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 senseordinary 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