To sum up my experiences as a Nigerian (in Nigeria) who has decided to keep her hair in its natural state and refuses to chemically straighten it, I believe I would be having things much more difficult if I gave a damn what other people thought and said. Yeah it sucks to have random people making comments on your hair when you’re walking down the street. It is also annoying when people have this shocked look on their faces when I tell them that I do not relax my hair and to be really honest, I miss the days when people thought my hair was so cool, different and special because it is an afro*.
Now that I’m back in Abuja, I get people looking at me strangely, calling my hair ‘rough’ and ‘jaga jaga’ (pidgin for unkempt) and asking me when I am going to ‘do this hair’ (and they usually mean ‘relax’ as in ‘when are you going to relax your hair?’). After a few weeks of these reactions, I found that I was eager to put my hair in braids, extensions or some other style just to get away from all the trouble. It was annoying and at first I did think that the view of most Nigerians was not ‘disciplined’ but now that I have been here longer and had this long conversation with my cousin, I have learnt that they do not necessarily have a problem with natural hair itself but with afros specifically. In other words, natural hair is okay if it is cut low or if it is ‘hidden’ in braids and weaves but you dare not expose your huge afros as they are unruly and unsightly.
I personally do not understand why anyone would look at an afro and think it is ugly, unruly or unkempt. To me afros are beautiful. I admit between people asking me all the time when I am going to ‘do’ my hair and my cousin going in detail as to why the average Nigerian does not like afros, I was willing to compromise and make sure that my hair was in braids or twists whenever I left the house. However when my hair was in twists, people took to calling me Asha (a Nigerian musician who has locs) and telling me that I look like her which I do not appreciate because I do not look like Asha. Furthermore it is a bit irritating to be told you look like someone else simply because of your hairstyle. (Are they saying that all dark-skinned women with their hair in twists and locs -most people here can’t tell the difference, look alike?)
Before I headed to the NYSC orientation camp, I went to a salon near the estate I live in to do my hair. I ended up wishing I’d just stayed at home. The women who fixed my hair in extensions were good at what they did but I was not too happy that my hair had to be blown-out, stretched till it was as straight as it could be without a relaxer, before the ladies started braiding my hair. Now I am sure for the most part, Nigerian women are used to going to the hairdresser’s to get their hair done. Still, I felt as though my hair was man-handled as usually I do my hair by myself and I am usually super careful with it.
A few days ago, I decided that I was going to start ignoring any negative comments directed towards my hair. I don’t know if I made this clear previously but I am not used to people reacting negatively towards my hair so I was willing to reduce the comments by putting my hair in braids, extensions or twists as much as possible. Yet I have made up my mind not to conform (a rebellion of sorts), I decided that in order to counter any stereotypes about afros, I would keep my hair in an afro as much as possible while I am here. Long live the afro!
*I really loved getting compliments because of my hair, I still do. Another thing I like is people touching my hair, before you raise your eyebrows let me explain ^^. It would be annoying if some stranger came up and shoved their hands into my hair because it is an afro. Before I made the decision to quit chemically straightening my hair, I was wary of non-Black strangers wanting to touch my hair as I had read about it online and as of today, that has never happened to me. The only people who had the right to touch my hair while I was in the UK were my friends and they always asked before they did. I’d be pissed if a stranger felt it was their right to touch my hair.