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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