See Madness! a.k.a African Hair is NOT Coarse

I was not going to comment on Tyra’s ‘good hair’ show because I honestly don’t care. This ‘good’ hair thing doesn’t matter to me at all. However I saw the video on youtube and I was so shocked and angry, this is the result.

I don’t know about other Nigerians having experience with this ‘good’ hair issue because most of us tend to have type 4 hair (Yes I’m not really into this typing thing but I need it to illustrate my point). I know I have type 4 hair and I’m totally cool with it. However my sister had a different type of hair, what may be classified as type 3. Her hair was definitely not like mine and was more wavy rather than curly. Now I look back at it, she had the kind of hair some Ethiopian and Somali women have. A woman used to come to do our hair every Sunday, while combing my hair she would always say ‘Your hair is so tough!’ and I would wince because it hurt, she was combing my hair dry. When it was my sister’s turn however, the praises will shower ‘Ehen, your hair is so nice, so fine.’ If I remember correctly there were musings as to how her hair was like that.

I didn’t understand this but at that time hair was the least of my problems. I didn’t dwell too much on it because it was around that time that I discovered my hair was an Afro and I thought that was cool, then I didn’t think I could grow and Afro at all. In fact, I may have discovered my hair was an Afro because I had run to look at my ‘tough’ hair in the mirror wondering what was so ‘tough’ about it. I accepted my hair that day though the memories are a bit fuzzy.

Anyway to proceed to the madness that I witnessed while watching that episode. The girl who considered going natural mentioned that she felt others won’t find her beautiful. Firstly, at her age she should know not to rely on others to know that she is beautiful. I know it doesn’t hurt to get compliments but from my experience I am pretty sure that people will find her beautiful with her natural hair. Second, the only time I was called beautiful by someone else other than my mother was when I had natural hair! It is not shocking at all, in fact I believe I received compliments because of my natural hair. My hair adds to my natural beauty, it adds to my Africanness and I feel beautiful with my hair. Why should a woman feel ugly because of her hair? I don’t understand and I partly blame this on the silly idea that a woman should have long hair. And due to our colonial mentality, a woman should have ‘straight’, ‘flowing’ hair. It is nonsense I tell you.

I had natural hair when people of other races called me beautiful. I was surprised, I don’t know when I absorbed the idea that everyone else in this world found black women ‘ugly’ and ‘masculine’ especially someone like me with my ‘African’ features and my kinky hair. I have being called beautiful while I rocked my natural hair by white people, Chinese people, Japanese people and Africans. It is not that I need them to call me beautiful (though I occasionally milk comments from my very close friends) I know that my natural hair does not make me ugly. There is really nothing to be scared of, perhaps if people had showered me with compliments when I had relaxed hair I would have been more reluctant to go natural. Well, let’s just say I’m glad they didn’t, I personally don’t think I’ll be as beautiful with relaxed hair.

What is this obsession some black women have with hair, especially the type 1 hair, you know the ‘white girl’ hair. I have heard someone complain about relaxing, she said ‘Why can’t we just have white hair?’ she is my good friend so I stopped her halfway. I shouted ‘Don’t say it!’ Honestly when Africans make such comments it takes something away from our proud image. An African woman cannot be truly proud if she is inwardly pining for ‘white hair’. It is madness!

Furthermore the statistic quoted in the video regarding the amount black women spend on hair products is also madness. I have heard comments such as ‘African hair does not grow’, well how do we expect it to grow when the hair cannot even breathe? Honestly some black women worldwide need to stop worshipping white hair, it needs to stop. If you are straightening your hair because you prefer your hair that way, that is fine. I respect your decision. What upsets me is those who want the ‘white girl flow’. Utter madness! I used to want it before you know, hair that I could shake. I did it a lot when I was younger and my hair was wet. That was the only time it would work. Now, let’s just say I’m over that and agree never to mention this again. It is really shameful. Then I hear black women say that white women have it easy with hair and do not have to use much products because they can wash-and-go. Well, black women can wash-and-go too, yes I admit we need products that moisturize our hair because it breaks easily especially in Britain with the weather and hard water. However too much products are not good for the hair.

It is really sad that colonial mentality is so ingrained in the minds of some black women that 3 year old girls will be getting relaxers. And as for the girl with the ‘white girl flow’; SHAME ON YOU as long as you get touch-ups every month that is not how you hair grows out of your scalp. *Hisssss*

On a positive note, I liked that Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps, the authors of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair were featured on the show. Ayana Byrd mentioned that the ‘good’ hair mentality has its roots in survival for black people during slavery times because it meant connection to the white master. What I’ll like to know is how exactly Africans adopted the mentality. I want to know who the first African woman to get a relaxer was. My image of our female African ancestors is of proud women who took care of their hair, but did not make hair the most important thing in their lives. So how did we adopt this desire for white or Indian hair? It will really be interesting to discover this.

Furthermore, African hair is NOT coarse. Really why do people refer to this hair as coarse? It is not! I though coarse was a bad word until I checked the dictionary. According to Oxford (emphasis in bold italics mine);


adjective 1 rough or harsh in texture. 2 consisting of large grains or particles. 3 rude or vulgar in behaviour or speech. 4 of inferior quality.

— DERIVATIVES coarsely adverb coarseness noun.

— ORIGIN originally in the sense ordinary or inferior: perhaps related to COURSE.

What is it about African hair that makes it inferior? Inferior to what exactly? Words are very dangerous and it is a problem that African hair is constantly called coarse.

I have had family back in Nigeria shoving their hands in my hair, complaining that my hair is ‘hard’ and they will never go natural. I always reply that I consider my hair to be soft and I never asked them to become natural. When I decided to cut my relaxed hair, I was actually apprehensive because I thought it would be white people touching my hair without permission. However it is Nigerians who do this. I don’t mind people touching my hair to be honest because I expect them to say things like ‘Oh I thought it’d be coarse’ then I’d proceed to educate them. However, in my experience I’m never listened to when I try to explain why my hair is not ‘hard’.

The ‘hard’ comments came last year, now I am constantly asked why my hair is so soft. I now understand that my hair is finally maintaining moisture thanks to coconut milk soaks. Back to the ‘coarse’ comments, I wonder why African-related words are always negative. This reminds of the scene from the Malcolm X movie with Denzel Washington where they searched dictionary definitions for ‘black’. The definition of ‘coarse’ that hurts me the most is the 4th one ‘of inferior quality’. There is nothing ‘inferior’ about African hair, anything inferior exists in our minds.

African hair is beautiful and unique. I just wish people who insist that African hair is ‘coarse’ and ‘unsightly’ go and educate themselves. There is honestly no need for all the hate on African hair. It is just hair!

Edited to add: the painting is by Dawn Okoro, you can see more of her paintings at her website



  2. welcome to the planet Suesue! thanks so much for your kind comments. yay! another natural Nigerian! nice to meet you 🙂

  3. Unfortunately, for most black women hair isn’t just hair. For the rest of the world it is, but for Black women hair is the difference between whether you’re considered beautiful and whether you’re considered ugly, African, bush and backwards.There are SOME black women that have managed to free themselves completely from the whole hair drama but unfortunately most of us are still very much trapped in it whether we want to be or not.Even some of the most respected natural hair bloggers still admit that they feel nervous sometimes about what others will think of them because they have natural hair.When people begin to feel nervous about the way they occur in nature then something is seriously wrong.

  4. I have some catching up to do after this long weekend. I like the new layout! I haven’t read this in full but I agree about ‘coarse hair’. I do think if I am not taking care of my hair and moisturising it then it will feel coarse but since I do take care of it and maintain its moisture, it is more soft and fluffy.

  5. oh well, hair hair hair..i gotta say i feel more terrible, wearing a weave or wig in the midst of white/asian folks.i dont care if my hair is coarse or not, atleast its mine.

  6. Natural hair moves and shakes and dances. What are these people talking about “white girl flow” pfft. NO ONE SHOULD FEEL INFERIOR BASED ON THEIR HAIR.Sadly, I really doesn’t work like that. I manged to avoid the good/bad hair thing until I got to uni. It actually SHOCKED me to hear so many people going, “I’d go natural too, if I had your hair.” YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT YOUR HAIR LOOKS LIKE! These are clearly smart people, so–ugh, I’m going to stop before I start ranting.I think “harsh or rough in texture” comes from the fact you can’t just run your hair through it. But that’s JUST NOT that nature of curly hair! It bends all over the place!

  7. @Sugabelly, what you have said is true. i just don’t think hair has to be as complicated for black women as it is. wow it’s interesting that some natural hair bloggers still feel nervous but i suppose that may be natural? i totally agree with your last comment, our natural hair should not be a source of nervousness.@Jc, your absence was felt o! i’m pretty much against the use of ‘coarse’ because of semantics. thanks for liking the layout! purple is my best colour. @GamineGirlie, are you serious? do you really wear a weave around white and Asian folks? and you know your hair is beautiful ;)@Alice, haha i love your comment! yes natural hair has movements of its own. you’re so right no one should feel inferior because of hair of all things, it is a serious problem. i hate the way people dismiss natural hair without even giving theirs a try. i think the use of ‘coarse’ to describe African hair may be due to this thing i call colonial mentality where anything African is immediately inferior to anything European or non-African if you get my meaning.

  8. After watching that tyra show episode on 'good hair' I can relate to maybe a few of the experiences of some of the women on the show, particularly the one who was considering going natural after several years of relaxers and straight perms. Growing up, especially in the Afro-Caribbean community, this 'good hair' thing is quite common even in my own family. Afro hair is not really considered beautiful and this message becomes engrained from a young age. When I was young, my hair used to be very long and extremely thick and almost unmanageable for my mum to comb and style. I never cared too much about my hair then, until I was maybe about 11 years old, when I was taken to the hairdressers as a treat for my school disco, that I had my hair straightened with flat irons. It was the first time ever seeing my hair straight. I remember receiving so many compliments from friends that night, including the girls who hardly ever spoke to me or gave me the time of day.Another instance was when I was in secondary school and had my hair straightened for a special occasion so many girls (I went to an all girls school) would want to touch my hair, or simply couldn't stop talking about it. Most of the comments were towards the length of my hair (it was should-length) and I received so many compliments and people saying:"you should wear your hair like that more often" as if my natural hair was not as nice. But this notion of what "nice hair" or "good hair" is starts from a very young age and it becomes engrained in a lot of us right into adulthood. Today, I still choose to have my hair straightened because its what I'm used to and I have more choices when it comes to styling. In college, I had friends who wore their natural hair and could style their hair in so many different ways, they were from Kenya and Uganda.The subject of hair is still quite a complex issue within the black community especially the afro-caribbean community anyway.

  9. thanks for commenting Xena! thanks for showing this perspective because it is new to me. is this 'good' hair thing prevalent in the Afro-Caribbean community in UK only or in the Caribbean as well? and i just have to add that your natural hair is nice (because i've seen a pic) and straight hair suits you as well. it is just that we shouldn't let this hair thing get the most of our attention.

  10. GREAT POST. very well written. it is always good to find other confident, self-aware and proud young African women out there on the blogosphere. keep it up girl!

  11. So I just discovered your blog and have been reading like a year's worth of posts in a few hours. You're a bit like me, only much cooler =D!But anyways, yeah this post is soo true.I decided to cut my relaxed hair about five months ago and now have natural hair, and I'm really liking it. I even get compliments! But not from black people, and especially not black boys. The fact that I'm pleased with my hair is pretty much enough for me but I guess at at the end of the day, I'm still a teenage girl, and compliments ae nice to come by =) I have a university interview next week and my black friends (and even my mum) have me worried that they will judge me badly cos of my 'scruffy' hair, and Ive been really tempted to get it braided. But this post has given me a bit more to think about…Errm so yeah, thanks for the interesting read!

  12. hyptonic, thanks for Reading so much! And i'm not cool at all 😛 if you are a teen then you'll probably be like me when you hit 20. I'm 21 now though my birthday hasn't come yet, I count my age from the new year. Anyway, I'm glad this post gave you something to think abou, I feel a bit bad now though as I braided my hair for my graduation. I wish I'd represented natural hair being one of the three black women who graduated that day. None of the others were natural. I've not gotten much hair comments from black men in general though according to some dude my hair is 'bushy'. I wish you all the best in your hair journey!

  13. I decided to re-read this post fully as after going natural, I’d learnt so much about natural hair as well as the history behind the mentality and perception of natural hair we often witness today. Its really sad that people still hold such negative views towards natural hair and I have found that the majority of the time its black people who hold these views.

    Even before I went natural, I had quite a few friends who wore their natural hair as well as two cousins who have always been natural. So I’ve always admired them for that and how they created all sorts of styles so effortlessly (the most popular style being the afro) as during that time I was still struggling with my own hair.

    I’m glad I managed to stop all the perming, relaxing, heat straightening etc. because it was driving me mad. The perception and mentality of natural hair definitely needs to change – particularly in the black community but I believe this can only be achieved once we acknowledge and learn about the history behind it.

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