truths like freedom and justice and human dignity. My ambition is to be free. For you and I to be free.

This blog post is dedicated to my friend Lilian Molly, and all the beautiful bold Black women and men with a rich heritage and hairs powerful enough to break combs.

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Africa, Xenophobia

Xenophobia?

What does it feel like to be a mindful Depression survivor with strong Pan-Afrikan views, and a flair for storytelling? South Africa was in the news again last week, for the obvious reasons. I was at the public library again.

Ghana-Must-Go.

I stumbled upon the timely history of this bag. What Kenyans and Ugandans call osuofia bag or mimi. This bag is sturdy, efficient and low budget. Here, this bag just saves the day. In West Africa, it is (in)famously called the Ghana-Must-Go bag.

Ghana-Must-Go. The plastic bag that is made of historical and political fabric. The bag that carries emotional baggage. The bag that embodies soul rot. Nobody told us that in 1983 the Nigerian government under president Shehu Shagari expelled millions of West African migrants, mostly of Ghanaian descent. The bags were on high demand during that short ugly period, hence the name.

In recent times, we have found a more articulate name for that atrocity. Xenophobia. Except South Africa is now on the spotlight for it. #ForeignersMustLeaveSA was trending on twitter just three days ago.

Violence is bottom barrel low they said, we are all Africans. The AU should take a stance: Ask the government of South Africa to protect African migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. How thoughtful. But until the AU does so while asking these ‘victim’ countries why they are not making their citizenry comfortable at home, it is ill-advised. Bearing in mind that the ability to emigrate from the third world is deeply embedded in a form of privilege. This is not an act of microaggression. Someone said political correctness is fascism pretending to be manners. I put it to you that political correctness is a cancer. It undermines democracy and the fabric of society. You do not go into people’s homes and make them not feel at home. An in-law does not replace a biological child. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Most African countries are embarrassingly mismanaged. Being anywhere from the middle class and below is the ultimate test of faith. You get up every morning and get demoralised from your doorstep to wherever it is you’ll be trying to make ends meet. You live from hand to mouth. You lead a frugal existence. If you’re not languishing in poverty then you’re just one ‘bad’ financial decision away from it. One hospital bill away, one semester’s tuition away, one simple car away. Poverty is always looming. Always lingering. These are bandit countries where even those with sterling credentials leave the private sector to go and loot in government. Because that is the prudent way to have a decent life here. Where the gap between the rich and the poor widens by the tick of the clock. Where the intelligentsia is intimidated and replaced by highly trained ‘professionals.’ Where presidential palaces and the streets are as different as night and day. Countries run like warehouses. Countries with economic structures that stink to high heaven. Economies on their deathbeds. Tyrannical regimes of men who put their countrymen on graft and tribal steroids. Where presidency is treated like a birth rite: till death do us part. Where republics operate like monarchies. Do we not know that in Equatorial Guinea the sitting president of 4 decades is now deputised by his own son? The bottom line is, the average African is disillusioned by his government. Most African governments are tactfully skilled at disenfranchising their people from access to livelihood. But South Africa is taking the heat for getting concerned about her sovereignty and her citizenry. For reacting. Xenophobia is just a reaction. Actions precede reactions.

In the spirit of Pan-Afrikanism, I think African history needs to be re-written. To include the home truths. For our healing, for our mental health, for our coexistence, for unity in diversity. The lions now need their own historians, because the history of the hunt is notoriously adept at glorifying the hunter. History must now be written by the villains. For the victors have long been crafty in their victory. The whole history should be revisited, from precolonial days. Maybe then, we might accept that before colonisation, African communities were sovereign and mostly just united by the vast geographical location, skin colour and white imperialism. That Africa was a continent of immense energy and culture with hundreds of different languages. And our history did not begin with colonisation.

Just before dust could settle on the xenophobia hashtags, the librarian in-charge announced to us that the government has suspended the borrowing of books for reasons best known to it. It might interest you that the said public library is actually understocked with books that are in all conditions but pristine. Books that we pay to read and borrow, with added hefty fines for exceeding your deadline. Not to mention how strenuous it is to secure membership if you are neither a student nor employed.

Xenophobia is not it. South Africa is the scapegoat. And the AU is nothing more than a toothless bulldog. I think we better think while it is still legal to!

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