Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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Politics of Black Hair

The black hair topic is an emotive issue: such a gross generalization! Why would it be when Africans, a pure bloodline of the black race don’t even acknowledge the cultural significance that comes with it? Hold up, they would have to know the significance to acknowledge it, no?

I dare say, at the risk of sounding politically incorrect that we need redemption from ignorance. The only freedom we achieved from our masters when the last ship set sail for the colonies, was freedom from chains, rape, violence and hard labour, ‘superficial’ freedom.

Our minds are still convinced (even though we don’t care to admit) that the West is the only liberation we need, so we walk their talk and retrace their footsteps. If you don’t agree, tell me any other leaders making the strides the infamous Zimbabwean Robert Mugabe(still debatable) or Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara made, freeing their people from the over-reliance on the western countries. The very first impression we had before we experienced their traitorous nature; was that they invent things, are smarter and better humans is still haunting us up to now. I digress, In Kenya, a myth has it that Nabongo Mumia, a leader of the Luhya community might have sold his kingdom and collaborated with the colonialists in exchange for a mirror. I mean, what would be more important than a magic wall that allows you to see your very own image! Halleluyah!

Oh yes, all this is still about hair: white supremacy, mental slavery, physical slavery, all of it. The very adoption of weaves, hair extensions, relaxed hair and any resemblance of the Caucasian hair on black women was all politically instigated. The black women felt the need to look like their Memsahibs (female masters), a depiction of a higher social status. Within no time, business was booming for weave and wig companies, hair relaxing chemicals and anything that would facilitate the straightening of the African ‘steel wool unkempt afros’ sold.

Corn rows (also cane rows as referred to in Trinidad), dreadlocks, afros which were indigenously African hairstyles were considered ‘too black’. Hey, ‘too black’ then was too uncivilized so we didn’t want that, did we?

What this generation doesn’t realize is the cultural significance of such styles, the politics and comradeship behind it. Corn rows for instance symbolized plantation, agriculture and hard labour inflicted upon the blacks in the slavery days. In Trinidad, they were called cane rows as blacks had to labour in sugar cane plantations. The dreaded hair locks popular in the Caribbean was a symbol of free spirit, for others, it signified the strength of Samson; strength needed to brave through slavery.

The Mau Mau freedom fighters in Kenya during their guerrilla warfare also wore it, though it is arguably said theirs was more of a convenient hairstyle. They lived in the forest, they did not have the luxury of shaving or cleaning up so they didn’t have a choice. God bless you our freedom fighters.

The politics of hair especially for blacks comes in when the whites, their former slave masters dare to wear the hair styles without acknowledging the historical and cultural significance. Kim Kardashian in 2018 for instance wore beaded corn rows, great right? However, with all mastered ignorance, she went ahead to call them Bo Derek Braids! I mean, a style that has been in existent centuries before Bo Derek, a coincidentally white actress starred in a movie with the same corn rows in the 1970s. Magazines also incredulously featured the style as new and trendy! What insolence! When it’s worn by the whites, it’s trendy but when a black woman wears it, it is considered too simple, not cool. Cultural appropriation at its best.

Such instances have been common in the continent of Africa too. In South Africa, a girl was suspended from school because of wearing an afro. The administration claimed the hair was ‘unkempt’. Cut me some slack, if it looks Caucasian or anything close by, it’s neat and official, but otherwise it’s unkempt? The same virus continues to spread across African employers. If you go to an interview with natural hair, try an afro for instance, chances are, (unless if you’ll meet a liberated African interviewer) you’ll not land the job.

The notion is even worse among the youth. For most, a girl going natural doesn’t have enough money to plait or buy wigs. The general perception among others is that naturalists are naughty, rebellious even.  We have become such enemies to our own God-created selves trying to ape the whites, the very people who told us when they called themselves missionaries that we were created in God’s image. Irony!

Hear me now, I didn’t say a black woman who wears a weave is enslaved. Neither did I make a call for action to boycott relaxing hair chemicals and wigs. They are fashionable, trendy, new, classy, official, and convenient.

Black hairstyles are just as good; trendy, powerful, significant and bold. Am no black supremacist, am not stuck in the past either. We should surely move on, but we can’t move on from what we are, black men and women with strong well textured hair, can we?


Redemption Song, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but our selves can free our minds”.  Bob Marley.

Waswa Sheila
Final year student at Moi University, A Writer with and CEO, Chasing Mavericks Limited. A cultural and arts enthusiast and critic.

3 thoughts on “Politics of Black Hair

  1. Personally I’ love with naturality
    The black Afros always turn me (Hiding) that why the last paragraph make sense to me.

  2. Personally I’m in love with naturality
    The black Afros always turn me (Hiding) that why the last paragraph make sense to me.

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